The Role of the External Auditor in Corporate Governance
The external auditor has long played an important role in the corporate governance function. However, before we begin our analysis on how the external auditor plays this role and its importance, we must first examine the responsibilities and duties of such an auditor. Similarly, we need to clearly define what corporate governance is before we discuss in detail the role that auditors play in it. 1. Introduction
1.1 The External Auditor
External auditors are employees of a public accounting firm which has been engaged to conduct the audit of a particular company's financial statements (audit client). The external auditor's responsibility is to provide assurance to the general public regarding the truth and fairness of the information presented in the audit client's financial statements. Since the public relies heavily upon an audit opinion published by a public accounting firm to make investment decisions, it is imperative that they view accounting firms as being independent, objective and free from the influence of the audit client or any other parties. Indeed, some authors have gone as far as to say that this assurance is the basis of the world's capital markets. 1.2 Corporate Governance in Singapore
In the company-owner relationship, corporate governance is essentially practices and regulations that are implemented to solve the conflict of interest between a company's directors (management) and its shareholders (owners). The need for corporate governance arises from the agency problem between the principal (shareholders) and the agent (management). The shareholders of a company place their trust and their investment in the custody of the management in the hope that the company will turn in profits to reward their investments. However, management's aim will be more aligned towards self profit rather than the advancement of the company's interests. Hence this conflict of interest and lack of goal congruence between the shareholders and management give rise to the agency problem, thereby requiring the implementation of corporate governance mechanisms. In the capital markets, this information asymmetry is amplified and the corporation is even more of a "black box" to its owners who are not involved in its operations. In Singapore, the Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance (CCDG) was set up on August 16th 2002 . This CCDG was set up to complement the Ministry of Finance's Corporate Governance Committee . 1.3 The External Auditor in the Corporate Governance Framework The presence of an agency problem between the management of a company and the shareholders is attributable to the information asymmetry between the two parties. It is due to this lack of information obtainable on the part of the shareholders that the management is able to commit fraudulent behaviour without their knowledge. Hence, it is the role of the external auditor to act as a mediator of information and as a corporate watchdog' in order to bridge this asymmetry of information and prevent or report any fraudulent management behaviour. In light of the new auditor independence rules recently put in place, we will now examine how these regulations will affect the role of the external auditor in corporate governance and whether these rules will actually achieve their intended aim of increasing auditor independence and boosting investor confidence in both the audit profession and in the reliability of financial statements. 1.4 Auditing Standards in Singapore
The main legislation governing auditing in Singapore is the Companies Act. However, there are also other important regulations like the rules on auditor independence found in the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics, now contained in Part IV of the Accountants (Public Accountants) Rules 2004 of the Accountants Act 2004. This act, previously regulated by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS), is now handled...
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