CONCEPT OF AUDITOR’S INDEPENDENCE

Professional accountants have an important role in society. Investors, creditors, employers and other sectors of the business community, as well as the government and the public at large rely on professional accountants for sound financial accounting and reporting, effective financial management and competent advice on a variety of business and taxation matters. The attitude and behaviour of professional accountants in providing such services have an impact on the economic well-being of their community and country. Professional accountants can remain in this advantageous position only continuing to provide the public with these unique services at a level which demonstrates that the public confidence is firmly founded. It is in the best interest of the worldwide accountancy profession to make known to users of the services provided professional accountants that they are executed at the
highest level of performance and in accordance with ethical requirements that strive to ensure such performance. In order to achieve the objectives of the accountancy profession, professional accountants have to observe a number of prerequisites or fundamental principles as under:

Integrity: A professional accountant should be straightforward and honest in performing professional services.

Objectivity: A professional accountant should be fair and should not allow prejudice or bias, conflict of interest or influence of others to override objectivity.

Professional Competence and Due Care: A professional accountant should perform professional services with due care, competence and diligence and has a continuing duty to maintain professional knowledge and skill at a level required to ensure that a client or employer receives the advantage of competent professional service based on up-to-date developments in practice, legislation and techniques.

Confidentiality: A professional accountant should respect the confidentiality of information acquired during the course of performing professional services and should not use or disclose any such information without proper and specific authority or unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose.

Professional Behaviour: A professional accountant should act in a manner consistent with the good reputation of the profession and refrain from any conduct which might bring discredit to the profession.

Technical Standards: A professional accountant should carry out professional services in accordance with the relevant technical and professional standards. Professional accountants have a duty to carry out with care and skill, the instructions of the client or employer insofar as they are compatible with the requirements of integrity, objectivity and, in the case of professional accountants in public practice, independence.

Independence is the keystone upon which the respect and dignity of a profession is based. Independence stands for the strength of individuals to adopt an unbiased view on the matters undaunted any favour or frown. In all matters relating to the assignment, an independence in mental attitude is to be maintained. Only so long as the auditor maintains a high standard of independence and impartiality, the audit reports will continue to be accepted and respected business, financial institutions, Government and investors. Professional integrity and independence are essential characteristics of all the learned professions but are more so in the case of accounting profession.

Independence is a state of mind and personal character and an enlightened view of the professional duties involved. Independence is much affected the state of the profession, i.e., the ability and willingness to enforce a proper code of ethics as well as its ability to withstand pressures. The more the esteem for the profession in the public eyes because of the standards of independence prescribed it for its members, greater the reliance there would be on the reports and opinions given the members of the profession. Independence, as has been stated earlier, is a qualitative condition but rules are often framed professional bodies to help and guide members in preserving independence in variety of complex circumstances.

Independence of auditor must not only exist in fact, but should also appear to exist to all reasonable persons. This is very important because very often the relationships are misunderstood. It is, therefore, necessary that relationship maintained the auditor shall be such that no reasonable man can doubt his objectivity and integrity.

The Guidance Note issued the ICAI on “Independence of Auditors” contemplates that it is not possible to define “Independence” precisely. According to it, “independence implies that the judgment of a person is not subordinate to the wishes or directions of another person who might have engaged him or to his own self-interest. It stipulates that the independence is a condition of mind and personal character and should not be confused with the superficial and visible standards of independence which are sometimes imposed law. These legal standards may be relaxed or strengthened but the quality of independence remains unaltered. Independence of the auditor has not only to exist in fact, but should also appear to so exist to all reasonable persons. The relationship between the auditor and his client
should be such that firstly he himself is satisfied about his client and secondly, no unbiased person would be forced to the conclusion that on an objective assessment of the circumstances, there is likely to be an abridgment of the auditors’ independence. There is also a collective aspect of independence that is important to the accounting profession as a whole.

The chartered accountant is not personally known to the third parties who rely on professional opinion and accept his opinion principally on a larger faith on the entire accounting profession. The Companies Act, 1956 has enacted specific provisions to give concrete shape to this vital concept. The provisions disqualifying certain types of persons from undertaking audit of limited companies, provisions relating to ceiling on the number of audits that can be undertaken chartered accountant, provisions requiring special resolution for appointing auditors in certain cases and other provisions on appointment, reappointment and removal of auditors are designed to invest this institution of audit with sufficient independence to carry out the audit in the larger interest of shareholders and other users. The
vast powers of access given to the auditor to the books of account and other documents of the company are specifically designed to give independence to the auditors. The power to qualify his report is yet another weapon in the armoury of the auditor to protect his independence. The enactment of specific instances of misconduct in the Schedules to the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949 is yet another attempt to keep the independence and professional competence of the accounting profession. In order to ensure independence, the law has also made certain provisions which put either prohibitions or regulations in the matter of appointment of auditors –

Accordingly a person is disqualified to act as an auditor from being appointed as such if he is :

  •  an officer or employee of the company;
  •  a partner or an employee of an officer or employee of the company; or
  •  indebted to the company for a sum exceeding of Rs. 1,000.
  •  a person holding any security (any financial instrument which carried voting rights) of that company after a period of one year from the date of the commencement of the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2000.

The following are some specific instances where the question of independence vis a vis indebtedness has been considered :
1. The Research Committee of the ICAI has expressed the opinion that where in accordance with the terms of his engagement a client the auditor recovers his fees on a progressive basis as and when a part of the work is done without waiting for the completion of the whole job, he cannot be said to be indebted to the company at any stage.
2. Where an auditor purchases goods or services from a company audited him on credit he is definitely indebted to the company and if the amount outstanding exceeds rupees one thousand he is disqualified for appointment as an auditor of the company and has to vacate his office. It will not make any difference if the company allows him the period of credit as it allows to other customers in the normal business. He, in fact, in such a case also has become indebted to the company and consequently has to vacate his office.
3. A partner is disqualified when a firm in which he is a partner is indebted to the company for a sum exceeding rupees one thousand. Similarly, a firm is disqualified if a partner of that firm is so indebted.

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