'Big Four' Accounting Firms' Anti-Occupy Central Ad Receives Flak From Employees

"You boss, your statement does not represent our stance," shouts a quarter-page ad carried in the Chinese-language Apple Daily yesterday.

The advertisement, placed by a "group of Big Four employees who love Hong Kong," was in response to an earlier advertisement by the four biggest accounting firms - Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong - opposing a peaceful sit-in planned by the Occupy Central democracy movement.

The statement of the Big Four was published in Chinese-language newspapers Ming Pao, the Hong Kong Economic Times and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

The democratic movement plans to occupy the streets in Central this month if the government fails to deliver a plan for the 2017 chief executive election that guarantees voters a genuine choice between candidates.

Possibly pressured by clients, the accounting firms claim that the initiative could have an "adverse and far-reaching impact" on the local legal system, social order and economic development.

"It is assumed by many that the firms were pressured by their clients (the largest of which are Chinese state-owned enterprises) to place this ad," wrote Paul Gillis PhD CPA, in his blog.

Gillis is Professor of Practice at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management.

"The arrogance of the firms is stunning. The most important question is whether they have impaired their independence on their clients such that they can no longer serve as auditors," further wrote Gillis.

Citing the rules set forth in the International Auditing Standards' "The Handbook of the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants," Gillis said that that advocacy for a client can threaten independence and that auditors must maintain independence in appearance.

"Taking a controversial stand on a political issue is bound to alienate many clients, partners, and staff. Is it really worth destroying trust to gain a few political points with certain elite client?" said Gillis.

Occupy Central movement was spearheaded by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, in January 2013.

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