Corporate governance among our neighbours
09/11/2020
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On the 13th of October, the Securities Investors Association Singapore (SIAS) and the Centre of Governance, Institution and Organisations (CGIO) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School released their biennial report Corporate Disclosure on Business Integrity among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The study seeks to create a standard for the corporate disclosure level regarding business integrity practices in Southeast Asia based on the top listed companies in each exchange. The countries involved are Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Contextualising Southeast Asia against Australia

Among the countries examined, Singapore ranked higher than Australia on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) created by Transparency International (see HERE). This is the leading global indicator for public sector corruption, providing a look at the relative degree of corruption in the public sector annually. In 2019, Singapore achieved a CPI score of 85/100, ranking 4th in the world. For context, Australia’s score of 77/100 is ranked 12th in the world, suggesting an Australian federal independent integrity body may be needed. Amongst the remaining countries, Malaysia had the next highest CPI score of 53/100, placing it 51st in the world. Meanwhile, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand scored between 34/100 and 40/100, leading to ranks between 85 and 113.

Based on the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators (see HERE), the “Control of Corruption” looks at the level to which the public sector abuses its power for private gain. This metric scores countries between -2.5 and 2.5. Australia’s score of 1.81 has it in the 93rd percentile in 2018. This is again below Singapore which has a score of 2.2 and a percentile rank of 99 in 2018. The next highest is Malaysia with a score of 0.3 and a percentile rank of 64. The remaining countries had negative scores and had percentile ranks between 34 and 46.

Methodology

The report evaluates the top listed 50 companies by market capitalisation from each stock exchange in ASEAN on their corporate disclosure level involving anti-corruption policies and strategies. The report breaks down the assessment into 3 parts, “Internal Commitment Anti-Corruption”, “External Commitment Anti-Corruption” and “Reporting and Monitoring”. This is assessed using 13 questions which are derived from the United Nations Global Compact Reporting Guidance on the 10th Principle against Corruption. These questions were put against publicly available disclosures. They are scored 1, 0.5 or 0 based on the level of disclosure against the requirement. The scores for each company are then expressed as a percentage of the maximum of 13.

Results

In 2020, Malaysia has the highest disclosure level of 74%, Thailand’s disclosure level is 71% while Singapore is third at 64%. Philippines has a disclosure rate of 53% while Indonesia has a disclosure rate of 52%.

This result is somewhat unexpected given Singapore placed highly on the anti-corruption metrics discussed earlier. This is a reflection of the legislative strength of Singapore, which is not matched by the practices in the private sector. The report recommends that Singapore include more collaborative commitments to increase their business integrity disclosure level. The policies on facilitation payments and political contributions are not well disclosed. The business ethical standards set by corporate in their announcements and the related incentives are vague and not well publicised.

Limitations

Only documents that are publicly available and in English were used. Internal use documents are not considered therefore any internal policies that may bolster a company’s standing would not be included. Scores are related to the detail in which the public documents disclose these practices and policies. Disclosures that are only available in the local language with no English translation available have also been excluded from the study.

The study is limited to the top 50 companies by market capitalisation in each country. This excludes large private companies and smaller-sized businesses, which may account for a larger proportion of the market economy. This may not lead to a fair reflection of the country’s corruption level.

The policies may not reflect the enforcement and effectiveness actually present in the country. It could all be lip service as the companies may not be practicing what they preach.

Tying this back to Australia, having strong legislation may not necessarily lead to an equally robust corporate sector. This is evident in the recent royal commissions in the banking sector with Treasury and APRA tightening its grip on the sector (see HERE and HERE).

To view the report in its entirety, see HERE.

© Guerdon Associates 2021
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