Saturday, 22 July 2017

FGV's lack of transparency

Good article in The Star: Why FGV should handle whistle blowers with care

Some snippets and some comments by me:

In fact, one of the reasons why the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), a stickler for corporate governance, disposed of its interest in FGV is because there was no separation of powers between the board and the major shareholders.

The provident fund, for instance, felt that the total remuneration package for the chairman, which was stated at RM2.67mil in the 2016 annual report, was seen as too high.

The powerful provident fund expressed its dissatisfaction on the way FGV was managed by disposing its shares. In fact EPF’s chief executive officer Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan hardly completed a year as a board member of FGV.

I am sorry to say but I find this very disappointing from the EPF. By selling they even drove down the share price giving them an even lower price for the last shares they sold.

Could they not have done more? If they were unhappy about the Corporate Governance inside FGV then they could have voiced out their concerns, first internally, and when no adequate response has been issued, they can simply call for a press conference. Surely journalists from all major media outlets would show up and report on the issues. That would have forced the company to issue replies to some thorny issues and would have given some much needed transparency. Who knows, some M&As might have been prevented that way, for the benefit of almost all parties involved.

Only now, after Isa has been moved out of FGV does the board admit that the company lacked governance.

The problem with all the initiatives from Bursa and SC is that it looked like CG was good inside FGV. But FGV was simply ticking all the boxes.

"Real" CG is not about ticking boxes, but how the company handles itself for instance in cases of conflict of interest (rather common in Malaysia), transparency towards shareholders, major strategic decisions like M&A activities, etc.

The question is if FGV actually has improved its CG? From the announcements that have been made on the Bursa website I doubt it, I find hardly any relevant information on what has been going on the last few months, for instance nothing about:

  • The work done by Idris Jala, let alone the contents of his report (probably only the major shareholder is privy to this information).
  • The serious allegations by Zakaria (and others) regarding expensive, non-core acquisitions in the past
  • The real reasons for the resignation of the previous Chairman and who the new chairman is (the last might have been an honest oversight though)
  • The Edge Malaysia wrote a very good series of articles with lots of useful information (including interviews of the main persons involved), most of which was never revealed

He [Zakaria] should not be penalised for speaking out. Because this would render redundant all the governance structures and whistle blowing channels that are in place in FGV.

Exactly. Whistle blowing in Western countries is already difficult enough (many regret later on that they blew the whistle), doing the same in Malaysia (a country with the highest Power Distance Index in the world) is so much more difficult. We need to respect people who speak out based on conviction and proper information.

I hope to see a healthy dose of transparency in the near future, what was really going on the last few months, and a proper, honest evaluation of the controversial M&As FGV has done in the past. Several companies in Singapore (most notably SingPost and Singtel) have done so in similar situations (by an independent advisor under the guidance of the independent directors) and an extract of the final report has been forwarded to the SGX website. Will the same happen with FGV? We will wait and see.

1 comment:

  1. Easy for you to say. EPF's board is nominated by Ministry of Finance aka MO1 aka PM.