(PASS, March 2000, p. 23)

GRAHAM HAMBLY gives a blow-by-blow account of the latest ACCA egm (part one)

The vote had already been lost by a big margin when the requisitioner of the ACCA emergency, general meeting, Anthony Thomas, got his 10 minutes to put the case for an Independent commission.

Two hours later, Thomas and ACCA emerged battered but with their dignity intact - if £80,000 poorer.

Ironically, for another £20,000 the ACCA could have got that independent review of its corporate governance Thomas had wanted.  Instead it got what some have described as months of mud slinging and innuendo.

Thomas spent the first part of his allotted time trying to explain to a packed long room at ACCA headquarters about his problems arranging a meeting with the President John Brockwell to prevent the egm happening at all.  He also said he would have been happy with the vote if the ACCA had 'won it openly and fairly'

He pointed to the 20-page defence document to counter his two pages of argument.  'If only it had stopped there it would have been fine, 'he suggested.

Equal opportunity

However, Thomas alluded to a PwC partner who had sent a letter to all Malaysian members on ACCA stationary urging them to vote against the resolution.  Why, he asked, was he not given the same opportunity.

Thomas wanted to know if this PwC partner was acting on behalf of the executive and local council.  'It simply isn't right,' he said.

He went on to say that the egm was not all about Ray Gardiner and the Colin Jackson disciplinary case: that was the catalyst but not the driving force.  All he wanted, Thomas stressed, was an independent review, to make sure all was as it should be in the ACCA house.

He told the audience he had been astonished by the ACCA response to his call for an independent commission, and while the vote had been lost he believed the intellectual argument had been won.

He added that he hoped the day had given the ACCA much to think about and although some members may have disagreed about what and how things had been done they would agree he acted in their best interest.

ACCA Vice President George Anger put the ACCA case against the need for an independent commission.

He felt that message from the vote was clear. 'Members recognise that the ACCA has a strong core corporate governance and accountability.'

He said members were angry that an egm had been called when there was 'nothing in it that could not have waited until the agm in May'.

He explained some members also wanted to change the bye-laws so that 114 members 'can't abuse their rights and force another egm'.  This could have serious implications for future dissenters.

Auger stressed that members were annoyed about the divergence of effort and resources the egm has entailed.  Members also felt the requisitioners of the meeting had failed to provide any coherent arguments in their favour.

Perhaps more importantly, he said, the resolution was out of time with the modern-looking ACCA.

He argued that the Association was a big and complex organisation that needed modem corporate governance structures to cope.  That meant Council determining strategy and the executive looking after operational matters.

Members did not want the delegated voting system currently used to elect Council members changed, despite the fact that in effect it leaves the President with enough votes to decide who goes on to Council.

Auger said that members had voted decisively to move forward.  With the support of the vast majority of members, the ACCA will continue to provide a modern, effective, well governed Association.

Former Council member Pat Carruthers said Council members had to he elected on the principle of one member, one vote.  The fact that ACCA members can ask other members to vote on their behalf was a significant threat to the democratic electoral process, she said.

Carruthers stressed that the block vote was outdated and only used by discredited organisations.

Emmanuel Carter said the egm was a sad day for the ACCA and pointed out that an independent review had taken place last June and given the ACCA a clean bill of health

J H Davies, also agreed it was a sad day for the Association.  However he wanted to know about the money the ACCA spent on its hostile takeover of CIMA and CIPFA.

He charged two Council members of not telling the truth and said they should be subject of a disciplinary hearing.

Feudal multinational

Jaffer Manek claimed the ACCA had become a feudal multinational body with no shareholder accountability.  He felt the Association was all about power and privilege with a culture of cronyism.

Elaine Hazelwood wanted the President to confirm that Council authorised the chief executive to use her influence to persuade members to vote against the resolution. The President, John Brockwell, answered 'no', although it was pointed out that the chief executive had a role to act on behalf of Council.

Prem Sikka then stood up.  He congratulated everyone for the dignity with which the debate was being held.  Sikka wanted to know why the ACCA did not have open Council meetings.

He also wondered why there were no non-white office holders or any from overseas.  Where is this global body the ACCA is talking about, he asked.

Sikka felt the time was right for the ACCA to create a federal United Nations structure where those outside the UK can be given a real voice in the running of the Association

The meeting was due to last 90 minutes, but President John Brockwell allowed everyone who wanted to speak have their three minutes

In the end the result was clear.  An overwhelming rejection of the resolution.  Whether this is the same as an overwhelming endorsement of Council is another debate.

Interestingly, those voting on the day 23 voted for the motion and 31 against.

That still leaves over 60,000 members who did not vote one way or the other.

As one member put it, the biggest enemy is not the Anthony Thomases of this world but apathy - which again was the winner.

Other egm speakers included R J Hughes, A P Davies, Harold Beardsley, A G Thorne, Larry White, R Goding, A Springer, Professor Mike Harvey, Peter Burke, Ray Gardiner, David Leonard, Tony Cruse and David Bishop.