Acra may be empowered to inspect audit firms, mete out sanctions in Accountants Act review: Indranee

The powers being considered for Acra would bring Singapore in line with the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah.
The powers being considered for Acra would bring Singapore in line with the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Finance is looking into empowering the the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) to inspect audit firms' quality controls and policies and, where necessary, mete out sanctions for lapses as part of a review of the Accountants Act, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said on Tuesday (Oct 3).

The move would bring Singapore in line with the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, Ms Indranee told the gathering at the Singapore Accountancy and Audit Convention 2017. Ms Indranee said more details will be released in due course.

Commenting on the review of the Accountants Act, Prof Tan Cheng Han, Acra board member and chairman of the Public Accountants Oversight Committee said: "The trust that investors place in our markets is due in part to the robust audit oversight we have in place. Such legislative reviews help ensure high audit quality standards are upheld." Acra will be inviting the public accountancy sector and the general public to provide feedback on proposed legislative amendments to the Accountants Act in due course."

Ms Indranee in her speech on Tuesday said that while the Asian Corporate Governance Association has commended ACRA's audit inspection programme as "among the best in the region", Singapore must continue its efforts to raise the bar for audit quality, said the minister.

However, she said regulatory changes per se are insufficient for Singapore to be a global accountancy hub and the profession must be ready for the technology revolution.

"As the use of technology in the workplace intensifies, firms must innovate and use more technology to offer higher-value, insight-driven services," she said.

In line with this, Ms Indranee announced two initiatives to provide skills support to improve technology use for the accountancy sector.

One initiative, the Skills Framework for Accountancy, allows individuals to explore career advancement opportunities along or across 6 identified tracks within the sector, which cover 25 job roles. these tracks include assurance, financial accounting, management accounting, internal audit, business valuation and tax. The framework provides key information on the sector, and identifies a total of 84 current and emerging skills and competencies required for each job role. Some of the emerging skills and competencies include Data analytics, infocomm technology adoption and innovation, and valuation research and analysis. It also informs individuals on training programmes available to help them acquire these skills and competencies.

The second initiative, dubbed SAPPHIRE, helps accounting firms to adopt the Skills Framework and integrate technology at the workplace.

Companies can tap on SAPPHIRE to incorporate progressive human resource (HR) and industrial relations practices and the skills framework into their HR function, helping them to improve talent attraction and development capabilities. They can also integrate technology with their culture, work processes and skills upgrading to enhance the company's productivity and growth. Firms will receive a 70 per cent subsidy from Workforce Singapore for up to 100 hours of consultancy advice per project.