One CPA thinks so. Congressional committees listen to the players point fingers at each other for financial collapse of the energy trading giant, executives refuse to testify because they might incriminate themselves, and the Justice Department looks for legal violations. Pres. Bush proposed changes in pension laws that would protect employees from catastrophic losses by giving them more freedom to manage their investments, as if they were wise enough. Dave Cotton, CPA, thinks the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts (AICPA) should empower its Professional Ethics Committee to enforce higher standards of technical conduct among its auditing members. Writing for the Washington Post, he observes that, “We in the accounting business are fooling ourselves if we think there aren’t more Enrons in the pipeline.” As a member of the AICPA Ethics Committee he says, “I have seen ethical lapses that resulted in millions of dollars of losses get punished with as little as 16 hours of continuing education.” If financial statements are not dependable then capitalism is in trouble. “Better to simply end the links between companies and their auditors than establish new mechanisms to monitor a relationship that naturally lends itself to abuse,” he says.
His proposed solution is for auditing firms to work for the investors they represent by being engaged by the securities exchanges through competitive bids and to take auditors off the payroll of the firms they are assigned to monitor. Auditing costs could be recovered by a fee on all stock trading transactions. This idea sounds so good it is likely to be given little attention unless the White House gets overwhelmed with support for it from voters across the country. Obviously, it could depress market caps of many auditing firms that double dip with their clients. Meanwhile, Enron is becoming a transitive verb. It is now possible to “enron” people, to be “enronish,” and to practice “enronomics”....ugh..
There is also the more serious “enronitis,” fear of investors that many other shoes are about to drop. Wall Street is grappling with a “crisis in confidence” according to Chelsea Emery writing for Reuters. Shares of Tyco International sank after the firm admitted that $8 billion it spent on 700 acquisitions were never reported. Where are your pension funds invested?
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