“Movement without Motion?”
It is instructive, debatable but refreshing that public relations leaders and practitioners and industry leaders around the African Continent can come together to focus on Corporate governance – a subject that is more applauded than applied – more talk, less walk.
It is perhaps paradoxical or better still, more indicative of the potential crisis round the corner, than public relations practitioners in the distinguished presence of our new political ‘bride’ and President Goodluck Jonathan would gather at this point in time to talk about a subject as corporate governance.
Given the lamentations and woes about the now notorious economic melt down, the predictable and probably more rewarding themes could have been for example – Managing out of challenging times; PR Strategies in a global meltdown, excelling under chaos, etc.
We have heard many papers and debates already presented on the theory of corporate governance at this event with examples from different industries as well as Government, Corporate Governance has been praised here by the highest level of Government in the land and amplified by the industry leaders.
In juxtaposing the subject of Corporate Governance with Public Relations communications, the question emerges, is all the talk about corporate governance mostly talk and little action and much movement without motion – like a rocking chair that keeps moving but goes nowhere? The conceptual context of corporate governance by its very definition and principles, immediately throws up and some moral questions about application and enforcement in both the private and public sector in Nigeria and indeed most of Africa.
From what we have heard so far and read about, corporate governance is generally understood as a cooperative relationship between and among Government, the private sector and civil societies. There is a misconception of viewing corporate governance as an issue mainly of concern to the private sector and corporate institutions. It is a truism that the signals and examples set by Government is perhaps a key factor in whether corporate governance is an inherent component of the core of the organisation, or it is just another slogan or lip services in corporate jargon.
Corporate Governance is meant to be a code of conduct which defines the way to divide the power and responsibility of management and decision making among stakeholders in business activities. Undoubtedly the goal of corporate governance lies in maximising business performance and market and share value by enhancing transparency and efficiency in business management. Good and desirable corporate governance maximises value through transparent business management and appropriate rules of management executives
Enhanced transparency, disclosure, personal responsibility, ethical management and financial integrity are the main pillars of corporate governance and its practice. Let us quickly examine how the private sector and then Government in Nigeria and other African Countries have stood under these essential pillars of good corporate governance. We will then draw a conclusion through the lenses of public relations and communications.
There can never be genuine corporate Governance until the organisations custodians show willingness to be self governed by a VALUE system at a personal level. Values are not merely posters for decoration on the company notice board or themes of double spread press adverts. It is not enough to have theme on the wall. It is more important to live them.
While significant steps and improvements have been made in the private sector in Nigeria and most African countries, we can say without much fear of contradiction that corporate governance and ethical management (with the exception of a few value driven multinationals such as Africa Re, GSK etc) is more of a buzz word than a way of life in the corporate sector. The recent banking ‘hurricane’ in Nigeria is an example that demonstrates this paradox’.
The Institutions that sang the loudest corporate governance noise over the years and trumpeted their strong corporate values demonstrated that talk is truly cheap. The financial rascality, CEO autocracy, AGM manipulation and lack of transparency were all covered up by loud communications and sleek public relations. It was almost like ‘leprosy in velvet gloves’. The dramatic fall of the CEO of a top multinational in Nigeria and one of the most trumpeted apostles of corporate governance also adds to the equation and double speak.
According to Thierry Buchs ‘good corporate governance is the glue that holds together responsible business practices, which ensures positive workplace management, market place responsibility, environmental stewardship, community engagement and sustained financial performance. This is even truer now as we work worldwide to restore confidence and promote economic growth”.
It must be said that governments have an important responsibility for shaping an effective regulatory framework that provides for sufficient flexibility to allow market to function effectively and respond to shareholders and stakeholders. Governments in Africa will find it increasingly difficult to compel companies to do good and stay faithful to the narrow path of corporate governance, unless they themselves, lead the way.
This is the power of example. No individual or corporate entity can rise above the moral lead of leadership both at the micro corporate level and the macro government level. Whilst the Nigerian Government and several countries in Africa have attempted to set new high standards of governance, transparency and financial integrity, the preaching has been disproportionately louder than the practice. Political institutions are deeply related to corporate institutions respect for corporate governance.
Government must realise that corporate governance goes beyond the corridors of the private sectors’. It has implication for the overall economics of the country. Countries that are perceived to respect the rule of law, that are transparent and aspire to good governance, are more likely to attract foreign investment and international respect.
The whole of Africa gets only about 1% of the global total Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) Fund. Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia each gets more than the whole of Africa. Capital is nomadic and will go where the greener pastures are.
How does public relations communication play in this? PR has a responsibility to communicate appropriately. Where success stories in corporate governance are not well adequately communicated, we are under-communicating and doing injustice to corporate governance. When feeble corporate governance achievements are over-trumpeted or corporate governance intentions and their pretension are repackaged as best practices, then we are over-communicating and also bringing corporate governance to disrepute.
Consistency, honesty and authentic dialogue is the essence of corporate communications. Llano stated ‘the nature of companies is a dialogic one.’
The conclusion of the matter is that the main message of corporate governance is to do good and communicate, we must forget not. But the balance of the weight of Public scrutiny and corporate practice should be tilted more towards genuinely doing good before communicating. “You cannot carve fine art from rotten wood”
Dr. Phil Osagie delivered this paper at the Africa Public Relations Association (APRA) International Conference in Abuja held between 18-20, 2010. He is Head Strategist, JSP Communications Consultancy (Hill & Knowlton exclusive associate) email: [email protected], www.jspcorporate.com