Opening Address by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance at The Securities Investors Association (Singapore) 17th Investors' Choice Awards Dinner Presentation Ceremony30 Sep 2016
Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Chairman of SIAS
Mr David Gerald, President & CEO of SIAS
Ladies and Gentlemen
Strengthening Singapore’s corporate governance through greater transparency of corporate entities
1. Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to the 17th Investors’ Choice Awards Dinner Presentation Ceremony.
2. Since its inception in 1999, the Securities Investors’ Association (Singapore) or SIAS, has been championing the rights of Singapore retail investors. Through these years, SIAS has also spearheaded many initiatives to promote corporate governance standards in Singapore and educate the public on financial matters.
3. Today, with about 72,000 members, SIAS continues to be an active proponent of investors’ education and rights. With the increased diversity and the complexity of investment products against the backdrop of an uncertain global economic climate, retail investors will be increasingly looking to SIAS for advice on making investment decisions and resolving investment issues. So I am glad that SIAS is sparing no efforts to stay effective and relevant to retail investors:
- The SIAS Investment Clinic launched last month, for example, is a useful platform for investors to resolve investing issues. It provides the investors with the opportunity to discuss their investment issues with a panel of advisors comprising a lawyer, a financial advisor and a broker. I understand that many issues were raised at the inaugural session, such as how to recover value from stocks that have been delisted, understanding a company’s rights issue and questions on the performance of some unit trusts. What I believe is most helpful to retail investors, is that they will get advice on where and how to pursue their issues for resolution.
- Another recent initiative from SIAS is to improve the quality of discussions at annual general meetings (AGMs). The idea is that a team of analysts engaged by SIAS will analyse annual reports of Singapore-listed companies and shine a spotlight on potential issues. The team will then compile questions ranging from business strategy to financial and corporate governance that shareholders can raise at AGMs. This initiative ties in well with the recent changes to the Companies Act to enable indirect investors, such as CPF investors, to participate in AGMs. Besides improving the quality of discussions at AGMs, SIAS’ initiative will instill a culture of accountability among companies.
4. So, I would like to commend SIAS for your efforts in supporting retail investors and keeping up the momentum to raise corporate governance standards in Singapore.
Enhancing availability of beneficial ownership information to facilitate greater corporate transparency
5. Corporate governance standards are evolving even as Singapore continues to raise the bar in corporate governance. Many of you would have read about FATF’s mutual evaluation of Singapore this week. FATF, which stands for the Financial Action Task Force, is an inter-governmental body that sets global standards for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
6. As a member of FATF, Singapore undergoes regular FATF mutual evaluations to assess the robustness and effectiveness of our regime. In our latest assessment, FATF recognised the significant steps Singapore has taken to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. In addition, Singapore has achieved effective outcomes in key areas such as having a sophisticated national coordination structure to address anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism issues, international cooperation, financial sector supervision and leveraging financial intelligence. The FATF assessment also recommended areas for improvement. One area is the transparency and beneficial ownership of legal persons. In substance, legal persons refer to companies and limited liability partnerships in Singapore.
7. The topic of transparency of beneficial ownership has been gaining international attention and momentum. At the G20, there is now greater focus on ensuring availability of beneficial ownership information of legal persons to regulators and law enforcement agencies. European Union member states, for example, are required under the Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive to maintain central or public registers of beneficial owners by end of this year. The United Kingdom has amended its laws to require its companies and limited liability partnerships to maintain public registers of beneficial owners and this took effect in the first half of this year. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other jurisdictions even committed to a pilot initiative to automatically exchange beneficial ownership information.
8. Why the global spotlight on this topic? After all, there are legitimate reasons why business owners would want to set up various company structures to manage their commercial affairs and financial exposure. Well, the crux of the issue lies in the misuse of corporate entities for illicit purposes, particularly by exploiting the anonymity that such corporate entities could provide. Thus, international efforts focus on addressing the secrecy over the ownership and control of corporate entities. In order to effectively pursue investigations into the abuse of corporate entities, it is important for authorities to be able to obtain and share beneficial ownership information, which is adequate, current and accurate, in a timely manner.
9. In Singapore, there are already measures in place to ensure that beneficial ownership information is available and accessible to regulators and law enforcement agencies. For example, professional intermediaries such as company service providers, financial institutions, lawyers and accountants are already required to collect beneficial ownership information through their customer due diligence efforts.
10. Nevertheless, learning from the recent FATF mutual evaluation exercise, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) intend to introduce an obligation for companies and limited liability partnerships to obtain and maintain beneficial ownership information, and to make the information available to law enforcement authorities upon request. Our focus is on better implementation of the existing international standards.
11. In this regard, some companies, such as those whose shareholders are also the beneficial owners, would already meet such a requirement as they are already maintaining information on these shareholders and beneficial owners.
12. MOF and ACRA are working on the details of the proposed obligation which will require amendments to the Companies Act and the Limited Liability Partnerships Act. These include the steps that companies and limited liability partnerships should take in identifying the beneficial owners and the type of information that should be maintained. A key consideration will be ensuring that the proposed legislative amendments are practical and feasible for companies and limited liability partnerships to implement. We seek to strike a balance between maintaining the robustness of our regulatory regime and making sure that we continue to be internationally competitive. A public consultation will be conducted towards the end of this year to gather views on the proposed amendments.
13. Tonight, we are here to honour companies and individuals for their efforts and contributions in raising corporate governance standards in Singapore. So congratulations to all the winners of the Investors’ Choice Awards. This year, SIAS will also be awarding the first Sustainability Award posthumously to the late Mr Kwek Leng Joo of City Developments Limited for his exemplary contributions in promoting sustainability. I encourage all of you to build on his legacy – to uphold high standards of corporate governance and bring sustainable value to stakeholders.
14. Thank you and I wish you all an enjoyable evening.