Strangely almost a year ago to the month this column carried an article titled ‘End times Approaching? that asked if these were signs of the beginning of the end. What prompted the repeat of this question are the severe climatic changes and events that are currently happening or taking place in this world.
All religions or faiths have all taught us that the Last Hour and the Last Day will approach us one day, we cannot deny this fact. The Quran says: ‘’ and the hour is coming without any doubt’ (22:7). And: ‘the hour is certainly coming’ (15:85), ‘….they ask you about the hour; when will it come…….knowledge of it rests with my Lord’. (7:187)
If one has to look at the Bible, it also says: ‘…that day and hour knoweth no man’ (Mat 24:36) and ‘….that day and that hour knoweth no man …but the Father’ (Mark 13:32). There is no way that I am saying the end times have arrived, but if we look at many of the signs that we are witnessing today have been part of the predications as contained in the Quran and in the teachings of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).
Recently we have witnessed many natural disasters among them earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, typhoons, heavy rains, flooding, extreme temperatures and many other calamities that that have left destruction in many parts of the world. Some years ago there were earthquakes in Japan and Nepal that left a trail of destruction and deaths. Many homes and buildings were reduced to rubble there were also many deaths and thousands of people were left homeless.
In describing the beginning of the end the Qur’an contains verses that describe some of these events: ‘When the sky bursts open’…, ‘When the oceans surge into each other’……., ‘When Mountains are pulverized’…… Further Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said this about the end times: ‘Great cities will be ruined and it will be as if they had not existed the day before’ He further said: ‘The Hour will not be established until…earthquakes will be frequent’.
Recently many parts of the world have witnessed and experienced extreme weather conditions never seen before. This column may read like a news column but just to show the extreme conditions witnessed elsewhere. For a start when we think of the Arctic Circle we think of the very cold climate, snow and icebergs – but recently the temperatures reached and unbelievable 30o C. Scandinavia also had the hottest summer on record.
The United Kingdom had the ‘hottest’ July since records were kept – it reached 37o C – in this part of the world we consider this temperature as normal and bearable during our summer months but there were people who died in the UK because of the heat. Many airlines cancelled their flights because of the heat; trains services were disrupted because the rail tracks were expanding because of the temperatures.
In Greece there were heavy rains and heat that killed over 88 people and left 2000 hospitalised. There are wild fires in France, Greece, Spain and Portugal – destroying thousands of acres of land, destroying homes and property – where does it all end? In Spain and Portugal temperatures reached 47O this past week. Japan had its fair share of the heat at 41o that left over 80 people dead – this was followed by a typhoon that brought in heavy rains.
In California there were severe wildfires fanned by strong winds that swept huge tracts of land – in the process more than 600 homes were destroyed and more than 80,000 people had to be evacuated. In India and Bangladesh the monsoon weather brought in severe storms that caused severe flooding that destroyed many homes and killing over 100 people. There were monsoon rains in Myanmar and the flooding caused 100,000 to flee their homes. The news is filled with these types of extreme weather variances.
If we watch the news reports on television and other media we will see the destruction that these hurricanes can bring. Last year there was a hurricane that caused massive floods in parts of Texas, Cuba, the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and other neighbouring countries. In some cases water levels rose by 26 feet (approx. 8 metres) that destroyed homes, crops, infrastructure, and took lives. In some islands 90% of the homes were totally destroyed. The wind speeds reached up to 250kms/ hour and some places. We hear of natural disasters such hurricanes, storms, typhoons, heavy rains, floods that cause mudslides that have such a destructive effect in many parts of the world.
There are earthquakes rumbling in different regions of the world and also volcanos that are spewing out molten lava. These have also claimed lives and caused destruction to properties and infrastructure. Just this week, Indonesia suffered an earthquake which claimed over a hundred lives and damaged many homes. Are these the precursor warning signs to the approach of the end times or am I being a pessimist?
To quote the Bible: ‘…..days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another…..but ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified; for these things must come to pass…..and great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines and pestilences and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from Heaven’ (Luke 21: 6 – 11) and (Matthew 24:7).
The Islamic belief is that there are two stages that will lead to the end times approaching; the first is one in which there will be such natural calamities and also a serious increase in spiritual and moral degradation and decay that will afflict the world; this will be in setting in motion the early stages of the ‘second coming’ of Isa / Jesus (PBUH), who will lead us into the Dawn of the Golden Age. Prophet Muhammed said: The hour will not be established until the son of Maryam (Jesus pbuh) descends among you as a just ruler’. Some may be surprised to hear that Muslims also believe in the second coming of Jesus (Isaa pbuh).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his Hadith (sayings and preaching), made numerous references to the signs of the end times. They describe in detail the signs and their occurrences that describe and mirror the events and the times that we live in today – is this the beginning of the end? When will this happen? Is this start to the ‘Second Coming’ I will quote some of those Hadiths that talk about the end times; Read and ponder…..
Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said: ‘Great cities will be ruined and it will be as if they had not existed the day before’. Hiroshima was destroyed by the atom bomb, look at the cities in the Middle East that have and are being bombed and almost raised to the ground. Look at all the damage to the world around us.
He further said: ‘The Hour will not be established until…earthquakes will be frequent’. We hear regularly of earthquakes that shake the world, remember, Kobe in Japan, the tsunami that struck the south east Asian nations; the ones that struck Japan a few years ago causing a deluge that wiped out cities and levelled many areas.
We need to seriously reflect about what is happening to our world of today – are these warning signs and a precursor for us to ponder upon? Has the countdown begun? But the most important thing for us is; if these are the early warning signs have we prepared ourselves to turn our lives around so that we prepare our hearts, minds and soul to be in line with our religious teachings and faith?
The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella, Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.
That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.
Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.
Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.
What are these two Bills really about? The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.
The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.
In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.
According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.
The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.
He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.
This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.
This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.
The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.
The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.
The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced. According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.
Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.
One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.
They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.
In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.
There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.
The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.
While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered. It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.
The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.
The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.