18 February 2015

PSDI corporate training embraced by Solomons businesswomen



The demand  for skilled company directors in Solomon Islands is matched only by the need that they be fully aware of their duties, liabilities and responsibilities. 

Now a group of enthusiastic Solomon Islands executives, mostly women, have praised a course in Corporate Governance and Management, conducted over the past six months by the Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI). 

“I came here to learn," said company director Lynette daWheya. "This has been very good for me both professionally and personally... I didn't realise I had so much responsibility as a director."

Legal reforms supported by PSDI and culminating in the passage of the Companies Act (2009), have seen a significant increase in new company incorporations, which climbed from 127 in 2008 to 354 in 2014. Under the Act, company directors have a duty to act in good faith and in the best interests of the company. PSDI-sponsored reform of State-Owned Enterprises in recent years has seen dramatic improvement in their efficiency and profitability. These reformed institutions also need well-trained directors and senior executives to ensure effective governance.

With limited opportunities in Solomon Islands to acquire the necessary skills and knowhow, PSDI partnered with SICCI to offer a course that meets the country's needs, while ensuring the pool of directors includes more women. Of the 15 participants who completed the course, 11 were women.

Emma Ferris, a director of four companies, came to the course “to know the roles and responsibilities of a director.  One thing I learned is I can sack the General Manager! (laughs)."  Ms. Ferris said she now had the knowledge and confidence to "contribute to discussions or ask questions of the directors in the company —the course helped me a lot. Now I know what to do.”

The course culminated in a mock directors meeting where the participants could apply the theoretical knowledge they learnt to a exercised tailored to Solomon Islands. Ms. daWheya found being placed in the role of Chairperson during the exercise especially valuable: “It was good, you were put on the spot and you had to pull on all the issues raised and pull on what we have learned in the last six months.”

The course was a joint activity between two focus areas for PSDI: the Reform of State Owned Enterprises and the Economic Empowerment of Women (EEOW). Dr Vijaya Nagarajan, team leader of PSDI's EEOW program, said there was a significant gender imbalance among company directors in Solomon Islands, and the high level of women's participation in the course was part of PSDI's efforts to "mainstream" gender across all its activities.

"In 2014 there were 2788 male directors compared to just 830 female directors," said Ms Nagarajan. "This disparity is adversely affecting the pool of director talent needed to help Solomon Islands companies grow. Women can bring different skills, experience and points of view that can benefit company boards as a whole, and by extension, contribute to economic growth of the nation."

There was no cost to attend with funding provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (through URS Corporation).  PSDI provided the support for the initial trainers and the curriculum. The course ran over six days, delivered in two-day sessions held over several months. The final session concluded in early February.  The course was conducted by lawyer Dr Ann Wardrop from La Trobe University, and accountant, Dr Judy Taylor.

The course included a "train the trainer" component and three participants were selected to take the program forward in coming years, building in ongoing capacity building and ensuring sustainability. The course will continue to be managed by SICCI which also plans to create a database of persons who have completed the course to inform companies that applicants of directorships have undergone appropriate training.

Curriculum


The course topics covered:
  • introduction to corporate governance
  • directors duties and liability of directors
  • planning, reporting and accountability
  • effective board monitoring, including performance measures
  • compliance
  • insolvent trading
  • overview of SOE governance
  • introduction to financial governance
  • budgeting and planning
  • how to read financial statements and identify red flags
  • financial analysis
  • capital budgeting
  • synthesis of financial oversight and sub-committees
  • internal audit and combatting corruption
  • insolvency testing and insolvency early warning signals, and
  • costing Community Service Obligationss and SOEs.