Economies across the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region entered the COVID-19 crisis in widely varying states of economic health. Despite the different starting points, the immediate economic impacts were similar as lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus impacted the travel and tourism sectors and subsequently, the rest of the non-oil economy. A recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) report illustrates (through the purchasing managers index (PMI) series which is known to correlate with non-oil GDP trends) that economic decline in the region has reached record lows. As the international response continues to develop, organizations across the region need to rapidly respond to several significant challenges. Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) in the MENA region have been demonstrating resiliency, innovation, and regional commitment.
In Yemen, accounting and auditing professionals of the Yemen Association for Certified Public Accountants (YACPA) have persevered and recently attained alignment with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), International Standards on Auditing (ISA), and other international standards for their country. The road has been difficult, but YACPA professionals have attended every key event, shared their stories to inspire others, and have worked tirelessly to stand as a symbol of professionalism and commitment for the region.
Another example is the Lebanese Association of CPAs (LACPA) which has contributed advice, guidance, and support to their country as it navigates the currency crisis, national emergency, and unrest by acting as a center of excellence for their citizenry and country.
While Lebanon was already amid its most severe economic crisis, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) was facing headwinds from oversupply in its real estate sector, and Yemen’s economic troubles worsened as COVID-19 continued to spread. Nevertheless, the PAOs in these two countries remained open, demonstrated flexibility, and recognized the power of change.
Yemen is experiencing a triple emergency due to a reduction in humanitarian funding, increasing fighting and airstrikes, and a pandemic. Nevertheless, YACPA responded quickly to increase revenue and continue its operations. The association is currently benefiting from virtual training offerings whereby participation in training events has increased from roughly 100 participants to 300 participants per training during 2020. This exemplary association is leveraging digital technologies, reaching universities all over Yemen and working with external PAOs to ensure that all students have access to high quality education and training during this time.
The UAE Accountants & Auditors Association (AAA) holds a future-oriented vision for strengthening the accountancy profession across the country. Their conception of what constitutes an accountant, how to best improve the quality of financial reporting, and the role and impact an association can have on government and economy is uniquely theirs. AAA is presently working to restructure its membership and align with emerging global trends and best practices to embrace a more holistic definition of a ‘professional accountant’ so as to best position their country’s economy for success.
Both YACPA and the AAA have had to think well ‘outside of the box’ — brainstorming and designing practical work and solutions that meet the changing times. They stand out as examples of how the MENA region profession is not looking to the past, but rather embracing and preparing for the future to ensure sustainable economic growth and financial stability for their economies.
PAOs in the region, with support from the Arab Federation of Accountants and Auditors (AFAA), continue to strengthen their commitment to each other. Three associations which have stepped up repeatedly—the Saudi Organization for Certified Public Accountants (SOCPA), the Palestinian Association of Certified Public Accountants (PACPA) and the Jordan Certified Public Accountants (JACPA)— demonstrate the spirit of Arab unity and support. These organizations have selflessly given themselves to the development of accountancy institutions and professionals. JACPA and PACPA, for example, worked with LACPA, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and AFAA to enhance audit quality assurance review skills in the region. In 2020 and 2021, JACPA plans to build upon its 10 sub-committees to continue to expand the scope of its program and provide voluntary additional QA services to members, as well as members of other PAOs in the region who request this service. They have shared lessons learned, their time, skills, and abilities to support the sisterhood and brotherhood of the Arab profession and to promote pan-Arabism.
The challenges facing PAOs in the MENA region, even on a normal day, are many and COVID-19 places one more burden on these entities. These PAOs have a track record of showing resilience, adapting evidence-based practices for their unique contexts, and innovating to overcome challenges that impact the services offered to members. The COVID-19 crisis might be a tipping point if we look across time horizons for the future of the accountancy profession, for how we live and work, and even the future of the planet. We have a great deal to learn from PAOs in emerging economies that are demonstrating resiliency, innovation, and regional commitment.
For additional resources, guidance, and advice from the IFAC community on adjusting and managing during this rapidly evolving situation, visit the IFAC, IAASB, IESBA, and IPSASB COVID-19 web pages, which are continually updated. For PAOs that may need support in offering Continuing Professional Development (CPD) online, please see IFAC’s Online CPD Services for Professional Accountancy Organizations webpage, which lists several IFAC member organizations that are ready to assist PAOs with online CPD for members.