Summer 2009 INTERVIEW
IN THE FAST LANE
HIGH COMMISSIONER TO THE UK
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.