• Disclosing listed companies’ political donations, if any

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    perez

    AFTER elections, what?

    The answers may vary depending on who you are. If you are a voter, you would probably pray that the candidates you choose from among so many would not betray your trust.
    After all, you and I have been promised via political ads aired over TV channels that they would not only reduce poverty but eradicate it, give you jobs but not create them by encouraging industries.

    In short, everyone we saw on TV—although we tried to avoid seeing anyone of them by switching to foreign cable channels—during the campaign promised us everything but did not assure us that he or she would be honest.

    Instead, you heard them promising you and me that they would work for the people, a motherhood statement that is too easy for everyone to say. A daughter of the late Fernando Poe Jr. the actor ran for senator to fulfill the dream of his father. She even needed the endorsement of Susan Roces the actress to boost her candidacy.

    Unfortunately, no one assured us—Duediligencer included—that he or she would not steal public funds or accept lobby money, would not spend “pork barrel” on useless projects such as basketball courts. What was worse was the proliferation of promises that, like in the past elections, would not be fulfilled.

    Who among them told us that as legislators, senators and congressmen make laws? No one!

    After elections, the for-the-sake of the people slogan would be forgotten. Once elected, the winners would probably thank their political patrons and financiers by lunching with them, a prelude to what would come after dinners.

    Suddenly, the constituents who elected them belong to the past to fend for themselves.

    But all this should not happen to the public investors who trade on shares of companies listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE). To them, there should be more worrying to do because they have not been told yet if the companies in which they own few shares of stock have been used by the majority stockholders in footing the expenses of certain candidates.

    There is nothing wrong when businessmen place bets on candidates. But as majority stockholders of listed companies, they should not source their donations from corporate coffers. No one knows if they do this as there is no way the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the PSE could find this out.

    When it’s time for disclosing the source or sources of political donations, then the public investors would be keenly watching if listed companies have been used by their majority owners in footing political bills.

    The question is, who would volunteer the inside information on the use of corporate funds, unless the SEC and the PSE come out with a policy forcing the disclosure of political donations by publicly traded companies.

    Of course, if a listed company did give to politicians, it would tell the SEC and PSE that the donation has been approved by the board, which is sure to approve it because it is controlled by the majority stockholders. There is no way outsiders could have inquired about the use of company fund for political purposes, because they don’t have access to the goings-on inside the board rooms.

    Not long time ago, Duediligencer chanced upon an accounting entry in a financial filing by a listed company. The filing listed P20 million simply as “donation” but did not qualify if the money went to any one particular presidential candidate.

    Mr. Lucio Co, who is the majority stockholder of Puregold Price Club Inc., should be com­mended for being very honest about the donation by reporting it in the financial report.
    By the way, Co made the donation before Puregold went public in October 2011.

    Will the public ever learn if the companies in which they are minority stockholders gave money to politicians? The answer is yes if the money went to congressional candidates, be they senators or district representatives.

    But they would have to wait a little longer. If their company’s bets lost, then the winners might go after the donors of their opponents by investigating it not for “revenge” but “in aid of legislation.” Look at how the phrase has long been abused because we have yet to hear of any law being passed “in aid of legislation.” You would know them by observing how certain legislators have been going after the companies of returning businessman Roberto Ongpin.

    Let me go back to listed companies going political by betting on political candidates. Due­diligencer is only suggesting an accurate, relevant and timely disclosure of company expenses for political purposes when the amounts could have gone to stockholders as dividends either in cash or in stock.

    Besides, Duediligencer knows what it is asking is impossible to accomplish. After all, no insider would tell on his or her allies inside the board rooms.

    Definitely, the public could not also expect the external auditors of listed companies to squeal on their only have their clients. They should not forget the certified public accountant-client secrecy pact.

    If SEC examiners forced businessman Lucio Tan to justify over P100 million in “other expenses” in a financial filing of one of his companies some years ago, why could not do the same for listed companies’ possible funding of politicians’ candidacy.

    By the way, how did Tan’s company define such huge “other expenses?

    Well, it told the SEC that the amount represented the cost it incurred on “broken bottles.”

    esdperez@gmail.com

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