By Sunil Karunanayake
Under the theme of ‘Re-imagine’, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL) last week inaugurated its 29th conference on a colourful note despite the gloom of failures, bankruptcies, job losses and bail outs dominating the financial world.
Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad, the chief guest, gave a vivid account of contemporary history in the backdrop of the current global financial crisis and said when the Iron curtain fell and the Soviet Union disintegrated the question was what the tomorrow would be; the response was US domination like the Roman Empire creating a different class of civilization and globalised scenario.
However focus is now shifting to Asia and ‘we speak of Asian Resurgence’, he said, adding that Asian power was never in question.
It was Japan followed by Korea (with US backing) East Asian Tigers, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia. The last two decades belong to China and Asia with widespread growth. In the 18th century Asia probably under foreign domination took a backseat with the western world dominating the Global economy. “What we are witnessing today is the reversal of this anomaly. We now observe the rapidly improving living standards in Asia,” he added.
Mr Prasad recalled that the 14th SAARC (South Asian) summit in New Delhi called for an interconnected region, however this did not progress. “We remained least connected, but the 15th summit in Colombo raised our hopes. Today Indian tourists have become a boon to Sri Lanka while SriLankan Airlines generates a lot of business in India while nearly 70% of Indian export cargo passes through the transshipment hub of the Colombo Port.
He said thanks to the Indo –Lanka Free Trade agreement, trade volumes have expanded to $3 billion from $250 billion. Sri Lankan expatriates are well employed in India. “We will progress and build on CEPA but accountants of both countries agree that their profession will not be affected. As signatories to WTO, both India and Sri Lanka are committed to expand CEPA,” he said, urging a consolidation of these openings and building an exciting future in the emerging Asian Century.
Keynote speaker Rajan Asiriwathan, a distinguished accountant and well known authority on taxation, recalled his entry as a student in 1961 in the fledgling 2 year- old ICASL and spoke with nostalgia of the good old days free of tax/audit deadlines, poaching of audits, enforced standards and a disciplined background with Articledship and a rich legacy provided by British. The slow pace also provided a close relationship between the auditor and the client. The auditor played the role of consultant, expert and friend. He quoted a recent Indian example where heiress to the Birla fortune even named the auditor as the sole beneficiary!
The 1970’s was marked by the expansion of the student base with training being extended to the non audit sector too It was also during the late seventies that Sri Lankan Chartered Accountants became much in demand in African countries and most of them became virtual ambassadors thus providing more employment opportunities.
He said in this Golden Jubilee year the ICASL should be prepared to meet the challenges of growing student population and provide professional, ethical and linguistic skills to enhance quality to make the ICASL the first choice for accountancy. Mr Asiriwathan whilst commending the syllabus revisions, advised the Institute to make haste slowly, work closely with institutions like the Central Bank, Inland Revenue, Securities and Exchange Commission, etc. The paper writers/presenters included two Sri Lankan expatriates - Mano Tittawela, consultant based in Australia, Rustom Jilla, CFO Ansell, USA and Dr Uditha Liyanage, Director PIM.