New years bring new opportunities and challenges, but the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus is one of the most challenging starts to a year I remember. Many of us have had to cancel or postpone family reunions, social activities and professional events, and adjust to working from home. While this is disappointing, we must all do what we can to overcome this unexpected challenge.
At the Institute, we’ve been developing ways to help members in business and practice to adjust and thrive.
To protect members’ health we’ve cancelled continuing professional development events until at least 8 March. The library is also closed and the counter service hours limited. We’ve also issued an alert for practising members on the impact of the coronavirus on audits, and are working on further alerts to address various auditing and financial reporting issues. For Qualification Programme (QP) students, the Institute will postpone some of the June 2020 examinations (the Final Examination and the new QP Associate level modules) and reschedule and condense the workshops. We will continue to take the appropriate measures to safeguard the health of our students, while taking into account the concerns of employers, and uphold the integrity of the examinations. For the latest information on the Institute’s activities, please visit the new COVID-19 – CPA Information Centre webpage.
This epidemic has come at a challenging time for Hong Kong. The economy is in recession for the first time in a decade, as a consequence of the many difficulties faced over the past year. This is causing problems for businesses. Speaking as an insolvency practitioner, the lack of recourse to corporate rescue procedures for companies facing financial difficulties is a situation that the government should look at resolving. In my experience, many companies are forced into liquidation when they could likely have survived if the provisional supervision legal framework, which is being awaited for almost 25 years since 1996, was in place. This would be a long-term improvement to Hong Kong’s business environment and international standing.
But before tackling the long term, the government needs to respond in the short term. I welcome the budget delivered by Financial Secretary Paul Chan on 26 February, and hopefully this will help to get our economy back on track through the expansionary fiscal policy and additional relief measures of HK$120 billion he proposed including the cash handout scheme and support for businesses particularly affected by the downturn, such as tourism, retail and other consumption related sectors. The Institute has long been advocating a holistic review of Hong Kong’s tax regime, and so to hear that the government plans to undertake one is good news.
“At the Institute, we’ve been developing ways to help members in business and practice to adjust and thrive.”
Before the Securities and Futures Commission and The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited issued their joint statement on 4 February providing guidance on results announcements, the Institute had taken the lead and met the two bodies to discuss an extension to the upcoming 31 March reporting deadline for December 2019 year end listed companies affected by the outbreak. The joint statement issued provides a framework to handle the situation where the issuers are not able to publish the preliminary results in full compliance with the Listing Rules, but requires much further clarification and guidance. The Institute has been diligently following up with the regulators and other stakeholders on this as well as ascertaining the latest status and collecting statistics of the industry. We are very hopeful that the two regulators will issue further guidance shortly.
Although Council’s away day was cancelled due to the coronavirus situation, work continues in preparing the Seventh Long Range Plan, and the aim is for it to be finalized in the first half of the year. The plan will enhance our member services and support, engagement with specific groups of members, improve our communications, and elevate the Institute’s image in society.
I strongly believe that the Institute must be more engaged with the media in order to publicize our two key messages, firstly that accountants are leaders of our economy, and secondly that a career in accounting is a career for the future. This month, I was interviewed by many local media outlets, discussing the effects of the coronavirus epidemic on businesses and accountants, setting out how the Institute is helping its members, releasing our “Together for a Better Hong Kong” 2020-21 tax policy and budget proposals, as well as promoting the Institute in general.
It’s good to be able to talk with the media about how we help Hong Kong, and improve the opportunities available for our members and society. Also, to focus on the positive future rather than solely worrying about the difficulties we face today. Hong Kong is strong and resilient, and like with SARS, we will get through this difficult situation and come out stronger. Let’s stay healthy, maintain good hygiene and all work “Together for a Better Hong Kong.”