The legal regulation of corporate governance with reference to international trends
Corporate governance is defined as the system by which companies are managed and controlled. The concept came to the fore with the Cadbury Report in England in 1992 and has since been the topic of much academic discussion. The recent collapse of companies like Enron and WorldCom raised serious questions about international corporate governance practices. This has resulted in widespread reform. In the United States large-scale prescriptive measures were implemented through the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The United Kingdom persisted with their principle-based approach of comply or explain, although some amendments were made to the Combined Code through a joint effort by the Co-ordinating Group on Audit and Accounting Issues, the Smith Report and the Higgs Report. In Australia change took the form of the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and CLERP 9. South Africa, influenced by its common law background, followed a similar approach to that of the United Kingdom but has recently adopted a more prescriptive approach similar to that of the US. The King Committee was set up to review corporate governance in South Africa and two reports report were published – one in 1994 and another in 2002. Amendments to the JSE Listings Requirements followed. The Konar Report made recommendations on the reform of the accounting and auditing profession. The Department of Trade and Industry has recently launched a review of South African company law in conjunction with a review of the audit and accounting professions. These recent developments in company law will however not be discussed in depth as it is at a very early stage and is still subject to change. The aim of this study is to evaluate and determine whether or not the reform in South Africa is adequate to address the questions raised by recent corporate scandals in South Africa. The question also has to be asked whether South Africa should follow international trends in reform just for the sake of reforming. This requires an understanding of the principles underlying corporate governance and the reasons for the existence of corporate governance rules. With the increasing separation between ownership and control the accountability of directors has waned considerably. When addressing corporate governance issues, this must be kept in mind constantly. While the focus of recent reform has been on the company, its directors and auditors, the role of shareholders should not be ignored. What is needed to prevent directors and managers from abusing their positions of power are more informed and involved shareholders. The different role players must also cooperate in developing a culture of ethical behaviour and an environment of openness and accountability.