In November 1996, in accordance with the bye-laws of the Association, an EGM was called to consider making the Association more open and accountable. However, this time even before the necessary papers requisitioning the EGM had been submitted to the ACCA Chief Executive, the leadership decided on a campaign of personal abuse against Professor Sikka. For three consecutive months in July, August and September 1996, the official magazine of the Association (Certified Accountant) devoted considerable space to attacking Professor Sikka and Mr. Ken Robins, the two organisers of the EGM. It should be noted that the contents of the in-house magazine (at that time known as Certified Accountant) are severely censored (also see below) and controlled by head office staff. The usual editorial freedoms are not present. Journalists working on the magazine have explained that each edition is vetted by the Chief Executive who ultimately decides the contents (also see a letter in Accountancy Age, 28 November 1996, page 11).
In response to the organised personal attacks, these two reformers asked for a ‘right of reply’, but the President’s (Peter Langard) letter of 24th July 1996 carefully avoided the request, taken to mean that a ‘right of reply’ was not available. Despite this, Professor Sikka tried to put the record straight and sought to get a letter published. It never got published. Upon becoming aware of the censorship policies of the ACCA, I (Austin Mitchell) also sought to put the record straight, but the editor refused to publish my letter as well. For the record, it should be noted that over an eighteen months period prior to the 1996 EGM, Professor Sikka had sent three letters to the editor, none were published even though he had been routinely targeted by the magazine. In contrast, it should be noted that in recent years, other professional accountancy bodies (e.g. ICAEW and CIMA) have also been facing campaigns for democratic reform. In each case, the official magazines carried interviews and articles by reformers to facilitate exchange of information and views amongst members. The same has not occurred at the Association.
The personalised hate campaign conducted and orchestrated by the leadership set the tone, especially as the leadership failed to publish any response from Professor Sikka. It sent a signal to the lunatic fringe, indicating that making personal attacks upon Professor Sikka was a fair game. He and his family received threatening and abusive phone calls which made much of his ethnicity (he is of Indian decent). He also received similar calls at his place of work. His employers (University of Essex) informed Essex Police (Colchester Division).
The Association’s officials acted in a calculating and malicious way and it had unpredictable consequences. At an EGM of the ACCA (in November 1996), in full view of press and the public, its Vice-President abused Professor Sikka by calling him a thief, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and a WANKER amongst other things. Subsequently, he explained this to mean that Professor Sikka should be forced to leave the Association and lead a body called the World Association of Non Chartered Certified Accountants (he delighted in telling the audience that the acronym was WANCCA) (see The Independent, 6 November 1996, page 22; Accountancy Age, 7 November 1996, page 44; Financial Times, 11 November 1996, page 21; Daily Telegraph, 23 November 1996). These abusive comments were made by Mr. Jim Waits, the then Vice-President of the Association. Whilst Mr. Waits hurled abuse, no officer of the Association sought to restrain him. Indeed, they smiled approvingly until the meeting broke up in an uproar of protests from the floor. Attempts to stop him were made by ordinary members of the Association who described his behaviour as “tasteless and disgusting” (Accountancy Age, 28 November 1996, page 1).
In an unprecedented move, the press called for Mr. Waits’ resignation. ACCA President, Peter Langard, was also criticised for failing to immediately condemn Mr. Waits’ performance (Accountancy Age, 14 November 1996, page 11). Subsequent to the EGM, it is believed that the Association received letters of complaints from its members (also see Accountancy age, 21 November 1996, page 13), including Professor Sikka. However, there has been no independent investigation of the role played by the ACCA leadership in engendering the environment where one of its own Officeholders behaved in a manner which can only be described as disgraceful.
Under public pressure, the ACCA eventually organised a disciplinary hearing (Accountancy Age, 7 November 1996, page 1; Accountancy Age, 28 November 1996, page 1). The evidence prepared by Mr. Jim Waits showed that contrary to the public pretence, many ACCA Council members actually backed his abusive comments and sent him supporting letters and telephone calls (Accountancy Age, 27 February 1997, page 3). One of the complainants against Jim Waits hearings was Professor Sikka, but for the disciplinary hearings he was not invited to submit any evidence, even though he was on the receiving end of the carefully organised and orchestrated abuse. Neither was he shown any of the evidence upon which the Association supposedly conducted a disciplinary case against Mr. Waits. Such are the Association’s rules that those who are deliberately wronged by its Officeholders had no ‘right of appeal’. The Association claims that its disciplinary hearings are ‘open’. However, this ‘openness’ excludes inviting the wronged party to give evidence (e.g. by speaking at the hearing), or giving it any sight of the evidence prepared.
The outcome of the disciplinary hearing was that Mr. Waits was not fined
though he was admonished (also see below). He resigned the Vice-Presidentship
and also left the Association. However, there has been no public apology
to Professor Sikka from the Association for the misconduct of its Vice-President.
As a result of the disciplinary hearing against Mr. Waits, the Association
has publicly acknowledged that Mr. Waits misbehaved. When Professor Sikka
requested an apology, the ACCA Chief Executive replied by claiming that,
|“[Jim Waits] was not speaking on Council’s behalf” and “I do not know
on what basis you believe that Jim Waits was speaking on behalf of Council
or the ACCA”
(Letter dated 6 and 10 March 1997).
|“I confirm that the tape recording of the EGM was made for internal
record-keeping purposes only. I am, therefore, not able to make it available
to you”, and “we shall not be making the tape of the EGM available to you”.
(Letter from the ACCA dated 18 and 25 November 1996).