Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Independent in appearance

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Japan is edging towards the introduction of independent directors and auditors for publicly listed companies, but so far even the idea of having someone from outside at the top of a company remains a foreign concept.

The tradition is for someone to join a Japanese company at age 22 with the ultimate goal of serving on the company board, says Takeyuki Ishida, the head of Japan Research at RiskMetrics Group, which advises institutional investors on how to vote their shares.

Such a tradition of insider appointments means that even if the government requires companies to appoint at least one independent director or an independent auditor — as a recent government discussion report suggested — it might be a classic case of Japanese “tatemae” (appearance) rather than “honne” (substance).

A reluctant company, faced with such a requirement, might ask their friendly bank or accounting firm to find someone for them — and end up with an ex-staff member, Ishida told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit.

Is the financial crisis the impetus Kuwait needs for reform?

If there is a silver lining to the impact of the credit crisis in Kuwait, it could be highlighting the poor transparency – even by Gulf Arab standards – in the desert country.
Other Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia have taken steps to crack down on corruption or boost transparency in a region where stock prices often move sharply before major company announcements. Most – but not Kuwait — have independent stock market regulators.
Once a regional leader in developing financial markets, Kuwait has fallen behind its neighbours. It would have been almost impossible for investors to discern problems at Kuwait’s Gulf Bank before its rescue last month, economists say.
Lack of transparency can often hide corruption, said Amani Bouresli, finance professor at Kuwait University.
“In terms of corruption, there is the perception of corruption index and every year we have a worse location than the year before,” she said.
The global crisis may add pressure on Kuwait to act, Bouresli said.
“When the index is red you see the government acting,” she said. “I hope if the index goes up again the government won’t stop acting.”
But more decisive measures on disclosure might be too bold a step to expect from Kuwait’s current government. Some have suggested that battles between the government and parliament in Kuwait, perhaps the most democratic of the Gulf Arab states, could hinder the type of action that would be necessary.
“The government knows there is a lot of corruption, but it is weak and unserious,” Kuwaiti economist Naser Alnafisi said.

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