Article clerks who hoped to receive board exam results on Friday – key in determining whether or not they have attained ‘chartered accountant (CA)’ status – will have to wait another month for the big reveal after the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) announced it will withhold results pending an investigation into contraventions of exam rules by candidates.
Written in November 2015, the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) forms the second half of the Qualifying Examination (QE), which is a prerequisite to qualify for registration as a chartered accountant registered with Saica, ie a CA (SA). The first half is made up of the Initial Test of Competence (ITC), which assesses core technical competence.
According to Saica, certain APC regulations were contravened by some examination candidates during the “pre-release period”, which is the five-day period before the APC, during which candidates are provided with case study materials to enable them to prepare for the assessment.
Janine Claassens, project director for education at Saica, said the misconduct pertained to certain “unethical behaviour by candidates”. Claassens would not be drawn on exactly what this unethical behaviour involved, as the investigation is ongoing.
In a statement, Saica said it is “satisfied that the exam itself had not been compromised in any way” by these contraventions.
Moneyweb has since learnt that a PwC employee used confidential client information in exam preparation notes, which he made available to article clerks at PwC, who in turn made them available to other CA candidates outside the firm.
PwC would not confirm or deny this. “Saica is investigating the matter. PwC is cooperating with Saica as are all the other audit firms. We look forward to a speedy resolution of this matter in the interest of all the candidates,” Sanchia Temkin, PwC’s head of media relations in South Africa, told Moneyweb via emailed response.
According to the APC Regulations, “Any activity that is irregular or dishonest or likely to give an unfair advantage to any candidate shall be considered to be misconduct” and be subject to disciplinary action.
This includes obtaining assistance from professional staff in a training office (ie an audit firm).
While the exam notes may not have been compiled, used, or shared with mal-intent, Saica’s Code of Professional Conduct is clear that a chartered accountant must “respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority, unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose, nor use the information for the personal advantage of the chartered accountant or third parties.”
In its statement on the matter, Saica said it views its “examination processes as well as the integrity of prospective CAs(SA) as sacrosanct to the maintenance of its education and ethical standards”.
Once the investigation into misconduct is complete and any guilty parties are proven guilty, a disciplinary committee within Saica will determine what the consequences should be.
“They [the disciplinary committee] have the experience to assess the severity of the case and decide on an adequate penalty,” said Claassens.
According to APC Regulations, Saica may disqualify candidates from the QE, or a part thereof, “for such period as Saica may deem appropriate”.
Claassens would not reveal how many candidates are suspected of misconduct.
“Saica regards unprofessional conduct in a serious light and will leave no stone unturned in its investigation of any form of misconduct, be it by examination candidates, trainees or members,” it said.
Saica will issue the APC results on March 18.
“If after publication of the results any further allegations of irregularities are received, candidates will be subject to a similar investigation process,” Saica said.