Why only a footnote for Hsien Yang’s appointment?

Tucked away on Page 60 of Fraser and Neave’s 200-page annual report and stated in a matter of fact of way is the announcement that one of the most talked about corporate agreements with a high-profile company chieftain has been dissolved.

In just one paragraph in that report, which was released to the media on Tuesday, the public-listed heavyweight said non-executive chairman Lee Hsien Yang’s $1 million-a-year consultancy agreement is being ended by mutual consent.

The $1 million will now be paid as director’s fee in addition to the $250,000 he will get a year as chairman.

What an anti-climactic way to try and bring closure to a story that hit the headlines four months ago raising issues like possible conflict of interest, accountability and transparency, points raised in a Weekend Today cover report.

A company spokesperson, when asked if the announcement could have been made in a more public way because of how the original announcement on Sept 5 last year was received, said: “The annual report is a public document which we give the SGX, shareholders and is available on our website. Hence, it cannot be more public.”

Allow me the liberty to analyse the spokesperson’s words and this is what they mean: We have informed the public through the legally-required channels. That is it, we have discharged our responsibility.

F&N did discharge its duty as far as its legal responsibility was concerned. And it did the right thing to end the consultancy agreement because the appointment of one man as chairman and consultant was going to create some awkward situations for staff down the line.

But what about the way Tuesday’s announcement was communicated to the public?

Since Mr Lee’s appointments became one of the corporate talking points of last year, the blue chip company could have won some brownie points if it had come out with a separate statement giving reasons for its decision to collapse the two roles.

It could have provided answers to questions like: Why incorporating the two roles into one was not thought of in the first place? Why did it take them three months to make the change? Was it just a case of “simplifying matters”, as the annual report explained?

The spokesperson said the change will result in greater transparency and accountability as the director fees will have to be approved by shareholders at the annual general meeting on Jan 31. But, why was greater transparency and accountability not evident in October?

A great opportunity to take corporate disclosure to a new level was lost.

Having said that, F&N has taken the right step in making this move, whatever the official reasons it has given for the change of mind.

Mr Lee deserves the $1.25 million F&N wants to pay him. The company should be applauded for keeping a corporate talent in Singapore and not losing him to foreign shores.

Now all that is left is for the shareholders to say yes to the payment. And for Mr Lee to get on with his work and chart a new course for the property, food and beverage and publishing giant — the way he did with SingTel when he was its CEO. – TODAY/ra

Source : Today – 11 Jan 2008

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