GCC finance chiefs defend progress on corporate governance

02 May 2008

GCC financial markets have hit back at criticism over poor corporate governance and large state shareholdings in listed companies in a report by the City of London Corporation.

Senior figures in the Gulf have cited ongoing reforms aimed at bringing them into line with international standards.

“There is a strong impetus towards privatisation,” says Tom Healy, director general of the Abu Dhabi Securities Market (ADSM). “I believe we are moving quickly in the right direction and a huge amount has been achieved by a market that was initiated as recently as 2000. Standards of regulation generally are up to acceptable levels and are continually being updated.”

He adds that the UAE government is planning to sell off some of its shareholdings and that the Securities & Commodities Authority is also working on a new corporate governance code.

Joining the defence, a source close to the Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX) says: “The whole point of DIFX is that we do have international standards of regulation.”

The source says the UAE is planning to relax laws that require local businesses to own at least 51 per cent of all companies.

The City of London Corporation, which runs London’s financial centre, released the analysis of Gulf markets on 30 April.

The report claims the Gulf’s capital markets will fail to become as strong as they could, because local governments refuse to sell off controlling stakes in their largest listed companies.

“There is no way they are going to allow their markets to open to the extent of selling off the government stakes in the biggest companies,” says Lord Mayor and head of the corporation David Lewis.

“Gulf centres need to progress further and faster down the road to reform,” he adds.

“Otherwise their successes will not reflect their true potential.”

Many of the largest listed companies in the Gulf, including DP World and Saudi Telecom, are still controlled by governments.

The corporation’s report argues that, to attract greater liquidity, governments also need to improve corporate governance standards.

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