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Four time graduate collects fifth degree

- By Wits University

Dr Steven Firer finally realised his dream this morning. Walking across the stage in the Great Hall, scroll held firmly in hand, he finally got capped by Wits earning himself the right to be called a Wits graduate fulfilling his long held dream.

Although Firer already has four qualifications under his belt which includes a PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an MBA from the Charles Sturt University in Australia, it is a Wits degree that he desired the most. Firer was conferred with a Master of Laws degree at a graduation ceremony combining the faculties of Commerce, Law and Management; and Engineering and the Built Environment.

A leading expert in financial accounting and an auditor, Firer says: “My Wits degree more than my other degrees has given me an edge over most people in my profession.”

His dissertation is titled The limitations of an auditor in South Africa and he hopes that it will contribute to the revision of the law and protect auditors from being sued in the event of negligence by the directors of the company they had audited.

“Auditor’s liability has become very onerous. Auditors are being sued for billions of dollars, not rands, and you can’t get insurance for billions,” he explains.

To illustrate the hostile environment under which auditors practice, Firer says South Africa once had eight big auditing firms but these whittled down to only four due to the increased  liabilities which have become too great to endure on your own.

The central argument of his paper is that auditors should not be sued for more than the auditing fee as they are important to the functioning of a business. “You cannot put auditors out of business,” he says.

Firer says the acquiring of the Wits degree so late in life for him (he is 56 years old) goes beyond joining his circle of friends and family who are Wits graduates.  “The Wits degree has truly given me the edge and adds legal knowledge to my profession.”

“The law has changed and accounting has become the law and auditors need to operate in this terrain,” says Firer.  “The Companies Act talks about applying accounting standards in law and this never used to be the case.”

“As an auditor my job is to report people who break the law but this can come with costs.”

Firer a former Wits accunting lecturer is a technical partner at Nkonki, a firm of Chartered Accountants and he is an International Financial Reporting Standards specialist. He has held various academic posts in local and international universities.

He admits to being competitive and wanting “to be three steps above everyone else and make myself indispensable.”  

A father of four, Firer was joined at the graduation ceremony by two of his daughters and his wife. Read an article from The Times newspaper about Firer.

The graduation ceremony was addressed by Koko Khumalo, a partner at Ernest and Young and the Africa Leader for Risk Management in the company. Khumalo’s valuable knowledge is highly sought after in the many boardrooms where she serves. She is also currently the Deputy President of the Black Management Forum. Read her full . Her speech themed Graduating in twenty years of democracy, what is on offer? sought to raise the awareness of the graduates in South Africa’s business environment.

Her parting words to the graduates added that it is not just the degree that they have acquired that counts. “It’s about what you have learned along the way and what you do with the education that you have gotten in your journey to graduation today. I sincerely hope that you are the social capital that we have been waiting for.” Read her.