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What is Corporate governance
Corporate governance is the set of processes, customs, policies, laws, and institutions affecting the way a corporation (or company) is directed, administered or controlled. Corporate governance also includes the relationships among the many stakeholders involved and the goals for which the corporation is governed. The principal stakeholders are the shareholders/members, management, and the board of directors. Other stakeholders include labor (employees), customers, creditors (e.g., banks, bond holders), suppliers, regulators, and the community at large.
Corporate governance is a multi-faceted subject. An important theme of corporate governance is to ensure the accountability of certain individuals in an organization through mechanisms that try to reduce or eliminate the principal-agent problem. A related but separate thread of discussions focuses on the impact of a corporate governance system in economic efficiency, with a strong emphasis shareholders' welfare. There are yet other aspects to the corporate governance subject, such as the stakeholder view and the corporate governance models around the world.
In A Board Culture of Corporate Governance, business author Gabrielle O'Donovan defines corporate governance as 'an internal system encompassing policies, processes and people, which serves the needs of shareholders and other stakeholders, by directing and controlling management activities with good business savvy, objectivity, accountability and integrity. Sound corporate governance is reliant on external marketplace commitment and legislation, plus a healthy board culture which safeguards policies and processes'.
O'Donovan goes on to say that 'the perceived quality of a company's corporate governance can influence its share price as well as the cost of raising capital. Quality is determined by the financial markets, legislation and other external market forces plus how policies and processes are implemented and how people are led. External forces are, to a large extent, outside the circle of control of any board. The internal environment is quite a different matter, and offers companies the opportunity to differentiate from competitors through their board culture. To date, too much of corporate governance debate has centred on legislative policy, to deter fraudulent activities and transparency policy which misleads executives to treat the symptoms and not the cause.'
It is a system of structuring, operating and controlling a company with a view to achieve long term strategic goals to satisfy shareholders, creditors, employees, customers and suppliers, and complying with the legal and regulatory requirements, apart from meeting environmental and local community needs.
A report of corporate governance suggests the acceptance by management of the inalienable rights of shareholders as the true owners of the corporation and of their own role as trustees on behalf of the shareholders. It is about commitment to values, about ethical business conduct and about making a distinction between personal & corporate funds in the management of a company.” The definition is drawn from the Gandhian principle of trusteeship and the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution. Corporate Governance is viewed as ethics and a moral duty.
Impact of Corporate Governance
The positive effect of corporate governance on different stakeholders ultimately is a strengthened economy, and hence good corporate governance is a tool for socio-economic development.
Key elements of good corporate governance principles include honesty, trust and integrity, openness, performance orientation, responsibility and accountability, mutual respect, and commitment to the organization.
Of importance is how directors and management develop a model of governance that aligns the values of the corporate participants and then evaluate this model periodically for its effectiveness. In particular, senior executives should conduct themselves honestly and ethically, especially concerning actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and disclosure in financial reports.
Commonly accepted principles of corporate governance include:
- Rights and equitable treatment of shareholders: Organizations should respect the rights of shareholders and help shareholders to exercise those rights. They can help shareholders exercise their rights by effectively communicating information that is understandable and accessible and encouraging shareholders to participate in general meetings.
- Interests of other stakeholders: Organizations should recognize that they have legal and other obligations to all legitimate stakeholders.
- Role and responsibilities of the board: The board needs a range of skills and understanding to be able to deal with various business issues and have the ability to review and challenge management performance. It needs to be of sufficient size and have an appropriate level of commitment to fulfill its responsibilities and duties. There are issues about the appropriate mix of executive and non-executive directors.
- Integrity and ethical behavior: Ethical and responsible decision making is not only important for public relations, but it is also a necessary element in risk management and avoiding lawsuits. Organizations should develop a code of conduct for their directors and executives that promotes ethical and responsible decision making. It is important to understand, though, that reliance by a company on the integrity and ethics of individuals is bound to eventual failure. Because of this, many organizations establish Compliance and Ethics Programs to minimize the risk that the firm steps outside of ethical and legal boundaries.
- Disclosure and transparency: Organizations should clarify and make publicly known the roles and responsibilities of board and management to provide shareholders with a level of accountability. They should also implement procedures to independently verify and safeguard the integrity of the company's financial reporting. Disclosure of material matters concerning the organization should be timely and balanced to ensure that all investors have access to clear, factual information.
Issues involving corporate governance principles include:
- Internal controls and internal auditors
- The independence of the entity's external auditors and the quality of their audits
- Oversight and management of risk
- Oversight of the preparation of the entity's financial statements
- Review of the compensation arrangements for the chief executive officer and other senior executives
- The resources made available to directors in carrying out their duties
- The way in which individuals are nominated for positions on the board
- Dividend policy
Nevertheless "corporate governance," despite some feeble attempts from various quarters, remains an ambiguous and often misunderstood phrase. For quite some time it was confined only to corporate management. That is not so. It is something much broader, for it must include a fair, efficient and transparent administration and strive to meet certain well defined, written objectives. Corporate governance must go well beyond law. The quantity, quality and frequency of financial and managerial disclosure, the degree and extent to which the board of Director (BOD) exercise their trustee responsibilities (largely an ethical commitment), and the commitment to run a transparent organization- these should be constantly evolving due to interplay of many factors and the roles played by the more progressive / responsible elements within the corporate sector. In India, a strident demand for evolving a code of good practices by the corporation, written by each corporation management, is emerging.
External corporate governance controls
External corporate governance controls encompass the controls external stakeholders exercise over the organization. Examples include:
- Debt covenants
- Demand for and assessment of performance information (especially financial statements)
- Government regulations
- Managerial labour market
- Media pressure
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