1. Clause 4(i) of CARO, 2003 requires the auditor to comment whether the company is maintaining proper records showing full particulars, including quantitative details and situation of fixed assets. What constitutes proper records is a matter of professional judgment made by the auditor after
considering the facts and circumstances of each case. It is necessary that the aggregate original cost, depreciation or amortisation to date, and impairment loss, if any, as per these records under individual heads should tally with the figures shown in the books of account. It is not possible to specify any single form in which the records should be maintained. This would depend upon the mode of account keeping (manual or computerized), the number of operating locations, the systems of control, etc. It may be noted that with the advent of the information technology, many companies are maintaining electronic records. The auditor may, therefore, accept electronic fixed assets register if the following two conditions are satisfied:
- The controls and security measures in the company are such that once finalised, the fixed assets register cannot be altered without proper authorization and audit trail.
- The fixed assets register is in such a form that it can be retrieved in a legible form. In other words, the emphasis is on whether it can be read on the screen or a hard copy can be taken. If this is so, one can contend that it is capable of being retrieved in a legible form. In case the above two conditions or either of the two conditions are not satisfied, the auditor should obtain a duly authenticated print-out of the fixed assets register.
2. Clause 4(i)(b) of CARO, 2003 requires the auditor to comment whether the fixed assets of the company have been physically verified by the management at reasonable intervals. The clause further requires the auditor to comment whether any material discrepancies were noticed on such verification and if so, whether those discrepancies have been properly dealt with in the books of account.
Physical verification of the assets has to be made by the management and not by the auditor. It is, however, necessary that the auditor satisfies himself that such verification was done and that there is adequate evidence on the basis of which he can arrive at such a conclusion. The auditor may prefer to observe the verification, particularly when verification of all assets can be made by the management on a single day or within a relatively short period of time. If, however, verification is a continuous process or if the auditor is not present when verification is made, then he should examine the instructions issued to the staff (which should, therefore, be in writing) by the management and should examine the working papers of the staff to substantiate the fact that verification was done and to determine the name and competence of the person who did the verification. In making this examination, it is necessary to ensure that the person making the verification had the necessary technical knowledge where such knowledge is required. It is not necessary that only the company’s staff should make verification. It is also possible for verification to be made by outside expert agencies engaged by the management for the purpose.
The auditor should examine whether the method of verification was reasonable in the circumstances relating to each asset. For example, in the case of certain process industries, verification by direct physical check may not be possible in the case of assets which are in continuous use or which are concealed within larger units. It would not be realistic to expect the management to suspend manufacturing operations merely to conduct a physical verification of the
fixed assets, unless there are compelling reasons which would justify such an extreme procedure. In such cases, indirect evidence of the existence of the assets may suffice. For example, the very fact that an oil refinery is producing at normal levels of efficiency may be sufficient to indicate the existence of the various process units even where each such unit cannot be verified by physical or visual inspection. It may not be necessary to verify assets like building by measurement except where there is evidence of alteration/demolition. At the same time, in view of the possibility of encroachment, adverse possession, etc., it may be necessary for a survey to be made periodically of open land. The Order requires the auditor to report whether the management “at reasonable intervals” has verified the fixed assets. What constitutes “reasonable intervals” depends upon the circumstances of each case. The factors to be taken into consideration in this regard include the number of assets, the nature of assets, the relative value of assets, difficulty in verification, situation and spread of the assets, etc. The management may decide about the periodicity of physical verification of fixed assets considering the above factors. While an annual verification may be reasonable, it may be impracticable to carry out the same in some cases. Even in such cases, the verification programme should be such that all assets are verified at least once in every three years. Where verification of all assets is not made during the year, it will be necessary for the
auditor to report that fact, but if he is satisfied regarding the frequency of verification he should also make a suitable comment to that effect. The auditor is required to state whether any material discrepancies were noticed on verification and, if so, whether the same have been properly dealt with in the books of account. The latter part of the statement is required to be made only if the discrepancies are material.
3. Clause 4(i)(c) of CARO, 2003 requires the auditor to comment, in case where a substantial part of the fixed assets has been disposed off during the year, whether such disposal has affected the going concern status of the company. The auditor, in the normal course, when planning and performing audit procedures and in evaluating the results thereof, is required to consider the appropriateness of the going concern assumption underlying the preparation of financial statements in accordance with the requirements of Auditing and Assurance Standard (AAS) 16, “Going Concern”. As a result of such audit procedures and evaluation, if the auditor is of the opinion that there exists any indication of risk that the going concern assumption might not be
appropriate, the auditor should gather sufficient appropriate audit evidence to resolve, to his satisfaction, the question regarding the company’s ability to continue operations for the foreseeable future. It may be noted that the sale of substantial part of fixed assets is one of the several such indications of risk. This clause of the Order pre-supposes the existence of such risk and, therefore, requires the auditor to examine whether the company has disposed off substantial part of fixed asset(s) during the period covered by his report and, if yes, whether the disposal of such part of the fixed assets has affected the going concern status of company. It should also be noted that this requirement of the Order does not absolve the auditor from his responsibilities
regarding the appropriateness of the going concern assumption as a basis for preparation of financial statements. Since there could be several other indications of such a risk, the auditor, notwithstanding his comments under the clause, should also comply with the requirements of AAS 16, “Going Concern” while discharging his attest function.
Sale of substantial part of fixed assets should be construed to have affected the going concern if the auditor is not able to resolve, to his satisfaction, the question regarding the entity’s ability to continue in operation for the foreseeable future keeping in view the sale of substantial part of fixed assets or if the auditor comes to a conclusion that sale of substantial part of fixed assets has rendered the going concern assumption inappropriate. The Order does not define the word “substantial”. The response to the issue as to what constitutes “substantial part of fixed assets” depends primarily upon the facts and
circumstances of each case. The auditor should use his professional judgement to determine whether an asset or group of assets sold by the company is a substantial part of fixed assets. In this case, the auditor may note that section 293(1)(a) of the Act deals with the sale, lease or otherwise disposal of the whole or substantially the whole, of the undertaking of the company. It may be noted that such a situation may not necessarily tantamount to sale of substantial part of the fixed assets of the company. However, such an approval of the shareholders might be an indication that the company has sold or has the intention of selling substantial part of its fixed assets. The audit procedures, in such a case, would also include examination of the minutes of the general meeting(s) where the matter was discussed and the resolution passed by the shareholders in this regard. The auditor should carry out audit procedures to gather sufficient appropriate audit evidence to satisfy himself that the company shall be able to continue as a going concern for the foreseeable future despite the sale of substantial part of fixed assets. These procedures may include:
- discussion with the management and analysis as to the significance of the fixed asset to the company as a whole;
- scrutiny of the minutes of the meetings of the board of directors and important committees for understanding the entity’s business plans for the future (for example, replacement of the substantial part of the fixed asset disposed off with another fixed asset having more capacity or for taking up a more profitable line of business);
- review of events after the balance sheet date for analysing the effect of such disposal of substantial part of fixed asset on the going concern.
The auditor should also obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence that the plans of the management are feasible, are likely to be implemented and that the outcome of these plans would improve the situation. The auditor should also seek written representation from the management in this regard. Where the company has disposed off substantial part of fixed assets, the auditor should consider whether the disposal of such part of fixed assets has triggered the risk of going concern assumption being no longer appropriate. It is possible that such risk is mitigated by factors such as those referred to in (f)(ii) above. If, in the auditor’s judgement, the going concern assumption is appropriate because of mitigating factors, in particular because of management’s plans for future action, the auditor, apart from reporting that sale of substantial part of fixed assets has not affected the going concern, should also consider whether such plans or other factors need to be disclosed in the financial statements. Where the auditor concludes that such plans or other factors need to be disclosed in the financial statements, but have not been adequately disclosed in the financial statements, the auditor should express a qualified or adverse opinion, as appropriate in accordance with the requirements of Auditing and Assurance Standard (AAS) 28, “The Auditor’s Report on Financial Statements”, issued by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.