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Never underestimate role of Independent Observer


Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan

The way that Brian Cullinan of PricewaterhouseCoopers was carrying on, you'd think it was easy.

He arrives on to the red carpet accompanied by a partner from PwC, each of them brandishing a satchel which contains the names of the Oscar winners, flashing these smiles which say, "there's no doubt about it, we must have the greatest job in the world".

Like it was easy, getting the names of all those winners in all those categories from the Academy, and putting them into envelopes, and bringing them to the venue. All the right names, in the right order.

Like it was easy, handing each of those envelopes to a presenter so that the prize for Best Supporting Actor actually goes to one of the nominees in that category, that it doesn't get mixed up with the award for Best Supporting Actress - to which end, the name of the winner and the relevant category is printed clearly on each envelope.

Like it was so damn easy, this top man Cullinan could be tweeting excitedly about Emma Stone during the countdown to the climax of the show, assuming that nothing could possibly go wrong. Because nothing had ever gone wrong before, and why?

Maybe, just maybe, because Cullinan thought it was easy, this thing that he was doing on behalf of PwC. A thought which might also have entered the minds of the multitudes who until this moment, had never imagined that there was such a thing as a person or even a global accountancy giant getting paid actual money for organising the envelopes at the Oscars.

We just assumed that Hollywood with its inventive genius could have sorted that one out "in-house", but evidently not. For 83 years, they've been relying on the skills of the finest accountants known to humanity, to steer the ship in that regard.

So it mustn't be that easy, it must be pretty hard after all, to require that level of expertise, the kind that usually comes with lavish remuneration, and rightly so. I mean, you can see what happens when one of them loses sight for just one moment of the complexities of the matter in hand, when he starts relaxing as if the thing will just run by itself.

Eternal vigilance, my friends, that is what you are getting from your blue-chip accountants, that is why they are getting the big bucks. And if some all-too-human error occurs, they'll be on to that too. Indeed they were so quick to identify their Mr Cullinan as the culprit, it seemed somewhat mean of the Academy to declare in ominous tones that they "will determine what actions are appropriate going forward".

My immediate reaction, going forward, was that a full report into the whole envelope-opening business should be commissioned at a cost of, say, $475m, from a top firm of consultants, one which knows the territory, such as, say... PricewaterhouseCoopers?

But what I was really thinking about, going backwards, was a man called Alex Burns. This would never have happened on Alex's watch.

For anyone who doesn't instantly recognise the name, his full title of Independent Observer Alex Burns of Stokes Kennedy Crowley (later Alex Burns of KPMG) should bring back those immortal images of the man whose role in Irish culture was to appear on television to, as it were, Independently Observe the Lotto.

Again, there were some who thought it was easy, this Independent Observing, ignorant of the most basic rule of any performance, which is that the great ones just make it look easy. They would see Alex up there, wearing his glasses, giving a friendly grin to the camera when he was introduced by Ronan Collins or Cynthia Ni Mhurchu, perhaps even saying, "good evening Cynthia". And they would think that anyone could do that.

They could see themselves up there, confirming that the first ball is indeed 22, then you have 18, and 9, and 15, and 3, and 7, and the bonus number is 11. That's the tricky one, but they could see themselves managing that too.

And they'd be thinking, if this is what a top accountant gets to do, maybe we're in the wrong business, whatever it is. Indeed, the contribution of Alex Burns to the broader culture of this society may be greatly underestimated, since there can be no doubt that he made the financial services sector in general looks like a most alluring place.

Watching him doing whatever he did on the Lotto, there would have been many young men with vague ambitions who suddenly found themselves riveted by the notion that if they went in a certain direction, they might one day find themselves in a world in which men were paid money for Independently Observing something that was being observed anyway by about a million people, one in which it seemed that very little could go wrong.

Ah, but as we witnessed in those tragic scenes at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, things can indeed go wrong. And so it seems even more unwise now on the part of the Lotto, that the role played with such consummate professionalism by Alex Burns, was discontinued.

Yes, the draws are Independently Observed by KPMG, but without an Alex Burns on camera, watching those balls, it's just not the same, and that it hasn't unravelled is just dumb luck.

I am willing to let my name go forward...

Sunday Independent