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  • 25 May 2014 10:23 PM | Administrator

    Published by Trinidad & Tobago Business Guardian

    Published: 
    Sunday, May 25, 2014
    Chris Pierce

    Fish and corporations have little in common ordinarily. One corporate governance expert, though, has seen parallels. “There is an old Chinese saying that fish rots from the head. If you have a rotten fish, it starts at the head. If you have a bad board, everything else will be rotten,” Chris Pierce, a global consultant who has responsibility for education and training at the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute said.

     

    Pierceundefinedthe CEO of Global Governance Servicesundefinedwas in T&T last week to conduct the first master class for company directors at the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute (CCGI). The institute was launched last year October and published the first T&T Corporate Governance Code in November. According to Pierce, these are just first steps in what should be a consistent, a “long-term” effort to improve the performance of boards and, by extension, benefit the society as a whole.

    How far the rot goes
    Successive governments have attempted to position this country as a regional financial leader. However, the Global Competitive Index Report of 2013-2014 published late last year, shows T&T lagging behind in a number of areas that are critical in engendering the faith of foreign investors. 

    Out of 148 countries, the report shows T&T ranking 118 in the ethical behaviour of firms, 111 in the protection of minority shareholder’s interest, 95 in the strength of auditing and reporting standards, 125 in favouritism in decisions of government ministers, 111 in public trust of politicians, 116 in irregular payments of bribes, 116 in the efficacy of state boards and 89 for the diversion of public funds. 

    The report goes on to say, “this underscores T&T’s need to improve its corporate governance systems and accounting systems.” (Trinidad Guardian) Over time, T&T’s corporate landscape has been occasionally punctuated with the failure and bad behaviour of institutions, headlines in the press and calls for blood from the public. Pierce, in fact, lists scandal as one of the hallmarks of bad corporate governance.

    Without naming any local firm, he described a sequence of events to illustrate what good corporate governance is and, is not. “What do the shareholders do? What does the board do? What do the directors do? What do the managers do? Who should be responsible when things go wrong? 

    “In T&T, there are many cases where this is unclear. Fingers are being pointed at different people and people are saying, ‘it’s not my fault, it’s somebody else’s fault.’ Corporate governance tries to tackle that by saying, ‘no, it is somebody’s responsibility. There are clear documents which stipulate who has the power, who has the responsibility, who has the duty. In T&T, there are many cases where this is unclear.”

    Transparency with funds
    Pierce said among the cornerstones of good corporate governance are transparency with funds, making business easier to conduct, documented, publicised rules for dealing with wrongdoing as well as conflicts of interests, awareness of the country’s laws and board knowledge of all of the above. He said dealing with other people’s money made it essential that strong governance systems were in place and that proper accounting was the board’s responsibility.

    Having documented policies for handling related-party transactions and conflicts of interest is also essential. Pierce said that well-governed companies had a “register of interests.” He explains what this is:
    “Every director should register the interests in which he is involved: maybe they are on other boards; maybe they have shares in other companies; maybe they are related to other people, a wife, a husband who also have a particular interest. These must be registered with the company.”

    Conflicts and related-party matters must be dealt with swiftly, said Pierce. He said the board must be made aware of them, so that action can be taken, whether this means barring the person with the conflict from meetings, or not allowing them to have a say or a vote at meetings if they attend. 

    He also said that an organisation’s related party and conflict of interest policy should be on its Web site where everyone has access to it. Pierce recommended that conflict and related-party issues should also be brought up in annual general meetings. “The company should say that over the past year, three items of conflict of interest have taken place. In each and every case, the code on related-party transactions was followed.”

    Asked about many specific instances of apparent conflict of interests in the local business sphere, where individuals served on multiple boards, both in the public and private sector, Pierce told the Sunday Business Guardian that he saw nothing wrong with related-party transactions. 

    “In an island of this size, in any major business, there are always going to be people that you know, who are related in any transaction. It is inevitable they will exist and you have got to be able to manage it. You have got to say the organisation did have this transaction, but I was not involved in it because I left the meeting. I have not been involved in the implementation. I have not been benefitting from that transaction.”

    When asked about episodes of companies reporting on self, the likelihood of it being greeted with suspicion by the Trinbagonian public and whether he recognised this, Pierce responded: “Absolutely. Are they telling us everything? Or are they spinning it in certain ways? Corporate governance recommends that you not only tell people the good news, but also the problems and risks associated with trading. That shares can go up or down and that is based on market conditions and so on. A well-governed company will be a trustworthy organisation, where you can trust the individuals to tell the truth and the whole truth.”

    Self reporting falls under principle 3 (Reinforce Loyalty and Independence) of the T&T Corporate Governance Code. It is one of five principles which include: establishing a framework for effective governance, strengthening the composition of boards and committees, fostering accountability and strengthening relationships with shareholders. Adhering to this code is voluntary, with directors of companies choosing to sign on.

    When asked if Trinbagonian companies could or should be trusted to self regulate, Pierce said: “To a certain extent. But every country requires a good Companies Act and good legislation. You only move to codes of corporate governance when you’ve got firm laws in place and it is not good enough to have good laws. Those laws have got to be clear and they have to be enforced and when they are broken, people have to be thrown in jail.”

    He said what the current code contains international best practice clauses and the companies that are not following international standards either need to comply or explain why they are not doing so. According to Pierce, the CCGI is working on a code for family businesses, which will be published in 2015. He also said there were discussions taking place on a code for state-owned enterprises.

    “It would be nice if it came out before the next general election. That could then create some discussion on what the various candidates think should be done in terms of government and state-owned enterprises. Because there may well be significant changes to boards based on the election results.”

    Pierce acknowledged that while corporate governance generally dealt with the larger companies in the country’s economiesundefinedand their relationships with their shareholdersundefinedthere were other stakeholders who were affected by poor governance. 

    What happens in boardrooms
    Speaking about the consequences of bad corporate governance to the general public, the consultant said: “If an organisation is badly managed it will not be making a lot of profit.” He added that a decline in profits, in turn, would affect a company’s ability to create or sustain employee. All of these are factors that affect economic growth. 

    “The man on the street wants economic growth, therefore, it is in the interests of the country as a whole for organisations to be well run. There will be more growth. There will be more employment and more and more money will circulate.”

    Corporate governance in the future
    Pierce told the Sunday Business Guardian that he is collaborating with the CCGI on training programmes for executives. Topics at the just-concluded master course for directors included: the powers and responsibilities of boards, choosing a strong chair of a board, the quality of the information that a board receives and the reporting of a board’s activity. He admitted that corporate governance was a cultural issue as much as a financial one.

    “You do not expect results within the next three months or six months. This is a culture change that the business community is going through. Some people will find it difficult because they are enjoying the way things are. So we are looking at the medium to long term, maybe the next generation of directors that is coming through. One of the first things to do is make the first step. That step is with the CCGI being launched, a code being developed, training taking place and it is important that those first steps are based on strong foundations from which we are able to reach out and create scalability.

    Pierce identified T&T as an important centre, which is why the good corporate governance push was started here. From here, he said, it will move to Jamaica and the other islands. The CCGI confirmed that 110 companies are members of the T&T Corporate Governance code, while another 14 are in the process of completing the membership process. 

    Chairman, Dr Axel Kravatzky told the Sunday Business Guardian that so far, Neal and Massy and First Citizens are the only two that have included some of the stipulations of the code in their current annual report. This included the standards that the companies are working towards and self reporting. He said given the coincidence of the end of most firms’ financial year and the publication of the report, many of their members opted to include information recommended by the report in their next annual report.

  • 24 Jul 2013 1:49 PM | Administrator

    Published by Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspaper

    In November 2012, the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, together with the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange, partnered with the newly formed Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute to lead the development of a national Corporate Governance Code. In January 2013, a dedicated team of individuals from 15 organizations were assembled to develop a document that will not only be a customised set of best practices for T&T companies, but also irrevocably increase the standard of corporate governance, and thereby business performance in our nation. 
    Fast-forward six months to June 2013 at the second annual Corporate Governance event series hosted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain. At this occasion, Ms Alex Kjorven, chief executive officer of the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute, on behalf of all partners on the Code project, including the Chamber, offered audience members a glimpse inside the current draft of this much anticipated Code. 

    Why a Code?
    The idea of introducing new codes or standards are often met with either skepticism from those who feel Codes are not enough, or objection from those who feel there are already too many rules. 
    In order to gain clarity over those opposing new standards, we must look within our existing rules and frameworks. Although there exists reporting requirements to regulatory bodies, the requirements for reporting information to owners and investors are undeniably low. Existing laws in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) around disclosure are currently less than half of what other emerging economies require of their companies (2011 Syntegra Change Architects -Corporate Governance Disclosure Practices in Trinidad & Tobago). Therefore, there is considerable room for improvement with regards to transparency and providing investors the tools they need to demand greater accountability. 
    As for the skeptics, who favour more heavy-handed approaches towards protecting public interest, we must look beyond our borders. There are currently over 90 countries around the world that have developed codes or guidelines on corporate governance. With the exception of only a few, these codes were implemented for adoption on a voluntary basis with higher rates of reported benefit than those implemented as law. Most common is the ‘comply or explain’ method where companies disclose that they are in compliance with the provision of a code or explain the reasoning behind any deviations they chose to make for their particular circumstance. 
    Although it may be widely accepted that establishment of national codes is in line with global practices, many underestimate the potency of creating what is, at the end of the day, a highly customisable resource for companies who understand the rewards of good governance, and who seek to achieve greater competitiveness in an increasingly demanding marketplace. 

    How Will Companies Benefit?
    According to the 2012 World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, T&T ranked 114 out of 144 on the efficacy of corporate boards, just one disappointing ranking amongst several in the category of institutional performance. 
    Now that corporate governance has been established as a key investment criterion to the point where investors may claim avoidance of not only companies with poor governance but also countries (McKinsey Global Investor Opinion Survey on Corporate Governance, 2002. Thirty-one per cent of investors survey claims avoidance of certain countries when making investment decisions.) that do not institute strong governance, then it must be recognised that the sustainability of our companies and our overall global competitiveness rests on the efforts we take to align ourselves with recognised best practices.
    This Code builds consensus on what these best practices should be in the local context and the return on investment for companies who adopt it include lower costs of capitals due to increased investor confidence, lower risk of internal control failure that lead to fraud or scandal and stronger leadership and relationships between the board, management and investors. The benefits for the company quickly precipitate through to civil society, which will be strengthened by improved management of national wealth and improved market efficiency. 

    What Does the Code Look Like?
    A readily available draft of the proposed Code is currently being circulated amongst the business community for feedback and consultation. It is free for public download on the website of the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute, which was selected by all partners to act as Secretariat and long-term, independent lead for the Code. 
    The Code has been modelled after globally agreed upon best practices with specific consideration and much customisation for the local economy and dynamics of the T&T business society. It was developed with sensitivity towards the costs and benefits of implementation, ease of use and clarity to companies on the benefits for their organisation. 
    The Code consists of five Principles that represent the highest and most fundamental elements of good corporate governance. Companies should always maintain consistency with the spirit of each Principle when implementing governance initiatives. Within each Principle, there are several Recommendations that speak to specific practices that companies should adopt. Companies are asked to disclose in their annual reports whether they have applied the recommendations set out in the Code, or explain the reasons for not doing so. Finally, each Recommendation is supplemented with Guidance for practical application that may further strengthen the company’s understanding. 
    This Code is targeted towards companies with a public accountability for adoption on an “apply or explain” basis. This includes publically listed companies, or those who report to a securities commission or other regulatory organisation. It also includes companies who hold assets in a fiduciary capacity for a broad group of outsiders, such as financial institutions. 
    Going forward, it is the intention of the Institute and its collaborators to create future guidelines or publications that will address the more unique governance challenges faced by other types of organisations, such as state-enterprises or family-owned businesses. In the meantime, although the recommendations and guidance provided in the current draft of the Code have been crafted with a certain user group in mind, the overall Principles of the Code are universal, and should be seen as standards of best practice for all types of organisations.

    How to get Involved 
    You are invited to join in this initiative by downloading the current draft, sharing your views and participating in a consultation session. Further information on this project as well as the current draft of the Code is available on the CCGI website (www.caribbeangovernance.org/codes-guides/ttcgc/feedback).

    The anticipated publication date for the Code is November 2013. Additionally, individuals, investors, regulators and board directors are encouraged to become members of the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute to contribute and stay abreast of developments related to the Code and other regional initiatives. 

    For information on the Code or on becoming a member, please contact: 
    TTCGC Secretariat
    Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute
    14 Alcazar Street, Port of Spain
    Trinidad 
    Email: info@caribbeangovernance.org
    Phone: +1 868 221 8707
    Fax: +1 868 221 5306
  • 11 Apr 2013 1:54 PM | Administrator

    Published by Trinidad & Tobago Business Guardian

    Published: 
    Thursday, April 11, 2013
    Dr Axel Kravatsky, chairman of the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute (CCGI), centre, has the attention of Wainwright Iton, chief executive officer of the T&T Stock Exchange, and Catherine Kumar, chief executive officer of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

    T&T’s corporate governance disclosure practices are below the average of emerging market economies, said Dr Axel Kravatsky, chairman, the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute (CCGI).

     

    “In terms of corporate governance disclosure practices, the global standards have 61, Jamaica has 35 disclosure requirements in law, while in T&T, there are five disclosure requirements that are mandatory. Some companies already disclose higher than others, particularly those that are listed on stock exchange,” he said at a media briefing on Monday at the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Westmoorings.

    According to a CCGI statement, a 2011 report by Syntegra Change Architects Ltd found the average enterprise in T&T discloses less than half of the items suggested by the International Standards of Accounting and Reporting, which is less than half for other emerging and frontier markets.

    In the corporate governance “eco-system”, there are three main partners, he said.

    “On one hand, you have the owners who, by law, must appoint directors and directors appoint managers, and this is the relationship among all partners. There are crucial weaknesses and room for improvement in the relationship. The current laws do not require companies to disclose very much to the owners,” he said.

    Corporate governance code

    The code, when fully established, is intended to be used as a guide, primarily by listed companies.

    Kravatsky said the problem of corporate governance is not a short-term fix, but a long-term effort and the CCGI is playing its role in this.

    “Current projects include the T&T corporate governance code, together with the T&T Stock Exchange and T&T Chamber of Commerce. In June there is a corporate governance event with experience speakers from Latin America, and in September, a certificate in corporate directorship,” he said.

    He said one challenge is defining the scope as to how it relates to existing Central Bank laws and regulations.

    “T&T is not a leader in the environment and there are many other countries that have established codes. Codes are developed on the basis of other codes, company practices and laws and regulations,” he said.

    He said there are many benefits for companies of having a corporate governance code and “money flows with best practices.”

    “Companies that perform better because of this code have lower cost of capital, lower risks of failure and scandal and stronger leadership and operations.”

    Good corporate governance also has benefits for the country.

    “There are stronger private businesses as well as state-owned enterprises, there is greater benefits from the management of national wealth and there is also greater investor confidence,” he said.

    Information provided by the CCGI, showed that a 2002 survey by McKinsey and Company determined that global institutional investors are prepared to pay a premium of up to 40 per cent for companies with superior corporate governance practices.

    Investor confidence

    Roger Hamel-Smith, chairman of the CCGI working group and former Justice of Appeal, in a CCGI statement said: “Recent events in the T&T economy have highlighted the need for companies to recognise the importance of quality oversight with a high degree of accountability. There is no substitute for good judgement. However, institutionalising a set of best practices to which leaders can strive towards and measure against is a critical and meaningful pursuit.”

    Wainwright Iton, chief executive officer, T&T Stock Exchange (TTSE), who also spoke at the press conference, said the TTSE has heavily invested in good governance as it results in increased profits, increased transparency and greater opportunities for investors.

    The TTSE has 32 listed members and is a project partner with the CCGI in developing a corporate governance code.

    “Shareholders, manager, members of the board all benefits from this; also the population at large. Anything we can do to build trust and confidence in the economy, we will,” Iton said. 

    Iton compared the corporate governance code to a “manual” that companies can use as a guide.

    “If you buy a specific machinery or gadget and you want to know how it performs, you need a manual. If we look at the code in that sense, it will guide listed companies and unlisted companies as to how to conduct business in terms of good governance,” he said.

    Catherine Kumar, chief executive officer, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said the code will not be mandatory, but is optimistic T&T companies are “mature” enough to follow the code once developed. 

    “When you look at companies following ISO 9000, a lot of these things are voluntary as far as compliance, so we expect companies that want to get on the stock exchange and through the chamber’s members, there will be a certain degree of compliance,” she said.

    Kumar said the code will develop a new culture in business practices.

    “As a developing nation, if we had to put everything into law, it would not be practical. At the moment, we have challenges enforcing the laws that already exist. So this is about encouraging a culture of what is best,” she said.

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