In more than 11 years as the CEO of the Global Institute of Internal Auditors, I have come to have great respect and admiration for the governance institutions of South Africa. Organizations such as the prestigious King Committee on Corporate Governance and the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) stand as shining examples that inspire countries around the world. So, I was truly delighted when IRBA’s board of directors recently named Jenitha John as the regulator’s next CEO. It seemed only natural that Jenitha, one of the most widely known and respected auditors in the world, would be selected for this important role.
In addition to being a Certified Internal Auditor, a Chartered Accountant, and a Chartered Director, Jenitha is senior vice chairman of the board of the Global IIA. She was elected to her role by Global IIA members following an extensive nomination process overseen by its Global Board of Directors. In July, she stands to become IIA Global’s chairman of the board, leading the professional body of more than 200,000 internal auditors in more than 190 countries around the world. She would be the first woman of color to lead The IIA globally in its almost 80-year history. Frankly, the IRBA board couldn’t have found anyone more qualified to take the helm of its organization on June 1.
Jenitha has proven to be a dynamic leader within IIA Global for many years. She is a consummate professional who adds immense value to discussions and projects in which she is involved. Jenitha’s competencies are consistently demonstrated through her careful deliberation and dedication to all the roles she occupies. She continuously demonstrates her commitment to high standards of governance and is highly regarded by colleagues around the world.
Sadly, there are isolated voices in South Africa who question her selection as IRBA’s CEO. They cite her prior role as chairman of the Audit and Compliance Committee of Tongaat Hulett, a South African agriculture and agri-processing company. In 2019, Tongaat announced that its published financial results could not be relied upon and that the company’s equity in its 2018 financial results was overstated by between R3.5 billion and R4.5 billion. Those who are questioning her appointment are suggesting she was culpable in the accounting debacle.
As is too often the case in the world we live in, those who challenge Jenitha’s appointment as IRBA’s CEO are not acknowledging the fact that it was actually she who helped to expose the Tongaat accounting irregularities. As early as 2018, she was calling for an independent, third-party review of Tongaat’s financial practices — much to the chagrin of some of the company’s senior executives at the time. It’s worth noting that too many corporate directors in Jenitha’s shoes might have looked the other way, or quietly resigned and walked away. But Jenitha is an individual of immense integrity and courage. She persisted with her request for an independent investigation until PwC was ultimately engaged to undertake an independent review in February 2019.
It must also be acknowledged that, because of practical limitations, nonexecutive directors are not expected to have the same level of detailed operational knowledge about their organization as executive directors. They are often reliant on the integrity of information presented by management and assurance providers. Nonexecutive directors are required to probe, challenge, and monitor assurance providers to determine the veracity of information presented. Knowing Jenitha well, I have no doubt that she challenged the three lines on all aspects pertaining to the company, which will certainly be captured in company minutes.
Rather than question her appointment as IRBA’s CEO, those who champion strong governance and transparency should be ecstatic that someone of Jenitha’s character, integrity, and courage is prepared to dedicate her energies to public service.
IRBA’s mission is “to help create an ethical, value-driven financial sector that encourages investment, creates confidence in the financial markets, and promotes sound practices.” There is no one better qualified to take the helm of this important institution than Jenitha John.