Transparency: Corporate Malaysia doing better than government

AUGUST 15 ― On August 8, the Malaysian Institute of Corporate Governance (MICG) launched its inaugural report on transparency in corporate reporting among Malaysia's top 100 public listed companies (PLCs).

As expected, and feared, many companies fell short of the three areas in which they were assessed: anti-corruption programmes (40 per cent); organisational transparency (30 per cent); and sustainability practices (30 per cent).

Out of a possible score of 10, the average company score was a mere 4.6.

But to be fair, some of these companies had already put in place or were in the process of putting in place the desired standards which were not taken into account and included in the final report.

But the results, nonetheless, were not surprising and generally represented the perception of public listed companies having some ways to go in areas of transparent processes including tender procedures and anti-corruption measures where only two companies had cohesive anti-graft training for staff and directors.

Other areas Malaysian companies fell short of include succession planning which is crucial in public listed companies and government-linked companies (GLCs); protection of human rights; and protection of whistleblowers.

While not pointing at the 100 companies in the survey, MICG president Datuk Yusli Mohamed Yusof said many whistleblowers had even lost their jobs after alerting their bosses on improprieties within their organisations.

But this is endemic to Malaysian culture from politicians to corporations where the messenger usually gets the shorter end of the stick, while the culprit gets transferred, promoted or worse, is allowed to stay put in his present position due to protection from above.

In the area of human rights, while no specifics were mentioned, it is understood and one would be hard-pressed to disagree that equal opportunity based on gender and race are areas that need improvement.

With the use of race and religion by politicians and those who were elected to lead, one can conclude that the rhetoric can be used to justify unfair practices in PLCs.

Independent studies and experiments by Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and research institutes such as Pusat Komas provide some of the basis and findings for these perceptions.

Another observation from MICG was that audit committees do not get the support they deserve from top management, and even the Board of Directors in enforcing suggestions to improve processes in the respective organisations.

But, according to Yusli, one surprising finding is that GLCs performed better than multinational companies and family-run PLCs, with an average score of 5.8, 5.5 and 4.1 respectively.

The report was launched by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of governance Datuk Paul Low, with funding from Low’s department.

While many lauded the move to enhance the integrity of corporations, there was an air of causticness at the Institute of Integrity Malaysia (IIM)’s Dewan Murni.

It was obvious that what truly needed to be addressed was the elephant in the room.

So when it came for a Q&A session with the minister, one was tempted to point out the unsaid. But there was no point making a spectacle among the converted. There was no point in berating a minister who obviously has his hands tied and whose role is seldom taken seriously, through no fault of his but by the actions and omissions of those above him.

While these PLCs scored low, it is nothing compared to government agencies and ministries based on current events and the annual Auditor General’s Report.

From what we read in the media on a daily basis, corporate Malaysia can walk tall despite its low score, knowing that taxpayer-funded organisations have even more work to do to comply with basic tenets of transparency and good governance.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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