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Perception of the Effectiveness of Internal Audit Function

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Management is constantly striving to effectively its objectives and protect assets. Therefore, management needs to continually evaluate the activities of every department in their organisation. Internal audit (IA) has become an important and an integral function of organisations in achieving their objectives and protecting assets. Thus, a study of the role and effectiveness of internal audit function in developing countries such as Libya could enable an understanding of internal audit practice where, currently, there are no local standards on how the effectiveness of those departments can be evaluated. Libya is a developing Arab state located in north central Africa with an area of 1,759,540 square kilometres (1,092,882 square miles) and aـــ Mediterranean coastline nearly 1,800 kilometres long (1,118 square miles) from Tunisia in the west to Egypt in the east.

Limited prior research has focused on the effectiveness of internal audit (EIA). Also, previous research has failed to determine a generally agreed approach to ascertain the effectiveness of internal audit function. Employing institutional theory and Marx’s theory of the circuit of industrial capital, this study seeks to explore and interpret the opinions of the participants regarding the role and effectiveness of internal audit in Libyan public enterprises. It aims to introduce a new perspective for the evaluation of internal audit effectiveness by identifying two groups of factors that impact on audit effectiveness, that is, those related to Standards for Professional Practice of Internal Auditing (SPPIA) namely, independence, competences, scope of work and work performance and those related to organization management support namely, salaries and material and moral incentives.

The study will utilize a qualitative research paradigm to establish whether the internal audit function in Libyan public enterprises is perceived to be effective. Interviews will be used to collect data from managers of administrative affairs, financial controllers, directors of internal audit in public enterprises operating in manufacturing, banking and insurance sectors, and external auditors responsible for these enterprises.

THE RESEARCH PROBLEM AND ITS SETTING

Research Setting

The professional practice of IA commenced around 1941. Before the 1950s, IA focused on financial audit and was heavily involved in the review of financial statements. Since 1941 the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) has played an important role in developing and enhancing the professional stature of internal auditors (Yee et al. 2008). IIA (2004) defined internal auditing as:

“An independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations. It helps an organization accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes”.

According to this definition internal auditors should play a relevant role in evaluating and improving the effectiveness of risk management processes. This statement also reflects the Marxist definition of internal auditing that modern operational auditing seeks to increase the rate of return on capital, as well as value adding (Yee et al. 2008). Recently, IA has became an important part of organizational structure as a value adding service to organizations (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003; Arena & Azzone 2009; Bou-Raad 2000; 2005; Coram, Ferguson & Moroney 2008; Enyue 1997; Goodwin 2004; Mihret, D. G. & Woldeyohannis 2008; Yee et al. 2008). Al-Twaijry, Brierley and Gwilliam (2003) explain that there are two benefits in having an internal audit department with in organizations. Firstly, it improves the operations and manages risk. Secondly, it helps the organization in the prevention and detection of mistakes or fraud, and the safeguarding of the assets of the organization. Therefore, the objective of IA is to examine and evaluate the adequacy and effectiveness of other controls in order to provide the management of an organization with information, analyses and recommendations to assist them in achieving its objectives (Bou-Raad 2000; Brody & Lowe 2000; Goodwin 2004; Yee et al. 2008).

Furthermore, IA is an important tool for external audit because the work of internal audit can help external auditors in many respects. For example internal auditors may enable external auditors to understand the internal control system before any work is being carried out (Haron et al. 2004). For external auditors to rely on the work of internal auditors, the external auditors must assess the work of the internal audit function. The American Institution of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has issued Statement of Auditing Standards SAS No. 65 and has determined EIA in three criteria, namely, competence, objectivity and work performance. Several previous research has studied the external auditors’ reliance on internal audit work, in particular, Al-Twaijry, Brierley and Gwilliam (2004) point out that the external auditor expressed concern about the independence, scope of work and small size of many internal audit departments in the Saudi Arabian corporate sector.

The importance of IA has been confirmed indirectly in various legislation, such as the Sarbanes Oxley Act (2002) in the USA, and the Corporate Law Economic Reform Program Act in Australia (Carey, Subramaniam & Ching 2006). Also, recent corporate collapses and financial scandals have increased attention on IA as an important consideration for organizations (Arena, Arnaboldi & Azzone 2006; Coram, Ferguson & Moroney 2008; Schneider 2003).

Although (IA) has become a very important function within organisations, academic researchers have largely ignored IA as an organisational control function due to the lack of internal audit research compared to that on external audit (Boyle 1993). According to Mizrahi & Ness-Weisman (2007, p. 188): “Yet, there is relatively little in the literature about the measurement of auditing effectiveness in the public sector”. Currently this should not be ignored as the international market is becoming more and more open. However IA, in order to be a value adding service to organizations, must be effective (Mihret, D. G., James & Mula 2009a). According to Mousa (2005, p. 6) :

“There are two basic reasons why it is important to examine and evaluate EIA. One is that it is an indication of the quality of performance and can describe whether or not the IA function is performing in a satisfactory manner. The second is that the evaluation can serve as a motivator for an individual or an organisation to achieve a better performance”.

Mizrahi & Ness-Weisma (2007) maintain that in general, two important tools for achieving managerial accountability in the policy-making process are evaluation and auditing.

Despite scholars’ attempts to measure and evaluate EIA, there is no generally acknowledged guide or tool for this purpose (Arena & Azzone 2009). For this reason, prior research has differed in determining the effectiveness of the internal audit function in three ways. Firstly, previous research has utilized a variety of criteria to determine EIA. For example, Haniffa and Cooke (2002) and Mihret, James and Mula (2009c) studied the influence of environmental factors on internal audit’s practice. Al-Twaijry, Brierley and Gwilliam (2003), Mihret, James & Mula (2009b), Mihret, Mula & James (2009d) and Yee et al. (2008) have used (SPPIA) as a guideline to evaluate EIA. Arena and Azzone (2009), Elliott, Dawson and Edwards (2007) and Mihret and Yismaw (2007) have developed models to evaluate EIA. Secondly, while some prior research has examined EIA from the point of view of the organization (managers, the chief audit executive and internal audit staff), others have depended on external auditors’ perceptions. Thirdly, most previous research has focused on mixed sectors (public sector, private sector and government ministries).

The mission of IIA is to provide dynamic leadership for the global profession of internal auditing (IIA 2004). SPPIA are an effective indication to determine EIA (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003). Mihret, James and Mula (2009b, p. 10) argue that:”The use of SPPIA provides a better proxy measure because it helps to measure internal audit effectiveness by examining internal audit systems and processes”. A positive association between compliance with SPPIA and organizational goal achievement could be an additional indicator of effective internal audit (Mihret, D. G., James & Mula 2009b). For internal auditing to be a value-added activity, it is important for internal auditors to comply with SPPIA (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003).

Internal audit’s practice would not be effective without management support. Adams (1994) explained that the interest of management is an important factor in maintaining a strong IA. Mihret and Yismaw (2007) perceived management support as one of the two most important factors influencing audit effectiveness. Management support such as pay rates and material and moral incentives could improve EIA. Mihret, James and Mula (2009c) state that most participants in their study believed that poor pay rates and career prospects in the public sector had the potential to limit EIA. Albercht et al (1988) found that there are four factors that the directors of internal audit departments could develop to enhance EIA top management support, namely, (i) an appropriate corporate environment; (ii) high quality internal audit work; (iii) high quality internal audit staff; (iv) and an appropriate corporate environment.

Libya is a developing Arab state located in north central Africa with an area of 1,759,540 square kilometres (1,092,882 square miles) and a Mediterranean coastline nearly 1,800 kilometres long (1,118 square miles) from Tunisia in the west to Egypt in the east (for more detail seeOtman & Karlberg 2007). Libyan public enterprises are the most important source of capital formation. In most of these enterprises internal audit departments have been established to evaluate the activities of the organizations. However, there is no rule that tells organizations how to manage their internal audit departments and, contrary to the West, there are no professional standards and guidelines available to internal auditors in Libya, resulting in organizations having their own internal guidelines on the practice of IA (Almagory 1998).

In line with the new trends of the Libyan society towards encouragement of domestic and foreign investment, establishment of a stock exchange and adoption of international accounting standards by the banking sector and stock market, there is a need to investigate the conditions of the accounting and auditing profession in the Libyan environment (Alhsadi 2007). As a starting point in this direction, those who follow the reality of financial accounting in the Libyan environment tend to emphasize the weakness of the Libyan experience, especially in the professional field (Al-Kilani 2002; Ashour 2004). Libya’s Commercial Law for the year 1953 had put forward an integrated accounting financial accounting model requiring each company to establish an internal audit department (Alhsadi 2007). Moreover, according to proclamation No. 116 of 1973, all Libyan public organizations, be they industrial, commercial, or services related, are subject to external audit. However, more recently, all Libyan public organizations have been required to undergo audit by public auditors (that is, the staff of the Management Control Institution). In Libya the public sector still dominates the economy, consistent with socialism.

Research Questions

This research arises out of the need to evaluate EIA in Libya (Arena, Arnaboldi & Azzone 2006; Arena & Azzone 2009; Christopher, Sarens & Leung 2009; Conor & Jenny 2007; Coram, Ferguson & Moroney 2008; Goodwin 2004; Mihret, D. G. & Yismaw 2007). More specifically, Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam (2003); Mihret, Admassu and Abdalla (2009e); Mihret, James and Mula (2009c); Mihret, Mula and James (2009d); Mihret and Woldeyohannis (2008); Mihret and Yismaw (2007) and Yee et al.(2008) suggest the need to focus on IA in developing countries. Because IA has become an integral part in modern business, the internal auditor’s role is becoming increasingly important to organizations in achieving their objectives. Also, with the rapid growth of the public sector and resultant serious problems concerning organizational control and supervision, management needs to continually evaluate the activities of every section of their organisation that impact on achieving efficiency and protecting assets (Yee, Sujan & James 2007).

In all Libyan public enterprises internal audit departments have been established to evaluate the activities of organisations as a service to management. Despite the importance of evaluating EIA in various economic activities in Libya, no formal guidelines have been provided to support this evaluation. Furthermore, some of the previous studies on IA in Libya have concentrated on activities such as industrial activities (Ashour 2004) and the banking sector (Elmasallati 1995). Therefore, it is apparent that there is a need for research to examine and evaluate the effectiveness of the internal audit function within the Libyan context where there are no standards on how the effectiveness of those departments can be evaluated. As a result this study is concerned with EIA in Libyan public enterprises. Thus, this study seeks to examine EIA Libyan public enterprises. Therefore, the main question underlying this research study is:

Research Question: To what extent is the internal audit function in Libyan public enterprises perceived to be effective?

Thus, to answer the main question underlying this research study, the following eight subsidiary questions are formulated:

RQ1: To what extent is the internal audit function in Libyan public enterprises independent of management?

RQ2: Does the scope of internal auditing actually extend into other types of non-financial (managerial / operational) areas at all management levels and can it be identified?

RQ3: To what extent are the internal auditors competent, in terms of knowledge and skills?

RQ4: To what extent is the performance of internal audit effective, in terms of managing internal audit activity, nature of work, engagement planning, performing the engagement, communicating results and monitoring progress?

RQ5: Is internal audit in Libya operating under adequate management support in terms of salaries and material and moral incentives?

RQ6: Are organizations in Libyan aware of the social benefit of effective internal auditing?

RQ7: What programs and actions should be implemented to improve EIA?

RQ8: What can be done to attract and nurture skilled and talented young people into internal auditing in Libya?

Scope of Study

This study will focus on six factors independence, competences, scope of work and work performance, salaries and material and moral incentives to examine EIA. However, it will not consider other factors such as environmental factors. The study will focus on public enterprises which are state-owned. It will not include private enterprises. Furthermore, it does not purpose to study external auditors’ reliance on internal audit work. Rather it will explore the external auditors’ opinion about EIA in Libyan public enterprises.

Research Objectives

The present study aims to obtain the opinions of the participants regarding the role and effectiveness of internal audit in Libyan public enterprises. It will introduce a new perspective for the evaluation of internal audit effectiveness by identifying two groups of factors that impact on audit effectiveness, that is, those related to SPPIA, namely, independence, competences, scope of work and work performance and those related to organization management support namely, salaries and material and moral incentives. In other words, the answers to questions one to six will introduce the opinions of the participants regarding the role and effectiveness of internal audit. In addition, the answers to questions seven and eight will provide recommendations and suggestions on how EIA could be improved in the future.

Contribution

The following points will explain how the study contributes to knowledge:

First, this research will contribute to the literature relating to EIA. Boyle (1993, p. 227) states that: “compared to that on external audit, the academic literature on IA is limited”. Boyle also found 21 articles on the subject of IA during the period from 1975 to 1990 and none of which dealt with how its effectiveness can be evaluated. This lack of research is particularly critical to developing countries. Due to the lack of internal audit research on Middle-Eastern and North African companies, Al-Twaijry, Brierley and Gwilliam (2003); Mihret, Admassu and Abdalla (2009e); Mihret, James and Mula (2009c); Mihret, Mula and James (2009d); Mihret and Woldeyohannis (2008); Mihret and Yismaw (2007) and Yee et al. (2008), this study will provide insights on IA in Libya and whether the internal audit functions in Libyan public enterprises is effective, , thereby enhancing academics’ understanding of the merits and limitations of IA in Libya. Moreover, the contribution of the study is not restricted to the Libyan environment. It extends to the wider field of IA research. It will be especially relevant for communist and ex-communist countries such as Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, China, and the countries of Eastern Europe.

Second, this study is the first to research issues concerning evaluation of the internal audit function in public enterprises operating in manufacturing, banking and insurance sectors in developing countries, and particularly Libya, where there is no rule that instructs organizations on how to manage their internal audit departments. Unlike the West, there are no professional standards and guidelines available to internal auditors in Libya, resulting in organizations having their own guidelines on the practice of IA.

Third, this study will fill an important gap in the previous research regarding measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of internal audit function. Mihret and Yismaw (2007) used management support as factors in determining EIA in Ethiopia. However, the management support factors did not include the salaries and material and moral incentives which could affect EIA. Mihret and Yismaw (2007) point out that future research would be welcome to fully understand the level of internal audit effectiveness in the public sector by defining other variables affecting IA. Mihret, Mula and James (2009d, p. 1) highlight that: “Internal audit effectiveness needs to be conceptualized separately in industries and sectors could yield useful insights”. Therefore, this study will introduce a new perspective for the evaluation of internal audit effectiveness by identifying two group of factors that impact on audit effectiveness, that is, those related to SPPIA (independence, competencies, scope of work and work performance) and those related to management support (salaries and material and moral incentives). Also, the participants in most previous studies were external auditors, however, this study will use both a view of the organization (manager of administrative affairs, financial controllers and director of the internal audit) and external auditors responsible for this organization. Furthermore the study will provide recommendations and suggestions to improve and develop EIA.

Fourth, the majority of previous research has used quantitative research to examine IA and has used a questionnaire for data collection. However, this study will employ qualitative research to examine EIA. It will utilise the interview method for data collection. As mentioned in previous research, there is no generally acknowledged guide or tool for measuring and evaluating EIA. This study will contribute to the literature knowledge regarding evaluation EIA by using qualitative data because in qualitative research researchers do indeed dig deep to acquire a complete understanding of the phenomenon (Leedy & Ormrod 2005). Therefore, by the use of qualitative research (interview data collection), this study will comprehensively investigate the factors affecting the effectiveness of internal audit function. The benefits of qualitative research for the precent study will be explained in more detail in the in research methodology section of this proposal.

Fifth, most previous research has focused on IA in different sectors (private and public sectors). However, this study will focus primarily on public enterprises for reasons which also will be explained in the research methodology section.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Internal Audit Effectiveness

There has been limited research on internal audit effectiveness. This prior research suggests that the internal audit function has evolved from performing traditional IA function to becoming a value adding attribute to the organization (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003; Allegrini et al. 2006; Arena, Arnaboldi & Azzone 2006; Arena & Azzone 2009; Cooper, Leung & Wong 2006; IIA 2004; Mihret, D. G., Mula & James 2009d; Yee et al. 2008)). IIA (2004) defines internal auditing as an independent, objective and consulting activity designed to add value to an organization. Mihret, Mula and James (2009d) explain that organizations must understand internal audit effectiveness to assess the value adding potential of IA. Thus, in order for IA to be considered as a value adding service to organizations, it must be effective (Mihret, D. G., James & Mula 2009a).

Prior research has differed in determining the effectiveness of internal audit function. Al-Twaijry, Brierley and Gwilliam (2003) studied the development of IA in the Saudi Arabian corporate sector by using institutional theory. They highlighted that it is important for internal auditing to comply with SPPIA to be a value added activity. They also used SPPIA in terms of quality of internal audit staff, quality of internal audit work, an appropriate corporate environment and support of top management to evaluate EIA. The results of this study show that IA in the Saudi Arabian corporate sector is ineffective and it is not a value adding service to organizations. The study results also highlighted that managers have not implemented the recommendation of IA. These authors also suggest that future research is necessary to evaluate EIA accurately, because factors used in this study may act to reduce the value of IA.

Mihret and Yismaw (2007) also studied EIA in public sector higher educational institutions in Ethiopia. The study identified four factors impacting EIA, that is internal audit quality, management support, organization setting and auditee attributes. The results indicate that IA is ineffective in terms of proficiency, planning, recommendations and the limitation to the scope of work. Furthermore, this study revealed that audit quality and management support are the two most important factors influencing audit effectiveness respectively. These researchers also suggest a need for future research to fully understand EIA in the public sector by identifying other variables affecting internal audit effectiveness.

Yee et al. (2008) studied the role and effectiveness of internal audit in Singapore. They examined the perceptions of Singapore senior, middle and junior managers regarding the role and effectiveness of internal audit. In contrast to prior research, this study is the first to apply Marxist economic theory on the internal audit function. In contrast to Saudi Arabia (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam) and Ethiopia (Mihret, D. G. & Yismaw 2007), Yee et al.’s (2008) overall findings were that 1) the internal audit function in Singapore is improving and has became an important part of the organizations’ structure as a value adding service to organizations; and 2) In general, managers are satisfied with the internal audit. They also recommended the need to explore the role and effectiveness of internal audit in the Middle-East, because in a developing country the internal audit function can ensure that capital is not wasted through inefficiency, fraud and corruption.

Mihret, Mula and James (2009d) have studied EIA in three different organizations, government ministries, state-owned companies and private companies. Similar to that of (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003), their study employed institutional theory perspective to examine EIA. They also used major elements of SPPIA to measure EIA. The results of their study suggest that the level of internal audit effectiveness varies between these organizations. Also, the internal audit’s authority and responsibility, and its link with top management, are important factors in enhance EIA. The authors suggest that internal audit effectiveness needs to be conceptualized separately in industries and sectors could yield useful insights.

Arena and Azzone (2009) state that in light of recent changes in the role of internal audit function their study attempts to identify the organizational drivers of internal audit effectiveness in Italian companies. They indicate that, the role of IA has increased recently because of its links to the internal control-risk management system. This study defined a model to measure internal audit effectiveness that included EIA as dependent variable; and resources and competencies of internal audit team, the audit processes and activities and the level of interaction between IA and audit committee as independent variables. The results of this study suggest that internal auditors need to create new skills to perform activities that are more closely related to risk management because risk management needs auditors who are able to deal with different sources of risk and to increase the managers’ confidence in risks and controls. The results of this study also explain that internal audit effectiveness is influenced by the characteristics of the internal audit, the audit processes and activities and the organizational links. Arena and Azzone (2009, p. 43) state that:

“Internal audit effectiveness increases in particular when the ratio between the number of internal auditors and employees grows, the Chief Audit Executive is affiliated to the Institute of Internal Auditors, the company adopts control risk self-assessment techniques, and the audit committee is involved in the activities of the internal auditors”.

Furthermore, the authors highlight the need for more detailed analysis on the internal auditor’s competences in order to understand which specific skills can influence internal auditors.

Goodwin (2004) has made a comparison between the role of IA in the public sector and those in the private sector in Australia and New Zealand. The author highlights that there is no requirement for private sectors in Australia and New Zealand to establish internal audit department, however, the Australian Stock Exchange encourages large companies to have such a department. Regarding the requirement to establish an internal audit function in Australian public sector is not clear because it depends on the specific legislation governing them. On the other hand within the public sector in New Zealand there is no requirement to have an internal audit function. The results have suggested that internal auditors in the public sector are less likely to report to the chief of financial affairs than those in the private sector. Although the two sectors have used outsourcing to achieve some internal audit work, public sector organizations are more likely to use an external auditor for these services. Also, there does not appear to be any significant difference between internal auditors in the two sectors in interaction with external auditors.

Summary

Recently, the internal audit function has changed from a traditional function to becoming a value adding one to organizations, but for internal auditing to be a value added function, it must be effective. Therefore, prior research suggests that it is important for the organisation to evaluate EIA to ensure that it provides value to the organisation. However, previous research indicates that IA may not always be effective. Additionally, the role of the internal audit function is different between private and public sectors. It appears that there is a gap in previous research regarding examining EIA. It has utilized different criteria to determine EIA, as well as focussing on mixed sectors (public sector, private sector and government ministries). In addition, it has used different theories. Most prior research has suggested the need for future research to examine EIA, Therefore, exploration of EIA in developing countries such as Libya could contribute significantly in reducing the gap in literature.

The Theoretical Framework

The study seeks to determine EIA based on six factors independence, competence, scope of work, work performance, salaries and material and moral incentives. Thereafter, it will focus on how EIA in public enterprises could be improved in the future. Institutional theory and Marx’s theory will be employed in order to achieve the research aims. Following is a brief discussion of institutional theory and Marx’s theory and the explanation for combining them within this study.

Institutional Theory

Prior research has employed institutional theory to study IA (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003; Arena, Arnaboldi & Azzone 2006; Mihret, D. G., James & Mula 2009b; Mihret, D. G., Mula & James 2009d). Institutional theory focuses on aspects of social structure and provides an explanation for how institutional patterns, structures and practices are shaped through coercive, mimetic and normative isomorphism (DiMaggio & Powell 1983) . The importance of institutional theory lies in the demonstration that what an organization actually accomplishes and what their structures suggest to the external environment, they should accomplish (Fogarty 1996). However, organizations may exhibit to the external environment that they are operating in line with that expected by the external environment while, in fact, they are not (Meyer & Rowan 1977). Institutional theory explains that organizations sometimes engage in decoupling. Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam (2003) embraced the isomorphic perspective for investigating the development of internal Audit departments in Saudi Arabia. According to Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam (2003, p. 513) “we consider that the actual operations of internal audit departments are decoupled from the expectations of how they operate as stated in SPPIA”. Institutional theory provided a perspective regarding their results, IA is not well developed.

Institutional theory is considered suitable for internal audit research for the following reasons. Firstly, the theory encompasses internal audit practices which are a part of all organizational phenomena. Secondly, it helps to explain organizational phenomena without assuming a limited set of organizational goals compared to agency and transaction cost theories which are predicated on the assumption of shareholder wealth maximization. Third, it could support audit research in countries where the market is under development (Mihret, D. G., James & Mula 2009b). Prior research suggests the theory validity in internal audit research, both in developing countries (Al-Twaijry, Brierley & Gwilliam 2003; Mihret, D. G., Mula & James 2009d) and developed countries (Arena, Arnaboldi & Azzone 2006).

Marx’s Theory of the Circuit of Industrial Capital

Katz and Kahn (1966) defined the effectiveness as ma


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