Saturday, February 24, 2018

Is Alfonso’s suitability in question?


Mark Fraser

 Even as an already outraged public anxiously awaits the results of the audit ordered by Finance Minister Larry Howai into the purchase of 659,588 shares for $14.5 million, by First Citizens’ Chief Risk Officer Hassan Philip Rahaman in the bank’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), and the subsequent sale of most of the shares on January 14 for a whopping $12 million-plus profit, it seems to me that the bank’s chairman Nyree Alfonso has now, by her unfortunate comments published on Friday in an Express interview headlined “First Citizens executive cleared”, added further insult to injury.

The goodly lady is reported to have said several things during the interview that I hope with the benefit of hindsight she realises does neither First Citizens, Mr Rahaman nor herself any favours. 

However, the one that stands out for me in relation to the multi-million dollar transaction is: “You cannot use morals and ethics because everyone’s are different” and “as chairman of the group and as a lawyer”... she saw nothing out of the ordinary in Rahaman’s transaction.

Firstly, I am at a loss to understand why the chairman would seek to make such public utterances at this time when she is fully aware that her line minister, the Minister of Finance, has commissioned a forensic audit that is still on-going. Since as an attorney she must be aware or ought to be aware that her comments at this stage could only have prejudicial rather than probative value. 

In fact upon careful analysis of the interview, not only does she seem to demonstrate a lack of understanding of her fiduciary responsibility and role as chairman of a publicly listed, majority state-owned financial institution but it speaks volumes about business ethics, raises serious corporate governance concerns and possibly her suitability to hold such high office. 

Surely, Ms Alfonso must be aware that any bank worth its salt must have a “Code of Conduct and Ethics” since it is well-established that the reputation of any financial institution rests on the conduct of its directors, officers, and affiliates. 

And as such the maintenance of the highest integrity and ethical standards in the conduct of all business and personal activities by this particular group is critical. 

The code usually provides general guidelines of ethical behaviour and standards of conduct for all directors, officers and affiliates in their business dealings on behalf of the institution. 

One is also expected to conduct one’s personal affairs honourably, and at all times avoid discrediting oneself or bringing the institution into odium and disrepute. 

Clearly such a code would not be able to cover every possible situation involving a bank official’s conduct and cannot be a substitute for honesty, integrity, probity, common sense and good judgement. 

However, it is an important aid to those at the helm of the corporate ship to enable them to safely navigate the choppy seas of greed and profit maximisation towards the shores of good governance. 

I trust that First Citizens has such a code and that all officers are expected to adhere to it.

Peter Permell

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