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Roles and Responsibilities of Independent directors
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Independent Directors and their Independence in Corporate Governance Practice by tarjanarai on January 9, 2010 After Satyam scandal the issue of independent directors is back in focus. It is not only in Satyam that independent directors showed lack of commitment; earlier in the case of Enron, WorldCom and other companies in which corporate governance as well as independent directors failed to perform effectively. There is a called for a timely as well as effective new laws incorporating all the desired requirements and safeguards. Appointment of independent directors on the board 1
provides support as well as contribute in better corporate performance . The concept of “independent directors” is new to India; it was first brought to India by the 1999 Kumar Mangalam Birla committee on corporate governance. Three years later the Naresh Chandra committee gave governance more thought. Finally, in 2004 the Narayanmurthy committee affected changes to clause 49 of the listing agreement. As it stands today, the existing company law has no mention of independent directors. They can‟t magically prohibit the scams from happening in a company; the very purpose behind appointing independent directors is to put checks and balances on each and every activity of the company and bring independence, impartiality and wide experience. It has been decided in Central Government Vs. Sterling Holiday Resorts (India) Ltd. and Ors. that “the Board of directors should be strengthened by 2
appointing independent directors .” Clause 49 of SEBI‟s listing agreement mandated the appointment of independent directors in the board of directors. Clause I, sub clause (ii) of annexure- 1 of clause 49 mandates that “where the chairman of the board is a non-executive director, at least 1/3
of the board, should comprise of
independent directors and in case the chairman of the board is an executive director at least ½ of 3
the board should comprise of independent directors . There is no provision for their selection process, independence; there is ambiguity in law about the qualifications of an independent director in the present company bill. At present we needs laws which precisely define the roles, qualifications, functions, duties, responsibilities of an independent director.
In this paper I dealt with two issues:
Role and responsibility of an independent director
procedure for selection of an independent director
The benefits of the presence of independent directors on the board of companies has been immensely fruitful but we need to strengthen the institution of independent directors so that they can actually play an effective role, not expected from them in the past. WHO IS AN INDEPENDENT DIRECTOR:-
As per the definition of independent director in the code of Corporate Governance, an independent director should not have any pecuniary relations or transactions with the company or its promoters; his decisions should be independent of those who have controlling stake in a company and be in the overall interest of the company and its stakeholders. The Companies Act does not have a definition of `independent directors‟ though the definition of independent director as given in the recently amended clause 49 of listing agreement is an inclusive definition, which says who could be independent directors. Clause 49 of the listing agreements defines independent directors as follows: ”For the purpose of this clause the expression „independent directors‟ means directors who apart from receiving director‟s remuneration, do not have any other material pecuniary relationship or transactions with the company, its promoters, its management or its subsidiaries, 4
which in judgment of the board may affect independence of judgment of the directors .” There are no provisions for appointment of independent director in the present Act. The appointment of independent directors in case of listed companies governed by the SEBI, but in case of unlisted company there is no such requirements.
ROLE OF INDEPENDENT DIRECTOR
An independent director is a person with many years experience and chooses to be on the Board of director, who is supposed to guide the company. The role they play in a company broadly includes to improve corporate credibility and governance standards, function as watchdog, maintain balance in a promoter dominated scenario, play vital role in risk management. Their only role in the company is to protect the interests of the minority shareholders vis-à-vis the promoters. There are several benefits that an independent board of directors can bring to a company, which include:
Counterbalance management weaknesses in a company .
Ensure legal and ethical behaviour at the company
Every Director has a role to play as reflected in the name itself. They cannot escape the law for being a signatory in the board meetings. Apart from relying on the judgment of the directors who do sit on the audit committee, an independent director who does not sit on the audit 5
committee can take help of Section 209(4) of the Companies Act which states that “the books of account and other books and papers should be available for inspection to any director during business hours.” The directors have the right, to inspect documents pertaining to the period during which he was a director especially since he is required to answer a statutory authority on 6
questions pertaining to that same period, which should be exercised by them properly . Section 209 (4) include “the books of account and other books and papers”. What does „other books and papers‟ stand for? It has been decided in 1972 by Madras High Court in K. Kanagasabapathy v. T.M. Shanmughan case “the words „other books and papers‟ draws colour
from the previous words „books of accounts‟, so the expression can only mean other books and 7
papers of the same kind as the books of accounts. ” Independent directors can only make sure that misdemeanours can be identified and the internal controls in the company are in place but if the management of a company decided to commit a fraud then it is very unlikely that the board can stop it, but they can not escape from their responsibility by giving excuse that there is just no way for an independent director to know if the board is being misled. It is an impossible job for an independent director to penetrate the company from outside. Unless the independent director does not get deeply involved with the
activities of the company, such kind of malpractices cannot be detected.
HOW INDEPENDENT ARE INDEPENDENT DIRECTORS IN INDIA.
An independent director is expected to act as watch dog of the board and protect the interest of shareholders. Since they are handpicked by the promoters himself so they prefer to be a friend of the promoters rather then be the watch dog of the board. Though independent director is paid by the company, it must be borne in mind that the company is not only owned by its promoters but all share holders so they are supposed to represent the interest of the minority shareholders. There are circumstances where independent directors are not independent, which broadly includes:
their selection procedure
no age limit
no specific qualification is required
no right to interfere in the day-to-day operations
no time limit for replacement of an independent director
Independent directors are still the only hope to instill discipline in the murky world of corporate finance, provided their independence is not being compromised. If they are no more independent then their appointment in a company will be meaningless. This position deserves to be corrected by empowering SEBI and the Indian government. a) Selection procedure
A lot of emphasis is placed on the “independence” of independent directors their selection is still in the hands of owners of the company. No process of selection has been prescribed for the independent directors, as they are directly handpicked by the promoters. Promoters in control may take decisions that are not in the interest of small shareholders, an independent director must
keep in mind the interest of all stakeholders. Such procedure for their selection raises question on their independence at the board. They can not be as independent as they are expected to be, if they are going to be appointed by the owners. This procedure has to be changed for the independence of directors. As long as they are appointed by management, the concept of independent directors is a myth, for truly independent directors, they have to be nominated by the SEBI which is a regulatory authority. If they have a right to regulate, then surely they have a 8
right to even suggest the appointment of directors . b) No age limit
There is no age limit has been prescribed under Companies Act, 1956 and by the SEBI. According to Indian companies Act a minor can become a director since no age limit is prescribed. This point must be rethink as a person who is under 18, as surly cannot acquire 9
enough experience to become an independent director of a company . It‟s not the quantity of Independent Directors but the quality of Independent directors that make difference. There must be an age limit which can justify the position of an independent director. c) No specific qualification is required
There is need to focus on the quality of independent directors who are going to be appointed. They should be qualified enough so that they can ask right questions at the right time when they are at board. The most important requirement is his ability to stand up for minority shareholders, who are not represented on company boards. They need to be sound in judgement with an inquiring mind. Clause 49 of the Listing Agreement of the stock exchanges and the Companies Bill, 2008 introduced in Lok Sabha‟s last session does not prescribe the minimum qu alification or experience essential. Presence of independent director on the board makes sense only if they are well-educated, can add value to the company, and represent minority shareholders‟ interests. The government and SEBI must review the qualification for independent directors. d) No right to interfere in the day-to-day operations
An Independent director has no right to interfere in the day-to-day operations of company. They have right to intervene in any misgivings or misdeeds. They are supposed to support the
management in getting the delivery of what the objectives of the company are to its shareholders. If a director can not get into a company‟s day-to-day operations, he can not understand how it is governed and will not be in the position to fulfill his responsibilities. There is no separate law under which an independent director operates; he has no legal protection from the management so that he can raise his voice fearlessly. For the involvement of independent director in day-todays operations of company they must be given authority so that they can intervene in the dayto-day operations of company and may be able to raise their voice. e) No time limit for replacement of an independent director
There is no guideline prescribing a time limit for replacement of an independent director in case there is a resignation or removal or death of an existing one and promoters are taking a plea that they have not been able to find a replacement, which could stretch for indefinite period. The fees or remuneration of an independent director has grown so substantially in the last three years that an individual is often tempted to have an extended stay in the organization. Most of these directors would go by the decision of the promoters of the company without examining the 10
details of company . To retain the independence of director there is need to rotate such directors periodically or by any other method whereby the independence of independent director is secured.
Independent directors are very powerful part of company as they having rich experience so they play a very vital role in securing interest of shareholders as well as they are expected to give inputs for the benefit of management. For securing the independence of independent director there is need to break the nexus between the independent directors and promoters who sponsor them, for that nomination of independent director must be done by SEBI and government. A company should have a clearly laid out policy where there should be specified role played by him at board, their tenure and age limit, qualification required etc. The focus must be on the quality of person who is going to be appointed. Selection of independent directors by SEBI and government would be fair and bring transparency in the selection procedure as well as can secure
their independence to some extend. So far as age limit is concerned which must be review, minor should not be considered eligible for the chair of independent director; the minimum age limit for an independent director must be between 30-35. The person must be well-educated with required experience so that he can justify the role of an independent director. Company must clearly laid down qualification and experience required for the post of independent director in the policy. The appointed director must be rotated periodically to ensure the transparency and fairness in their decision. Legal protection must be provided to independent directors so that they can raise their voice against the management and force their views in the interest of shareholders. If independent director does not fulfill their duty as a watch dog then it would amount to committing an offence. As Supreme Court in Municipality of Bhiwandi & Nizampur v. Kailas Sizing Works 11 has observed that
“the authority is not acting honestly where an authority has a suspicion that there is
something wrong and does not make further enquiries. Being aware of possible harm to others, and action in spite thereof, is acting with reckless disregard of consequences. It was worse than negligence, for negligent action is that, the consequences of which the law presumes to be present in the mind of the negligent person, whether actually it was there or not.”
So an independent director can not escape from his liability. They will be held liable equally if they
Sstyam episode is proven to be tragic for the Indian corporate world, but it should be considered as a wake-up call to many. The Satyam case brought out the failure of the present corporate governance structure, in which independent directors failed to perform their responsibility effectively. As in Satyam case independent directors lacked commitment; they failed to live up to the stakeholders‟ expectations. The only way independent directors can stop wrong doing by acting collectively.
Across the world companies have appointed luminaries to the boards, secure in the knowledge that their presence would lend a badge of respectability to the boardroom. Satyam scam was no exception, its board included noted academics such as Harvard professor Krishna Palepu and ISB dean Rammohan Rao, but the manner of its unraveling has triggered an intense soul-searching 12
across corporate circle . There is no need to implement new laws; all we need to do is to renew existing laws. Independent directors may not be in a position to stop management fraud perpetrated at the highest level, but with high level of commitment and due diligence they should be able to identify signals that indicate that everything is not going right.