Corporate Governance - King III report - Introduction and overview

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Executive Guide to KingIII

This guide embodies our thought leadership on key elements of the KingIII Report at the time of publication. We envisage it to be revised and updated as our thinking, knowledge and capabilities around corporate governance continue to advance.

The release of King III report on 1 September 2009 represents a significant milestone in the evolution of corporate governance in South Africa and brings with it significant opportunities for organisations that embrace its principles. At PwC, we believe that free enterprise prospers in an environment of good and balanced corporate governance. While we understand that achieving good governance is a complex task, we believe that sound governance practices offer numerous practical benefits and that organisations should integrate such practices into their operational processes.

The need for King III

King III became necessary because of the anticipated new Companies Act and changing trends in international governance. As with King I and King II, the King Committee endeavoured to be at the forefront of governance internationally and this has again been achieved by focusing on the importance of reporting annually on how a company has both positively and negatively affected the economic life of the community in which it operated during the year under review. In addition, emphasis has been placed on the requirement to report on how the company intends to enhance those positive aspects and eradicate or ameliorate any possible negative impacts on the economic life of the community in which it will operate in the year ahead.

The benefits of self-regulation

In addressing the link between governance principles and law, the introduction to the Report observes:

"The ultimate compliance officer is the company's stakeholders who will let the board know by their continued support of the company if they accept the departure from a recommended practice and the reasons furnished for doing so."

It can be convincingly argued that self-regulation, in which an organisation voluntarily monitors its own adherence to legal and ethical standards, is far preferable to having an outside agency such as government monitor and enforce those standards. This approach allows organisations to maintain control over the standards to which they are held by successfully self-policing themselves. Apart from the bureaucratic burden that would be imposed by external enforcement, the cost of setting up such a mechanism is also avoided.

Key principles of King III

King III has broadened the scope of corporate governance in South Africa with its core philosophy revolving around leadership, sustainability and corporate citizenship.

These key principles are given prominence:

  • Good governance is essentially about effective leadership. Leaders need to define strategy, provide direction and establish the ethics and values that will influence and guide practices and behaviour with regard to sustainability performance.
  • Sustainability is now the primary moral and economic imperative and it is one of the most important sources of both opportunities and risks for businesses. Nature, society, and business are interconnected in complex ways that need to be understood by decision makers. Incremental changes towards sustainability are not sufficient – we need a fundamental shift in the way companies and directors act and organise themselves.
  • Innovation, fairness, and collaboration are key aspects of any transition to sustainability – innovation provides new ways of doing things, including profitable responses to sustainability. Fairness is vital because social injustice is unsustainable and collaboration is often a prerequisite for large-scale change.
  • Social transformation and redress is important and needs to be integrated within the broader transition to sustainability. Integrating sustainability and social transformation in a strategic and coherent manner will give rise to greater opportunities, efficiencies, and benefits, for both the company and society.
  • King II required companies to implement sustainability reporting as a core aspect of corporate governance. Since 2002, sustainability reporting has become a widely accepted practice and South Africa is an emerging market leader in the field. However, sustainability reporting is in need of renewal in order to respond to:
    • The lingering trust deficit among civil society of the intentions and practices of big business
    • Concerns among business decision makers that sustainability reporting is not fulfilling their expectations in a cost-effective manner.

Governance framework

King III has opted for an 'apply or explain' governance framework. Where the board believes it to be in the best interests of the company, it can adopt a practice different from that recommended in King III, but must explain it. Explaining the different practice adopted and an acceptable reason for it, results in consistency with King III principles.

The framework recommended by King III is principles-based and there is no 'one size fits all' solution. Entities are encouraged to tailor the principles of the Code as appropriate to the size, nature and complexity of their organisation. This is good news for companies in South Africa as it avoids some of the pitfalls seen in the United States where a 'one size fits all' approach was initially adopted.

Application of the Code

In contrast to King I and King II, King III applies to all entities regardless of the manner and form of incorporation or establishment. Principles are drafted on the basis that, if they are adhered to, any entity would have practiced good governance.

It is recommended that all entities disclose which principles and/or practices they have decided not to apply or explain. This level of disclosure will allow stakeholders to comment on and challenge the board to improve the level of governance within an organisation.

New requirements

Some of the requirements introduced by King III include:

  • The need for an annual integrated report that focuses on the impact of the organisation in the economic, environmental and social spheres
  • A statement by the audit committee to the board and shareholders on the effectiveness of internal financial controls to be included in the integrated report
  • The consideration of the strategic role of IT and its importance from a governance perspective
  • The positioning of internal audit as a strategic function that conducts a risk-based internal audit and provides a written assessment of the company's system of internal control, including internal financial controls
  • The governance of risk through formal risk management processes.

Our involvement in the King Committee
Suresh Kana, PwC's Chief Executive Officer, and Anton van Wyk, our Global Internal Audit Leader, served as members of the King Committee and also chaired the Accounting and Auditing and Internal Audit subcommittees respectively. As a result of our involvement, PricewaterhouseCoopers has deep insight into the recommendations of the King Committee and is well placed to offer practical guidance and encourage debate around implementation to enable the real benefits of good governance to be realised.