To my mind
IN SOUTH AFRICA nobody can escape crime. It’s only our honourable President who, on national television, called this cancer in our midst a mere perception. Yet we couldn‘t be accused of exaggerating were we to state that those who have not had first-hand experience of crime are the lucky exceptions to a very disturbing rule. We at Finweek were again made aware of that fact this past week by the news of the murder of Robin McGregor.
McGregor, who was murdered in his house in Tulbagh, where he moved after the death of his wife, founded McGregor Information Services in 1986. In 1998 this data service became part of McGregor BFA, the financial data service that in turn last year became part of Fin24, the business unit that also houses Finweek and our website, fin24.com.
McGregor (79) made a great contribution to the SA business world by combating companies’ anti-competitive behaviour.
It’s not surprising that of the many books he either wrote or co-wrote one deals with disclosure and the protection of shareholders.
In light of recent instances of anticompetitive behaviour by some of SA’s leading companies – such as Tiger Brands – it’s heartening that people are speaking out in favour of the preservation of an existing provision in the Companies Act that affords the public access to companies’ share registers.
A diminution of this right in the new Bill would have serious implications for transparency.
Two of SA’s leading auditing firms proposed at public hearings that the new act should include a limitation of liability clause. Although that would be in keeping with legislation that came into effect earlier this year in the UK, it nonetheless gives food for thought.
The proposed provision would enable an auditing firm to enter into an agreement with a client in order to restrict the auditor’s liability for professional negligence. Should that be accepted it would necessitate amending a provision of the Act governing the auditing profession, which specifically forbids any agreement that constitutes a restriction of liability.
Although it could be argued that it’s become necessary to restrict auditors’ liability – partly since an increased tendency towards litigation could have very costly results for auditors, which could in turn result in auditors’ fees becoming unaffordably high – the question nonetheless arises whether that won’t boil down to an evasion of responsibility. As it is, auditors aren’t expected to detect fraud on the part of their clients.
A further reduction of liability, though understandable from the auditors’ point of view, makes it seem as if company shareholders and investors might find less support from the work done by auditors.
Transparency, which is aided by auditors’ reports, is non-negotiable – not only at company level but also in the public sector. It’s therefore heartening that allegations of corruption regarding the awarding of tenders by, for example, the Gauteng MEC for health, Brian Hlongwa, are being investigated. That type of conduct should be vigorously exposed.
We owe that much to someone like Robin McGregor, who has tragically become part of this country’s ghastly crime statistics.
We would like to express our deepest sympathy to his five children and 11 grandchildren. ¤
COLLEEN NAUDÉ firstname.lastname@example.org