A past president of the Institute of
Chartered Accountants in India (ICAI) has suggested there should be
a rethink of the extensive powers granted to ICAI presidents when
they take office.

When presidents are inaugurated for their
one-year terms, the ICAI council grants them a raft of powers
including responsibility for organising programmes, functions and
committee meetings; and the authority to appoint nominees for
various international and local committees and boards.

The president also acts as a spokesperson for
the institute on all occasions, unlike most professional bodies
where individual experts can speak on different topics.

Sunil Talati was ICAI president in 2007. He
told The Accountant that, by and large, all ICAI past
presidents have exercised the powers delegated by council “very
cautiously and in the best interest of the institute”. However,
Talati felt there were problems under the current leadership.
The Accountant discovered an open letter that Talati wrote
to current ICAI president Uttam Prakash Agarwal and forwarded to
the ICAI council members. The letter expressed concerns about a
number of issues, which Talati said he has been voicing in council
meetings over the past six months.

Money matters

Many of Talati’s concerns involve
what he considered reckless spending. He was also concerned Agarwal
was taking on too much responsibility and exerting too much
power.

He noted the ICAI vice-president has
traditionally been responsible for handling the institute’s funds
and finances, and branch matters, so the president is free to
attend to important policy matters. However, Talati said he heard
reports that the vice president had been divested of these
responsibilities and Agarwal was personally attending to them.

“While appreciating your personal involvement…
the message and consequences are not really desirable,” Talati
wrote.

Concerns about expenditure included INR2.5
million ($52,000) spent on a cricket match held as part of the
institute’s diamond jubilee celebrations. Talati said no council
approval was obtained for the event – they were only informed it
was taking place. He also noted that when ICAI branches asked to
play cricket matches in 2006 and 2007 they were refused on the
grounds that it did not fall within the objectives and powers of
the Chartered Accountants Act.

Talati was also unhappy with a letter that
told regional branches to display a framed photograph of the
president and said non-compliance would be “viewed seriously”.

“Although the president is the leader of the
profession, he is first among equals and therefore directions
issued for putting up photographs… do not send a very positive
message to our membership,” he wrote.

Talati also criticised an aspect of Agarwal’s
handling of the Satyam fraud. Immediately following a visit to
imprisoned Price Waterhouse partner S Gopalakrishnan, Agarwal said
publicly that Gopalakrishnan was innocent. Within days, Agarwal
made another public announcement saying the PW partner was
guilty.

“This does not create a good image of the
institute,” Talati said.

The Accountant discovered, from the
same source as Talati’s letter, a letter that appeared to be a
reply “from and on behalf of” Agarwal. But while Talati confirmed
his letter was authentic, the ICAI did not answer questions put to
them on the matter.

‘Personal hatred’

The reply said “personal hatred and
animosity” were the main causes behind Talati’s letter. It also
alleged Talati abused his own presidential and vice-presidential
powers, and was involved in excessive spending.

Talati said the allegations against him were
untrue and there has been no conflict or difference of strong
opinions between himself and Agarwal in the past.

He said most of the 40 council members
supported his position and that a sufficient message has now been
carried to the president.

Talati said that due to this year’s events, it
may be wise for the council in future to grant powers to the
president in stages based on performance and experience.