The new director of Internal Audit

A few days ago, IHI appointed a new Director of Internal Audit, Mr Melvin Bonnici.

Insider Plus was quick on the draw to knock on his office door and exchange a few words, which we now share with you. We smiled at each other behind our face masks and nudged elbows in the current fashion. Our first query was to find out what the post of Director of Internal Audit really entails.

“As director of internal audit, I am responsible for preparing and implementing a risk-based audit plan to assess, report on, and make suggestions for improving the Company’s key operational and finance activities and internal controls across the Group. Additionally, the position is responsible for identifying and assisting in documenting existing internal finance and disclosure controls, implementing and documenting new internal controls, and establishing an internal monitoring function to audit the Company’s compliance with such internal controls.

As you can imagine this is a tall order, as the IHI Group is extensive in terms of operating units in 11 countries which all have different rules and legislation.”

So, what is the difference between an auditor and an internal auditor? Mr Bonnici smiled, conscious that he had to simplify in a few words a very complex matter.  While the internal and external audit functions are complementary and may need to work closely together, their purpose and areas of focus differ. The external auditors have a legal responsibility to ascertain the accuracy of business accounts and the organisation’s financial condition. On the other hand, internal auditing is an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organisation’s operations. It helps an organisation accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance process in other words, primarily non-financial information. 

Convinced that the readers of Insider Plus would be interested to know more about the man, we asked Mr Bonnici to walk us through his work background.  

“It was always clear in my mind what I wanted to achieve from a very young age.  I started working when I was 18 with what was, back then, Joseph Tabone & Co, which later became KPMG. I took the path of obtaining the ACCA qualification since at the time I thought that this would give me more opportunities when seeking work abroad. Working in an audit firm gives you the chance to see a wide range of business activities and how they operate, and teaches you how to be organized and systematic in your approach.  This was a very good foundation for my career on which I kept building throughout the years. 

After ten years in the Audit department with KPMG I moved to Venice, Italy where I was the Finance Director of OMG Venezia, a subsidiary of Motherwell Bridge carrying out the design and construction of gantry cranes. This was my first expatriate experience, and it was challenging but exciting at the same time. Getting to grips with the bureaucratic way of operating in Italy was all new for me, but knowing the language was a great asset. 

Once the term of my two-year contract was over, I wanted a change and was offered to join the KPMG Consultancy department as they were gearing up for Malta’s entry in the EU. I was assigned to the corporate division responsible mainly for preparing business models for client and valuations. During this time, I had the opportunity to work on overseas assignments in the USA, Belgium and the last one in the UK. 

In the UK, I was seconded with FIMBank where I was assisting the client to reorganize the finance department of one of their recent acquisitions. After three months working in the UK, I was asked to join the bank to assist in the restructuring of future acquisitions. I continued working in the UK for a year and once the company was on its feet, I was asked to move back to the head office in Malta waiting for the next assignment. 

In December 2005 I received a call asking me if I was interested in an overseas assignment. I could never refuse an opportunity of working abroad. This is when I met the current joint CEO Simon Naudi who introduced me to the Palm City project in Libya. Following an interview in Kuwait with the Kuwaiti shareholder and a visit to Libya I accepted the offer and started my journey with the Corinthia Group. 

I spent seven and a half years in Libya where I had the opportunity to learn about the Libyan culture and visit various places across the country. Living and working throughout the conflict was something I would have never envisaged but it was a great experience.  Looking back at those days give me a sense of nostalgia to the good old days before the conflict when Libya was booming.

Once the situation stabilized, I left Libya in September 2013 and moved to Russia as Finance Director of Corinthia St Petersburg. The challenge here was of a diverse nature: a different language and culture, different laws and financial and fiscal regulations. I had a good finance team and enjoyed my experience.

In 2017 with the introduction of the EU Regulation on Data Protection coming in force in May 2018 I joined the Internal Audit, Risk and Compliance department headed by Mr Eugenio Privitelli to assist in setting up the policies and procedures and training to management staff of the Group.

We were quite intrigued with the fact that Mr Bonnici was the first General Manager of Palm City, in Tripoli. Surely, that must have been quite a change from his previous work experience. Was it a big challenge? We could trace a faint smile on his face, followed by pursed lips. The Palm City project was the most challenging and interesting project I have ever worked on. I was recruited at the initial stages of the project in 2006 and transferred to Tripoli where I saw Palm City transform from a building site to a 413 unit residential compound with its first residents moving into the units in June 2009. 

In February 2011, at the start of the revolution, there was an immediate exodus of residents and apart from a small nucleus of key staff, Palm City was completely emptied for a few months.  Managing through the conflict was not easy but with the help of my team it was made possible.”

Just a few words on his academical background: The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) was his first qualification in accountancy, followed by the local equivalent, the MIA (Malta Institute of Accountants) qualification.  Through his work experience, he then applied for his Accountancy Warrant.  When he moved to the consultancy arm of KPMG, he studied for an executive MBA with a leading Paris Business School which provided him with a broader set of tools and perspectives.

A man does not live only with numbers. Surely, Mr Bonnici has other interests in life.  “Reading and travelling are two things which I miss these days. Seeing the world is more instructive than formal education and by being exposed to new places, people and cultures, you develop different personal skills and a wider world view. Throughout my career I was fortunate enough to have visited various countries where I also resided for a while and had the opportunity to get to know and understand the people and their culture.”

Family? With a broad smile he said, I am a father of three young children and the pains and joys they bring are incredible. They inspire me to push forward in life when things get gloomy.”

Speaking of gloomy, Covid-19 has affected us all. How does it affect his mission? “In internal audit, with social distancing requirements and limited travel possibilities, one needs to consider whether work can be performed remotely, leveraging the technology available, and if necessary, agreeing amended or reduced scope of works. If face-to-face meetings are required, this work will initially be carried out remotely (desk top reviews) with face-to-face meetings postponed to a later date when international travel and social distancing is possible.”

We could not end this chat without noting that Corinthia is a company which looks forward even in adversities. What was his vision for the future? Throughout its history, particularly with its exposure in a large number of locations and jurisdictions, Corinthia has faced major challenges and has proved its resilience. Corinthia is a robust Company which derives its strength from its people who have supported the Company through this difficult period. Given that travel restrictions will be a key determining factor in future guest demand, compliance with the ever-changing protocols is critical. It goes without saying that the loosening or tightening of travel restrictions will directly impact a hotel’s ability to attract guests in the future.

Hopefully, once a vaccine is on the market the leisure travel segment is expected to rebound to make up for lost time, but it will take some time before we revert to acceptable levels.

In the meantime, we are operating with a leaner structure and a lower cost base which will be to our advantage once there is a return to normal operating performance.”

With those words, we smiled again behind our masks, nudged elbows, and looked forward for another day.