Corporate governance in the two most prominent public companies defined by the personalities, interests of their top executives

The National Insurance Scheme holds 8% of the issued shares in Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) while Secure International Finance Company Ltd owns 18.49%, a combined percentage of 26.49% of the company’s issued shares. My first-hand information is that both the NIS and Secure International have been trying for years to have a seat or two on DDL’s Board so that they can have a say in the strategic decisions of the board, exercise some control of the executive management and have access to the operations of the company.

I am advised that on every occasion their request has been rebuffed by one or both Mr Samaroo and Mr Persaud, one of whom, in the eternal tradition of the family property, is the current inheritor of the executive chairmanship of the company from the other. What makes this situation so strange is that, on paper at least, Messrs Persaud and Samaroo own only 0.27% of the shares in DDL. An examination of the shareholdings in DDL suggests that what one sees is not necessarily the effective or beneficial shareholding in the company. Continue reading Corporate governance in the two most prominent public companies defined by the personalities, interests of their top executives

Insensitive gift at DDL’s AGM

The decision by the directors of DDL to give attendees at the company’s Annual General Meeting on Friday April 7, 2017 a bottle of 6-year-old white rum was more than insensitive; it was insulting. Clearly, the directors could not give a damn about the hundreds of Christians who were observing Lent, arguably the most sacred period in the Christian calendar.

The Hindus must consider themselves lucky that their auspicious Navratri had ended a couple of days before the Annual General Meeting. Otherwise, they too would have been forced to accept the alcohol on offer lest they offend the prominent practising Hindus on DDL’s Board. One shareholder – a Muslim – was so offended that he sent me a photograph of the rum gift with a request that I raise the matter. Continue reading Insensitive gift at DDL’s AGM

Banks DIH board made an error in buyback of shares

A letter by me published in the Stabroek News of December 11, 2016, on the decision by Banks DIH Limited to buy-back from Banks Holdings Limited, 150,138,464 shares in Banks DIH Limited provoked a four page response from Chairman and CEO, Mr Clifford Reis. As is usual for persons unwilling to deal with facts and arguments, Mr Reis went into the dangerous territory of questioning my integrity and understanding of legal documents and commercial law. He knows or ought to know me better.

Mr Reis pointedly refers to a Memorandum of Understanding entered into between Banks DIH and Banks Holdings Limited which he claims I do not understand. Forget for a moment that Banks DIH Limited has never released to shareholders a copy of that MoU. Mr Reis not only chooses to selectively and incorrectly refer to that MoU but faced with tough questions, he decided to speak of the “implied terms” and inserts into a simple, straightforward MoU words that are not there.

Mr Reis cites unnamed “legal and financial advisers” for what is a costly, damaging mistake by him and the Board of Directors he leads. The simple fact is that Banks DIH was under no obligation to repurchase any shares. Continue reading Banks DIH board made an error in buyback of shares

Why was $36.79 per share paid for shares in Barbados Banks DIH when the publicly quoted price is $22.5 per share?

Banks DIH Limited has just disclosed that the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding for a mutual share investment agreement between itself and Banks Holdings Limited of Barbados has now been substantially reversed. Almost every year since 2005, the Chairman and directors of Banks DIH have touted the virtues of the agreement, the synergies from the relationship, and benefits in export sales to both companies.

Keen observers also noted enhanced procurement and governance practices with the presence of nominees of the Barbados company having a place on the Board of Banks DIH.

So it was with some surprise that the public learnt, even before the shareholders did, that in 2015 Banks DIH had sold its shares in the Barbados company. With no reason offered for walking away from the greatest opportunity to expand the export market for Banks DIH products, speculation circulated about the true motive of the Banks management.

At the time, a Brazilian company, through its St Lucian subsidiary SLU Beverages Ltd, and Ansa McAl of Trinidad and Tobago were engaged in a battle to gain control of Banks Holdings Ltd of Barbados. Continue reading Why was $36.79 per share paid for shares in Barbados Banks DIH when the publicly quoted price is $22.5 per share?

DDL Annual Report 2014

The Stabroek News article on the performance of DDL for the year 2014 (S/N 03-24-15 DDL’s after-tax profit up 38.4%) comes three days before the annual general meeting (AGM) of the company. DDL has three institutional investors holding more than 5% of its issued shares – Trust Company (Guyana) Limited (20.58%), with which it shares some common directors, Secure International Finance Co Ltd (18.32%), a Beharry Group company, and the NIS (8%).

In most western countries the directors of public companies respect, if not fear, their institutional investors. Those directors are mindful of the consequences on share value of the disposal of a significant block of shares by any dis-satisfied institutional investor. To avoid that, it is very common for them to meet with their institutional investors before any major decision or action.

In those countries too, annual reports are expected to comply not only with laws but also with regulations and best practices. By contrast, Guyana companies seem less interested and are willing to take more risks with disclosure while institutional investors are perhaps the most silent group of shareholders, never asking a single question of the directors, or ever trying to influence company decisions. The casual observer can be forgiven for believing that there is some unwritten, unholy understanding by institutional investors not to interfere in the company’s business.

Consequently, the responsibility to carry out the searching analysis of the annual reports of public companies falls on the press since the small shareholder seldom has the expertise to do so for herself. The task is even greater when the company fails to meet the disclosure requirements of the law and regulations, or where its reporting is contradictory, or sometimes clouded in strange language.

For these reasons shareholders and the public would have appreciated reading beyond all the positives disclosed in the DDL Chairman’s report. I have always faulted this company for the ambiguity and confusion caused by its deliberate or inadvertent choice of words in reporting on its performance. For example, readers are often left wondering whether references to performance are to volumes or value, and are confused by the unexplained relationship between the Chairman’s statement that in Caribbean markets the brands experienced growth of 28% while the financial statements disclose a decline in revenue of 24%.

Shareholders would also like to know, and have a right to adequate explanation for growth of 25% in the US market but a fall in profits from $36 million to $2 million, and why the already statutorily inadequate information given for the US subsidiary is not given for the Canadian subsidiary for which all the reader is told is that DDL’s brands increased by 35%.

The Companies Act requires the directors of holding companies to give a report on the affairs of their subsidiaries – not just the after-tax profits of a select few. It says a lot about DDL’s disclosure policies that NICIL, hardly ever considered a model of accounting and reporting, has better disclosures on its subsidiaries than DDL does.