Friday, September 11, 2015
Last week I ventured a few blocks from Belmont's campus to our neighbor Vanderbilt University Law School for their conference on The Future of International Corporate Governance.
One of the many interesting papers presented was Independent Directors in Singapore: Puzzling Compliance Requiring Explanation by Dan Puchniak and Luh Luh Lan, both of the National University of Singapore.
The entire paper is worth reading, but I want to share three take-aways with our readers.
"[O]nly a handful of jurisdictions [roughly 7%] have ever adopted the American concept of the independent director (i.e., where directors who are independent from management only— but not substantial shareholders—are deemed to be independent)." (pg. 6)
Singapore adopted an American-style definition of "independent director" in 2001, which did not include independence from substantial shareholders. Despite this weaker definition of independence in a jurisdiction with much more concentrated shareholding than the U.S., Singapore enjoyed relative success through "functional substitutes" that limited the private benefits of control. According to the authors, these "functional substitutes" include social relationships in Family Controlled Firms ("FCFs")" and legally imposed limits on the controlling government shareholder in Government Linked Companies ("GLCs").
Despite relative success with the American-style definition of "independent director," Singapore changed its definition "independent director" to require independence from management and 10%+ shareholders in their 2012 Corporate Code (effective at the start of 2015). This change seems prompted, at least in part, by scandals involving S-Chip companies (non-Singapore based companies that are listed on the Singapore Exchange.) The authors suggest that these S-Chip companies do not have the same "functional substitutes" as the FCFs and GLCs.
The article includes a helpful history of Singapore's recent corporate codes, and is a useful article for comparative corporate governance research. I do wonder if the "functional substitutes" explain quite as much as the authors suggest, but I highly recommend the article, especially for those interested in international corporate law.