By Luvo Mnyobe, Master's in Journalism and Media Studies student
On 26 November, Rhodes University 2021 Distinguished Alumni Awardee Bernard Agulhas discussed the future of auditing with Rhodes University Dean of Commerce, Professor Dave Sewry, as a part of a series of Rhodes University Leadership Conversations.
Agulhas has nearly three decades of experience in auditing and was formally the CEO of the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is given to Rhodes University alumni who have proven themselves to be outstanding role models. Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, who offered a congratulatory message to Agulhas, reminded the audience of the award's significance.
"The recipient should personify the attributes and values of social justice, empathy, kindness, decency, integrity, honesty, compassion, civility and human solidarity. These are the values that Mr Agulhas has demonstrated in his exceptional leadership and dedicated service to his profession,” said Dr Mabizela.
Dr Mabizela added that the University is honoured to count Agulhas as one of “its own”.
"We want your colleagues and the whole world to know just how incredibly proud we are of you and your personal accomplishments. And thank you for flying the flag of our University with great honour and with great distinction," said Dr Mabizela. “We commend you for all that you are.”
Agulhas' sister Zahra Cassim delivered his citation and told the audience that it was a moment of great pride for his family and community to witness the acknowledgement of her brother's achievements in this way.
"Growing up in Gelvandale, he was always a great role model and an independent thinker. He never allowed boundaries to prevent him from achieving his goals. He always overcame obstacles through perseverance and integrity," she said.
Cassim explained that Agulhas had always had great aspirations to contribute to changing the world and his community. She stated that the beginning of this drive to change the world started during his studies at Rhodes University in 1981.
Agulhas reflected on the difficulty of joining the University at that time.
"1981 was a defining year for the growth of Rhodes University as it was then that the University opened its residences to all races. Needless to say, there were quite a few tensions during that time, but I was very grateful that it allowed students to be exposed to more diverse cultures. This set us in good stead for post-1994," said Agulhas.
During Agulhas' eleven years as the CEO of the Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors of South Africa, South Africa was ranked number one position globally by the World Economic Forum with Auditing and Reporting standards consecutively. This is an achievement that very few leaders will ever accomplish in their lifetime, making him worthy of this acknowledgement.
Professor Dave Sewry, who was in conversation with Agulhas, mentioned that the Commerce Faculty is beaming with pride at all his achievements as a faculty graduate.
"It's every educator's wish to see their graduates go on to not only to have enjoyable careers, but also to contribute to the discipline and the profession, in the manner that Bernard has," Prof Sewry said.
Over the past few years, the auditing profession has been implicated in massive scandals across the country. Agulhas made mention of the revelations made of auditors implicated in the state capture commission of inquiry, who have disgraced the profession.
He said that the profession's future would be stable because of the significant role of auditing in the world. “But this is only if the auditors show that they can protect the public,” he added.
"Public protection is exactly what we need; what our country needs. If auditors can show that they can hold business, government, and others accountable, we will be able to overcome the negative reputation auditors have had in the past few years."
Agulhas concluded by advising accounting and auditing students that they should consider the work they will do as public service.
"The only way that we will revitalise confidence in the profession is if we are committed to acting in the interests of the public in all the audits we do," he said.