Spotlight on…Interview with the Hon. Antoine Borg

Mark Abela interviews MIA member Antoine Borg, a fellow CPA and one of the youngest MP’s in this legislature. Hon. Borg gives us a unique insight about how it feels to be an accountant and at the same time, a politician.

Can you give us some brief ancedotes on those aspects of your professional career that were instrumental in your development. What has influenced your choice to become an accountant and a politician?

Becoming an accountant was not in my plans, at least up to my late secondary school years. My inclination was more business oriented – mostly that of running my own business. When I did my O-levels, IT related jobs were in fashion, and at times, it did cross my mind to study IT. I couldn’t make up my mind, until I decided to choose accountancy as my profession. By time, I felt that I had made the right choice. Accountancy is a people-oriented profession. I’m a peoples’ person. Always was, which explains why eventually I ventured into politics.

I sat for Accounting and Computer A-Level exams in 2001, and eventually opted for the ACCA/MIA path of studies. I thought that studying, and obtaining work experiece, would serve my purpose better. Back then, I had no idea of our profession’s key players and started off by accessing an accountancy firms database and submitted my first application to MSD & Co, at that time representative of Arthur Andersen in Malta. By sheer coincidence, ‘Arthur Andersen’ happened to be first in alphabetical order of the said database.

“A mere end-to-end will hold no fears for you. Set forth on your path with confidence!”

Eventually, I was called by the firm to join as Audit Junior on condition that I start doing the ACCA with immediate effect. My first gross pay was Lm3,000 (€7,000) per annum. Admittedly, a very basic salary considering that I had to pay for all courses and examinations, but I considered that to be a long term investment, which by time, proved beneficial.

The firm later merged with EY, where I worked in Audit and Assurance for another 6 years, with secondments in Europe and the Bermuda. The service line remained my natural home. Recently, I worked as a Senior Manager at Leading Edge Malta Limited. A few months ago, I set up my own audit, accounting and tax practice, Antoine Borg & Associates.

Politics, on the other hand, has been my instinctive inclination since my younger days. I was the General Secretary of the PN Youth movement and served as a Local Councillor in Rabat until 2013 when I contested the general election for the first time and was elected to Parliament.

You were a candidate for the 2013 general elecation when at the same time you were working in the finance function of the PN. Do you think that your decision to enter politics has forced you to redefine your career? How do you reconcile being a politician with being an accountant?

Not really. In late 2009, when financial problems at the PN came to a head, I was asked by Nationalist Party Leader, Dr Lawrence Gonzi to move to Party Head Quarters and give my contirbution there. The brief was clear – do the necessary bridging with pressing suppliers and banks, to help the party’s operations – , particularly in ensuring the basic necessities, such as newsprint paper, and honouring the wage bill. The 2008 – 2013 legislature, proved, from its early days, to be quite politically challenging for the PN, to the extent that financial problems were perceived secondary. Having survived its operations up to 2013, the PN was ready to do the necessary reforms in order to address the financial hammeorage, post 2013. No mean task, of course, looking back it was professionally, and psychologically, taxing. I have no regrets, tough. I did my best according to the brief given to me, and delivered to the best of my abilities. The party’s commerical operations survived its challenges in a relatively seamless fashion until 2013.

Along the way, I had offers from key players in the profession to join them – but out of loyalty, I refused to abandon ship notwithstanding choppy waters. Nonetheless, my intention was clear right from the beginning – I would serve the party, as a full time employee, until 2013 – irrispective of my policial fortunes, to pursue my professional career in Audit and Tax. Reconciling politics with professional exigencies is no walk in the park. The fact that I run my own practice, enables me to balance my commitments better, because I can manage my shedule which is not bound by formal office hours, as is required when in employment. Politics, sometimes is a limiting factor in terms of the type of clientele and business one can engage in. The positive side to it it that it serves as a double filter in terms of client acceptance and risk management. Being a parliamentarian is an added bonus, as it helps keeps me abreast of fiscal and legislative updates – a factor which, naturally, helps in my professional pursuit, and also benefits my clients.

There are overlaps, too. Lately I particpated actively in Parliamentary debates on the legislation of the Financial Services arbitrar, and more recently, when we amended the Companies Act to incorporate changes brought about by the accounting directive. Apart from these instances, I maintain a clear divide strict between my professional and political life.

Together with Nationalist MP Ryan Callus, you are one of the youngest MPs. Were you surprised at being elected?

Both Ryan and myself were born in 1983. I believe that Ryan is only a couple of weeks younger than me. That makes us the youngest MPs on the opposition benches. Altough as I said earlier, politics was always a natural inclination, being elected at the first attempt was always going to be a herculean task. The election, in my district, was contested by heavy weight incumbent MPs’, former ministers, and the then Prime Minister. In evertying I do, I put a lot of effort, not withstanding my limitations, so obtaining a fairly good result was my main target. I was surprised that I made it at the first attempt, although I worked hard and gave it my all.

Hon. Antoine Borg

Many see politics as being dominated by other professions, mainly lawyers and doctors. Is the lack of accountants in Malta’s higher political echealons detrimental to the profession and to the country? Why are there more lawyers and doctors in parliament when the growth in the accountancy profession by far outweighs the growth of these two professions?

I believe it’s a hybrid of various factors. Political involvement, like anything else, is influenced by tradition which, taking this back some decades, truly is dominated by these professions. There are other logistical factors. As explained earlier, self employment makes the pursuit of policial life easier to handle. Doctors and Lawyers are traditionally engaged as self employed. Then there’s the peoples’ aspect – naturally, the medical profession is all about the people. As for lawyers, polticis ultimately boils down to legislating, which, for lawyer’s, is their daily bread and butter.

As for accountants, who, in their absolute majority, are employed they have a more difficult task in juggling, successfully, both commitments. Our profession is still perceived by many as assocaited with numbers rather than with people (I believe we should work harder to change this). Currently, accountants are in absolute minority in Parliament. Indeed only Opposition MP Tonio Fenech and myself, and, few other accountants were elected to Parliament in recent years. I believe that accountants have a lot to contibute towards the policy making process in our country.

Nonetheless, Parliament is not the only forum where such contribution can be made. The MIA’s work and input, even on a policy level, is certainly influential and laudable.

Following the 2009 financial crises, pubic sector accounting has made its way to the top of the European Commission’s agenda. In Malta the Treasury is piloting a project that could see the implementation of an accrual accounting syste across all of Government. What in your view is the role that accountants could assume in this project?

Certainly, accountants, having embraced such system since ever, have a natural input to give in this process. Having said that, it’s good to keep in mind that any reform in this regard has to be done in the context of local realities and governmental practices, so it is essential that those involved are privy to the issues of the wider civil service.

Do you think that the Institute is successful in amplifying the voice of the accountancy profession in Malta? Are the views of the accountancy profession being taken into consideration by the country’s decision makers?

The Institute’s contribution in this regard is, I reiterate, invaluable. The Institute’s pronouncements, whether formal or informal, are noted by various stake holders, not just country’s decision makers. It’s input is widely considered sound advise coing from people with long experience in the field. That has added value in itself.

This is also demonstrated in the Accountancy Board, recently entrusting the CPE monitoring function to the MIA. This is the result of the respect that the Institute , thanks to its successive councils and employees. earned over the years. Having said that, there are other factors which, I believe, merit further discussion between all stakeholders. The council, together with its committees, can further facilitate towards a more reasonable approach to quality control vis-a-vis SMPs – without in any way compromising quality, which has always distinguished our entire financial services scenario. I know that the SMP representation within the MIA council is fully on board in this respect.

As for financial services, all stakeholders should remain hands on deck with regards to the safeguarding of our fiscal regime, and also in seeking a better relationship with the main fiancial institutions when handling bank accounts of foreign investors.

There are other issues which the Institute’s experience can serve as a blue print for other professions. Training and CPD is one example. I have suggested, even in Parliament, that same model is taken on board by other professions within the financial services industry, and also other classical professions in our country should follow suit.

Do you have any words of advice for our youngest readers?

My advise to younger accountants, and those aspiring to join the profession, is to look at their role not just as bean counters and mere financial reporters, but to delve further into the possibiliites offered by the profession. Their primary concern should be that of providing a good service to their clients; everything else is secondary. As the keynote speaker, at my ACCA Graduation in London in 2007 rightly said, “Do what you love, but more importantly, love what you do”.

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