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					Summer 2009      INTERVIEW

                             interview with
                     Joseph Zammit Tabona                                       By: Jonathan Dingli

              Joseph Zammit Tabona is a Fellow of the Malta Institute
              of Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Accountants
              in England and Wales.

              He was born in 1944 and educated at St. Edward’s College, Malta. He started pursuing the Accountancy Profession in
              his twenties, was articled with Turquand Youngs & Co. in London and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1971. In
              1972 he became partner of the local branch of Turquand Youngs & Co. He was a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers
              until his retirement from active practice in March 2000.

              During his long and distinguished career Joseph held countless chairmanships and prestigious positions including
              Chairman of the Accountancy Board, the Malta Stock Exchange, FinanceMalta and Viset Malta plc. He also chaired
              the Malta Development Corporation (MDC), the Malta External Trade Corporation (METCO) and the Institute for
              the Promotion of Small Enterprise (IPSE), whose functions and activities have been absorbed within the new Malta
              Enterprise Corporation which he also chaired. Joseph also held a number of chairmanships in the private sector.

              He was twice President of the Malta Federation of Industries, a Member of the Board of Directors of Bank of Valletta,
              a Member of the Board of the Malta Council for Science and Technology and a Director of HSBC Life Assurance

Summer 2009                      INTERVIEW
Malta Limited. He also served as a Council         planted its roots in Malta way back in 1935, as   accommodate. I think the whole essence of it
member of the Malta Institute of Accountants       a local branch of the UK firm, to service local   was really keeping close to the clients – and
from 1974 to 1984.                                 clients like Simonds Farsons Cisk and others.     that was something that I kept throughout the
                                                   So in 1968 Turquand Youngs was the only           time I was actually in practice.
In August 1997 Joseph was conferred                accounting firm in Malta, employing over 100
the significant honour of a knighthood of          people. A lot of the managers and partners at     I think one has to admit that in those days, to
Magistral Grace by the Sovereign Military          the time were all expatriates, mainly British     a certain extent, we assisted a lot of the clients
Hospitalier Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of     people working here in Malta, so it was then a    to grow. I mean starting from the simplest –
Rhodes and of Malta.                               question of time for the Maltese to qualify and   you had silly instances where people would
                                                   take the positions from the UK nationals as       leave large sums of money sitting idle in their
Joseph is a Jaguar enthusiast and was              managers and eventually partners.                 bank account when they could have put them
instrumental in setting up in December 2007                                                          in a savings account earning 3% interest. It is
the Malta Jaguar Enthusiast Club, of which he      In fact you were the second                       not much but a 3% on a large sum of money
also serves as its first Chairman.                 Maltese to become a                               would actually have a significant effect on the
                                                   partner at Turquand Youngs                        bottom line because the interest had no cost.
He is married to Susan and has two children,       & Co. How have you evolved
Nicola and Justin.                                 into that role? What were                         So the Accountant’s role at the time was
                                                   the major challenges you                          perhaps closer to a consultant’s, starting with
Jonathan Dingli met Joseph, on his way             had to face in making it to                       trying to educate clients on how to make the
to London to take position as Malta High           the top at a time when the                        best use of their assets, and in certain instances
Commissioner to the United Kingdom,                local Professionals were,                         even advising clients to diversify into other
to know more about this outstanding                perhaps, not as highly                            activities, other than their core activity. I would
personality’s career and his contribution          regarded as they are today?                       get clients to acquire companies, to invest in
to the local economy and the Accountancy                                                             property and to apply funds efficiently and
Profession which he always upheld.                 My starting salary with the firm was in the       effectively.
                                                   region of Lm1200. I used to work very hard
How easy was becoming an                           for very long hours so I presume that my          I was a very close consultant to some particular
accountant in the sixties?                         progression to becoming a partner of the firm     clients with whom I used to meet on a daily
What qualification routes                          in March 1972 came natural. I was in fact         basis. I was always available at the office by
were available at the time?                        the second (Maltese) to become a partner at       7 in the morning and between seven and nine
                                                   Turquand Youngs, following Harold Farrugia        there were anything between six and eight
Well in the sixties one could already enrol with   – an extremely bright person with whom I got      particular clients who would phone me up on
the Malta Institute of Accountants and read for    on very well and with whom I worked very          a daily basis asking for particular advice on
the Institute’s qualification. However I was       closely. Obviously I was very privileged. I       one thing or another.
fortunate enough to be given the opportunity       was only 28 years old at the time.
to become a chartered accountant in England
which was a completely different route that
was also available at that time. It wasn’t easy
at all – back then one had to pass through all
exams at one go – so if you failed in any one
particular subject in a set of exams, you’d
have to take them all over again. That made it
more difficult for one to get through and I did
in fact qualify on my third attempt.

Nevertheless, the UK qualification route gave
an enriching experience. I think I was probably
the fifth or sixth Maltese chartered accountant
to qualify at the time, so I suppose it set me a
bit apart from the others and gave me a sort of
a head start for the future.

How would you describe the
state of the local Profession
upon your return from the
UK in September 1968?                              I worked very hard for that role. The clients     You have been a partner in
                                                   very often had to come before my family.          a large firm for a number of
The Profession today has certainly come a          My wife Susan was of great support – there        years. What do you think are
long way since 1968. At that time it was still     were times when I would for example give          the essential attributes of a
very much in its infancy. There was only one       her an hours’ notice to entertain some 8 – 12     good partner?
firm (Turquand Youngs & Co.) which had             people to dinner and she would very kindly

Summer 2009                     INTERVIEW
Partnering with others is not always easy and     accounting background. I really believe it puts    the generic pharmaceutical companies.
straightforward. It’s like getting married, so    you ahead of other people. An Accountant’s         We identified significant opportunities
obviously you have to get on very well with       self-discipline, ability to objectively analyse    in that industry – practically Malta was
your partners. It also has to have a certain      issues, proposing equitable solutions, and         completely forgotten about for registration
amount of fun.                                    finally your integrity and ethical behaviour are   of patents. In brief there is what is known
                                                  really the attributes that make an accountant      as a Roche Bolar exemption which allows
I think it’s all about teamwork, working          extremely valid for such roles.                    generic pharmaceutical companies to carry
closely together, encouraging staff to work                                                          out research on patent products, actually
well and give them the opportunities to satisfy   I think one of the particular points in the last   manufacture, stock-pile and hit the market
their ambitions. That’s what we did when I        ten years which contributed to my successes        when a patent expires.
actually merged my firm with that of Norman       was not having an agenda. My only agenda,
Spiteri and John Bonello in 1984. Effectively,    if I can say so, was my objective to make a        I think we have been successful in attracting
in that way we were able to recruit people and    success of my particular position at the time.     a good number of generic pharmaceutical
give them the opportunity to specialise in a      I could never do it on my own and I often          companies from various member states
particular area.                                  acknowledged the need for a collective effort      within the EU as well as India. What is
                                                  and I would rely on expert advice, also coming     pertinent to point out here is that, whereas
You retired from the                              from the Profession, depending on the merits       in most manufacturing companies the capital
Profession at the age of 55.                      of the case. So it is really a matter of getting   expenditure per employee is roughly in
What were your plans at                           everyone together in turning projects into         the region of €50,000 – €70,000, the level
that time?                                        successes, and of accrediting those successes      of capital expenditure per employee in the
                                                  to all parties involved.                           generic pharmaceutical industry would be in
I worked very hard till my last day in practice                                                      the region of €600,000 per employee. So you
so when I took the decision to retire I was                                                                   have higher value capital expenditure
concerned with how was I actually going to                                                                    and higher value earnings being
keep myself occupied. I was in actual fact                                                                    generated in the local economy.
asked to become President of the Malta
Federation of Industry for the second time                                                                   We tried to concentrate on the
and as I had plenty of time on my plate this                                                                 higher value added and, to a certain
time round, I made of it a full-time job,                                                                    extent, we were successful in that
as opposed to a volunteering part-timer.                                                                     area. The significant increase in the
That way, we managed to meet up with a                                                                       pharmaceutical industry’s exports is
lot of industries, assessing their needs and                                                                 indicative of that success. In 2003
that is how we were able to strengthen the                                                                   pharmaceutical exports amounted to
relationship between the FOI and the MDC,                                                                    €25 million; today they’re probably
Metco and IPSE which institutions I also                                                                     hitting around €250 million. So I’m
chaired. There was quite some overlap                                                                        very proud of setting the ball rolling
across these organisations which led the                                                                     for this highly successful industry.
government to take the conscious decision
to merge these three agencies into one to set                                                             You have been
up Malta Enterprise in May 2003, of which I                                                               Chairman of the
was also appointed Chairman.                                                                              Accountancy Board
                                                                                                          for the past 10
Today we are increasingly                                                                                 years. During your
seeing Accountants                                                                                        chairmanship we’ve
occupying prominent                                                                                       seen the enactment
positions in the private                                                                                  of directives on
and public sectors that are                                                                               CPE and ethics, the
not necessarily directly                                                                                  coming in of Quality
related to traditional areas                                                                              Assurance, the
of accountancy. I can safely                      Is there any one event or                          transposition of the EU 8th
say that you were one of                          instance of which you                              Directive and the drafting
the pioneers behind this                          are particularly proud, or                         and publication of GAPSE.
trend. From your personal                         through which you feel                             What was the Board’s major
experience, what makes an                         you have contributed                               accomplishment under your
accountant an incredibly                          significantly to the                               leadership?
valid candidate to occupy                         development of the local
such roles?                                       industry and economy?                              I think there are quite a few but the last two
                                                                                                     years really say it all. In the last couple of
It is definitely the accounting background,       I think one area in which we have particularly     years we were able to change the Accountancy
training and experience. I mean even today        succeeded is certainly the establishment of        Profession Act to make it EU compliant in
as High Commissioner, I rely heavily on my        Malta Enterprise and eventually attracting         accordance with the 8th Directive. That took a

Summer 2009                      INTERVIEW
lot of time and endless discussions and again      How better regulated is the                         I can actually continue to strengthen those
I would like to take this opportunity to thank     Profession today than it                            particular relations.
all the Accountancy Board Members and              was in the year 2000 when
members from the MIA who contributed in            you took its lead?                                  I think the mission in London goes beyond
making that happen.                                                                                    that – there are opportunities to be reaped
                                                   Now I think it is completely regulated. I           for the local economy, in particular for the
Early this year we also enacted all the            think in the year 2000 all we had was the           manufacturing, financial services and of
various revised directives, not to mention         Accountancy Profession Act and since then           course the tourism sectors. Forty-five percent
the publication of GAPSE. Our last                 obviously it’s become more regulated. In            of our tourists come from the UK. That’s
accomplishment, days before my retirement          addition to the Accountancy Profession Act          quite a large chunk and I’m after continuing
from Chairman of the Board, was the re-            and Accountancy Profession Regulations,             to strengthen that. Malta is known for its sun
drafting of our legislation to make it compliant   we’ve now got a legal notice on accounting          and sea – we should now go a step further.
with the Services Directive. So in the last two    and auditing standards, a legal notice enacting     I think we have an excellent location; we’re
years we were able to get all the accountancy      GAPSE, and four directives regulating the           rich in our culture and heritage and as such
profession legislation completely EU               conduct of the Profession in various manners.       we should really try and encourage more
compliant – and I think that is no mean feat.      So the Profession is highly regulated and           people to come to Malta for other purposes
A lot of people contributed to that. As I said     I’m glad that I’m no longer in the profession       rather than merely “sun and sea”. We need to
earlier it was all about getting people together   myself!                                             appeal to a different type of tourist to come
and all those involved working together to                                                             to Malta. This is also why I am encouraging
make it happen. I certainly couldn’t have done     What is the Institute’s                             anyone wanting to invest in Malta to come
it on my own and it was thanks to the Board        role vis-à-vis increased                            and see for themselves the lifestyle on our
Members and the MIA that we got through all        regulation of its Members?                          islands, our professionalism, and for them to
that work.                                                                                             experience the opportunities that Malta could
                                                   I think the Institute has been of great help.       give.
                                                   In actual fact, the Accountancy Board works
                                                   closely with the Institute to which it also         Honestly – if you had to
                                                   delegates certain responsibilities, in particular   start all over again, would
                                                   with regard to the Continuous Profession            you become an accountant?
                                                   Education. I don’t think any of the appropriate     Why?
                                                   legislations that have been passed, be it the
                                                   Accountancy Profession Act, the guidelines          Definitely – I would definitely do it all over
                                                   and GAPSE itself, would have actually come          again. In my view the Accountancy profession
                                                   into place if we did not have the full support      is one of the best because it does give you a
                                                   of the Institute.                                   background and faculty to tackle any particular
                                                                                                       position that you want to take on. I think this
                                                   As we have seen, you have                           is why we are being successful, especially in
                                                   occupied a number of roles                          the manufacturing and the gaming industries,
                                                   since your retirement from                          where accountants have moved out of the
                                                   the Profession. Is the role                         profession and are now rendering their
                                                   of High Commissioner for                            services in those industries.
                                                   Malta in the UK going to be
                                                   the last?                                           Humbleness apart – what
                                                                                                       is the major secret of your
                                                   I wouldn’t know – I’ll let life take its own        success?
                                                   course. But basically I like
                                                   to work. Every time I was
Are there any major                                given a particular position,
challenges in the medium                           I always gave it my best,
term for the Board?                                met the challenges and tried
                                                   to make a success of it.
Well for the Board there are certain issues that   Obviously I am extremely
need to be tackled along with the continuity       privileged and honoured in
of quality assurance reviews. Reviews are          being given the position of
progressing smoothly – there are certain           High Commissioner to the
smaller firms and practitioners that still need    United Kingdom, which
to be reviewed and there are others that need      I think is one of the most
assistance in upgrading their systems. The         important missions for our
programme is going well and at no time did         country. We do have excellent
we say we’re out to harm anyone but the            relations between Britain
legislation is there and obviously we need to      and ourselves and obviously
ensure that the standards are improved.            I would like to think that

Summer 2009                      INTERVIEW
I would say it all comes down to my           a lot of people around me. Even with
ambition, my leadership and motivational      the various positions at the Malta
skills.                                       Enterprise, FinanceMalta and the Stock
                                              Exchange, I always got round the table
I think from the moment I became a            accountants because actually they are
partner in 1972, I would actually target      the people who are in the know, they’re
myself to try and achieve milestones          the people close to their clients and they
within a specified period of time, which      are the people who could actually make
period would rank anything between 3 to       my particular postings successful. It was
5 years. Whether I actually achieved it       done together.
or not I’d keep it to myself – I wouldn’t
actually disclose what I wanted to            Even at the High Commission, one
achieve. However the secret really is the     of my first priorities was getting all
very fact that I don’t think I ever had a     the team together. We’re a very small
personal agenda – I would always try to       mission of only 12 employees. There’s
find suitable compromise for everybody.       a lot of work to be done and plenty of
I have always actually tried to be fair       issues to be addressed. We look after
to everybody, all the people under my         the sick people who come to the UK
employment, and even currently in my          and that would be around 600 medical
employment (I still employ about 200          visits per year. A lot of visas have to be
people today) can vouch for that. They        issued; and passports and citizenship
are part of the family and that’s the way I   applications to be processed on a daily
have always worked.                           basis - not to mention the multitude of
                                              other consular, political and trade issues
I think one of the secrets of success is      to address. So it is really a question of
really ensuring that you get all the people   teamwork, it’s getting people together,      It all boils down to unity and a sense of belonging.
around you to work together. In that way      making them happy and comfortable and        The secret of my success was surrounding myself
it’s far easier to achieve something. I       the success then belongs to everybody        with competent people in various posts, instilling
think throughout all the various positions    not just myself.                             unity and teamwork, and recognising everyone’s
that I have had, I always tried to have                                                    contribution in the attainment of my goals.

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