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On 19 January 2022 a Disciplinary Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy ("CIPFA") heard allegations against CIPFA Registered Student Ms Esha De Silva.
Ms De Silva did not attend the hearing and was not represented in her absence. She had made various written responses to the allegations during the CIPFA regulatory process.
Ms De Silva became a CIPFA Registered Student in September 2014.
On 2 December 2020 Ms De Silva undertook CIPFA's International Public Financial Management Audit and Assurance (IPFM AA) examination. She undertook the examination online, at her workplace in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with a local invigilator who was in attendance during the examination.
The examination was conducted in accordance with CIPFA's assessment regulations, which prohibit access to unauthorised materials during an examination.
When Ms De Silva's examination script was marked, the examiner had concerns about many similarities, and in places identical matches, between a number of her exam answers and passages (including punctuation) in the IPFM AA workbooks. This included an answer which contained a lot of text that was irrelevant to the exam question asked.
The committee noted the volume and degree of correlation of the six answers given in the exam to extracts from the workbooks. It also noted that on mock papers Ms De Silva had not answered questions requiring narrative responses which she could have done if she had she been able to memorise text. On this basis the Committee reached the only natural and reasonable conclusion that Ms De Silva had access to unauthorised material during her exam and it found, on the balance of probabilities, that she had used unauthorised materials during her exam.
The committee found that this use of unauthorised materials was dishonest. Having cheated in her exam, Ms De Silva had not acted in accordance with the CIPFA's assessment regulations or with integrity. She had sought to obtain an unfair advantage over other exam candidates.
The committee found that Ms De Silva’s actions brought, or were likely to bring, discredit on herself, the Institute and the profession of accountancy (Bye-Law 23(d)).
Her conduct was a breach of the institute's code of ethics' fundamental principles of integrity and professional behaviour and affected prejudicially the status, reputation or welfare of CIPFA (Bye-Law 23(b) and (c)). It amounted to misconduct. Cheating in an examination undermines the integrity of the Institute’s examination processes and would be considered deplorable by members of the profession.
The disciplinary committee directed that Ms De Silva be expelled from the institute.
The committee found that Ms De Silva's actions were fundamentally incompatible with student membership of the institute. It noted that the courts have consistently supported the approach to exclude members from their professions where there had been a lack of probity and honesty and only in exceptional cases should a lack of honesty result in a sanction other than exclusion. This is because the public is entitled to expect a high degree of probity from a professional who has undertaken to abide by a code of ethics. The committee was of the view that there were no remarkable or exceptional circumstances in Ms De Silva’s case and concluded that expulsion was the appropriate sanction.
A failure to expel Ms De Silva would seriously undermine confidence in the accountancy profession and CIPFA as a regulator. Honesty and integrity underpin the very essence of what it means to be a member of CIPFA. In order to maintain public trust and uphold proper standards, it was necessary to send out a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
In reaching its decision, the committee took account of mitigating factors: Ms De Silva was of previous good character and had no previous CIPFA disciplinary findings against her.
The Committee also took into account relevant aggravating factors: Ms De Silva had undermined the integrity of CIPFA's examination process and had been motivated by personal gain. She had shown a lack of insight and remorse for her actions.
The committee also imposed a costs order against Ms De Silva.
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CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, is the professional body for people in public finance. CIPFA shows the way in public finance globally, standing up for sound public financial management and good governance around the world as the leading commentator on managing and accounting for public money.
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