The fraud scandal at one of India's largest software outsourcers,
Satyam Computer Services, has again placed the spotlight on corporate
governance in Asia. Experts say
the region has made some progress, but more needs to be done.
Computer Services had been one of India's most admired companies. Last
year, it received an award for corporate governance.
But many are asking, was it a mirage?
arrest for fraud of the Raju brothers who ran the company is seen as a
setback for Asia's efforts to shake off perceptions of poor corporate
governance. The collapse of some Asian family-run conglomerates during
the region's financial crisis 10 years ago exposed some bad business
practices - such as lack of transparency and shady financial
transactions between family members.
problem has been there all this time," said Lee Kha Loon, who heads the CFA Institute's Center on Financial Markets Integrity in Hong Kong. "Some [family-run
businesses] bought into the concept of these regulations and changes
that needed to be done. We do see some good corporate governance, but
it is very hard to measure the level of success."
Asian financial crisis, governments have instituted new laws on how
businesses should behave, including adopting Western accounting
standards, appointing independent directors on company boards and
protecting minority shareholders' rights. India was among those
Asian Corporate Governance Association research
director Sharmila Gopinath says there is what she calls a "mystique" of
good governance in India largely because of the presence of a handful
of exemplary companies.
"There are 9,000 listed companies in the
country," said Gopinath. "If you look at the vast majority of them you
are not going to find corporate governance standards of any great
The problem, experts say, is in implementation. Joseph
Fan, a corporate governance expert at the City University of Hong Kong,
says new laws and regulations are not enough because some companies are
able to skirt the law.
"The quality of public governance, the quality of bureaucrats, the quality of government play a very important role," said Fan.
Indian regulators have been quick to start investigations into Satyam's business practices.
at Satyam began to emerge last month when its chairman wanted the
company to buy two companies owned by his family. Shareholders
objected and independent directors resigned. Earlier this month, the
chairman admitted to fabricating about $1 billion in cash and the
Lee says Satyam's case serves as a reminder
of the need for continued improvements in corporate governance, despite
the reforms over the past decade.
"Where is the fear of family-owned companies to change? One is, regulators would come after them.
Second is, investors would react like in the Satyam case," he said.
another crisis hits Asia and companies face financial difficulties,
experts say regulators need to be vigilant for irregularities.