Sunday Times: Shell told to hurry up on transparency
June 27, 2004
INSTITUTIONAL investors will unite to urge Royal Dutch/ Shell, the embattled oil giant, to speed up its review of corporate governance at a showdown annual meeting tomorrow.
Earlier this month the company bowed to demands for clarity and released details of a five-member governance review team, set up after repeated calls from shareholders.
Although shareholder groups welcomed the development, Lord Oxburgh, non-executive chairman, and Malcolm Brinded, managing director of London-listed Shell, can expect a stormy meeting. Investors have been further incensed by the oil group’s announcement on Friday that it is paying Sir Philip Watts, its sacked chairman, £1.06m — five times his contractual entitlement.
Shell hit the headlines in January when it revealed it was slashing its proven oil and gas reserves by 20%, a move that sent the share price plunging. This has triggered a series of law suits.
Yet despite calls for urgent action, such as scrapping its opaque management structures, Shell said it would not publish the results of the review until November, with a view to concluding the process in time for the 2005 annual meeting.
Robert Talbut of Isis Asset Management said shareholders felt uncomfortable with how long it was taking. This was echoed by Knight Vinke, an asset-mangement company that is representing Calpers, the American pension fund. Eric Knight, who will attend the Royal Dutch meeting in Holland, said that he and his colleague Patrick Dewez, who will be going to the London meeting, will also be calling for a greater sense of urgency.
“Nobody is looking for a full merger of the two companies so why is it going to take a year?” he asked. Another shareholder said he would be focusing his questions on the role of the company’s joint auditors, KPMG and Price Waterhouse Coopers.
He said that a report on the company’s procedures released earlier this year and compiled by Davis Polk, an American law firm, indicated there were problems with Shell’s internal procedures. “One might have thought it reasonable for the auditors to have had a role in that,” he said.
Peter Montagnon, head of investment affairs at the Association of British Insurers said: “It is very important that the company be reminded and acknowledge that the review process must be open minded.”