Calls mount for ‘deluded’ UK accounting bodies to quit conference where junta official is guest of honour

Several major bodies representing accountants around the world have withdrawn from an industry event hosted in Southeast Asia after a key figure from Myanmar’s junta was invited as a “guest of honour” – but others based in the UK and the US are still attending. 

The biennial ASEAN Federation of Accountants (AFA) conference will now go ahead on November 25 in the absence of key event partners, who pulled out amid mounting criticism of the inclusion of Dr Kan Zaw, the junta’s auditor general. 

Among those withdrawing is the Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (JICPA), which has about 20,000 members. “We regrettably informed AFA of our withdrawal from the conference after serious consideration,” JICPA representative Mick Fukuda told Myanmar Now.  

“To support the global profession is our strategic imperative and we will definitely continue our active support for AFA in a different manner,” he added.

The US-based Institute of Management Accountants, also an event partner, announced its withdrawal in the trade publication Accounting Today on Wednesday. “We will continue to work with AFA in ways that align with IMA’s vision and core values,” the institute said. 

Two other groups, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and CPA Australia, also withdrew their participation this week. Public attention around their involvement was distracting from their goal of supporting the accounting profession in ASEAN, they told Myanmar Now. 

The AFA conference is co-organised by the Myanmar Institute of CPAs, or MICPA. The group’s chairperson, Wan Tin, currently serves as the AFA’s president. The Institute of Indonesia Chartered Accountants (IAI) is facilitating the conference.

Myanmar Now contacted AFA and IAI for comment but has not received responses. 

‘Deluded’ UK bodies still attending

Two UK accounting bodies have resisted public pressure and said they will still attend the conference. They are the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

“ACCA’s participation in the ASEAN Federation of Accountants conference is in line with our values to support the profession in the region and internationally across the world,” spokesperson Helen Thompson told Myanmar Now. 

When asked if ACCA was concerned about the inclusion of Dr Kan Zaw, Thompson said: “We are very mindful of the strength of feeling about the situation in Myanmar, and we see this annual event as being about the accountancy profession in the ASEAN region, and not about political regimes.”

An ICAEW spokesperson told Myanmar Now the association was “disappointed” that Dr Kan Zaw is a keynote speaker but decided to continue to support the conference “after careful consideration”.

“We have expressed our concern that his involvement could undermine the non-political and non-partisan basis of the Federation’s work in the region,” the spokesperson said. 

The London-based advocacy group Burma Campaign UK criticised the involvement of the UK accounting bodies. 

“ACCA and ICAEW are deluded if they think participating in a conference with a representative of a military regime which committed genocide is acceptable,” the group’s director, Mark Farmaner, told Myanmar Now. 

“These organisations have a low public profile but now face their public reputation being associated with a military which rapes children. ACCA and ICAEW need to pull out of this conference not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also in their own self-interest because of the damage they are doing to their own reputation.” he added. 

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), based in the US, is also continuing to participate in the conference. Its president, Alan Johnson, is due to give a keynote speech. 

“Our involvement at the AFA conference is in no way an endorsement of the political affiliations or beliefs of other speakers; rather, it is a demonstration of our independent and longstanding commitment to support the development of the profession around the world for the public good,” IFAC communications director Jennifer DiClerico told Myanmar Now.

‘Murderous junta’  

An online petition demanding international sponsors and participants withdraw from the conference unless Dr Kan Zaw is excluded, started by activist group Justice For Myanmar, has received more than 12,600 signatures since Monday. 

Justice For Myanmar had earlier accused international sponsors and participants of “reputation laundering” for the junta through the conference. 

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, called on AFA to disinvite Dr Kan Zaw. 

“No representative of this murderous junta should be granted guest of honour status, but must be isolated entirely. The Myanmar people have said loud and clear that this military junta does not represent them.”

Dr Htwe Htwe Thein, an Associate Professor at Curtin Business School in Australia, questioned the ethics of international bodies that are still participating in the conference.

“They should think seriously about what kind of message they are sending out to the international community with their decision to continue to participate in the conference despite the mounting pressure to withdraw,” she told Myanmar Now. 

“Many of these professional bodies claim to support ethical practices and principles and their participation may be viewed as inconsistent with these claims,” she added. 

Last month ASEAN, a bloc of 10 Southeast Asian countries, took the bold step of excluding coup leader Min Aung Hlaing from its summit. The move came after the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar was barred by the junta from meeting with detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


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