Friday, March 12, 2010

Temasek's Malaysian governance problem: what happened next

One of the joys of blogging is that you can follow up on stories, as opposed to the fire-and-forget approach of conventional journalism.

Back in January, I wrote about the problems that Temasek, the Singapore sovereign wealth fund, was facing at a Malaysian bank called Alliance Bank, of which Temasek owns 29%.

Alliance Bank's chief executive Bridget Lai, who was headhunted by Temasek, had gone on leave pending an investigation by the board of directors into a corporate governance issue believed to be related to refurbishment contracts.

Since then, the company has announced that Lai will resign on April 1 "in view of the differences of opinion between the board of directors and Lai that have arisen over the last few months".

Alliance Bank made no mention of the outcome of its months-long investigation and stressed that Lai's departure was the result of a mutual decision and was "not in any way a reflection of Lai".

Shim Kon Teck, the bank's chief operating officer, who was also under investigation, will also resign on April 1, with no further explanation provided.

A "sourced" story in Malaysia's Business Times earlier this month claimed that Lai would not be receiving any compensation, which is hardly surprising in the circumstances.

Whatever transpired, both the company and the outgoing executives obviously felt it was in their mutual interests to maintain radio silence.

All very mysterious and not very reassuring for any investors who are concerned with governance issues.

In an amusing but all-too-typical example of self-censorship, Singapore's Business Times newspaper neglected to mention in its 402-word story on Lai's resignation that Temasek owned a key stake in Alliance Bank, had a number of directors on the board and had handpicked Lai to lead the bank. (Sadly, the story is only available to subscribers)

Proof, it it were needed, that the whole unsavoury episode leaves just a big of egg on the face of Temasek.

An article in The Edge Malaysia (also not availalbe online) noted that Lai isn't the only chief executive of a Temasek-backed Asian bank to have suddenly departed recently, pointing to the exit of Sebastian Paredes from Indonesian's Bank Danamon and G S Sundararajan from the Fullerton India Credit Company.

The magazine went on to speculate that Temasek may look to roll up its various Asian banking assets under one umbrella, namely that of Singapore's DBS Bank. It is an interesting idea as I'm sure Temasek would like the idea of creating a unified, large Asian banking giant, with reduced overheads and increased influence.



No comments:

Post a Comment