Woodrow W. Clark, Office of Planning and Research, State of California, USA, and Istemi Demirag, Queen’s University, Northern Ireland, UK
248 x 171 mm
The accounting drama that surrounded the collapse of Enron in the USA during the month of December 2001 will not be known for several years as investigations and lawsuits proliferate and remain embedded in the US legal system. Three issues are clear, however. First, the company had a corporate culture that encouraged its staff to influence public policy-makers on the deregulation or privatisation of the US (and world) energy sector. Second, the company both instructed and led its accounting firm into 'dubious' financial transactions, which ultimately caused the collapse of Enron and may have ended Andersen as an independent firm, especially in its core business of accounting.
Yet the third outcome from the Enron debacle is the most significant. Enron has forced the US financial markets into chaos and the need for drastic reforms that most certainly would not have occurred had the company continued on. The reforms eventually will be international; will focus on standard accounting practices and will impact the audit functions of all accounting firms. Regulatory agencies are investigating and most probably will recommend wide-scale reforms. In the USA, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission has already acted; the New York State Attorney General's Office and the US Congress have moved ahead in investigations and will recommend also further reforms.
Even more dramatic will be the way in which other companies operate. Already, other corporations are being carefully scrutinised about their audits of quarterly and annual reports. Xerox, among others, is now under close watch. Companies and their executives worldwide will be held accountable to new higher standards and practices than ever before, as they should be. US stock markets have plunged, and global scrutiny of US companies and their business practices are in serious question. What are most likely to occur are 'international accounting practices' that involve new government oversight and regulations. Perhaps these will be in the form of a 'global accountancy', but they certainly will not be left only to companies or their accounting firms. We focus on this situation and the future for corporate governance of firms globally.