Accountants in 'hypocrisy' revolt

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The Independent Online
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has been blasted for hypocrisy after advocating rights for shareholders that it denies to its own members.

The ICA warned that on current trends, shareholder revolts - such as the one against former British Gas boss Cedric Brown's 75 per cent pay rise, where demonstrators paraded a sow named Cedric - could fizzle out.

To counter the drift away from corporate democracy companies should be required to circulate shareholder resolutions at no cost to the proposers, it said in a memorandum to the Department of Trade and Industry last week.

Yet a resolution calling for direct election of its own executive was shot down in flames earlier this month after the ICA refused to circulate proxy forms among its members.

"It's one law for others and a different one for themselves," said dissident accountant Jeff Wooller. "For the Institute to make these proposals is downright hypocritical."

ICA executives were not available to comment, but a spokeswoman said she did not think the stances were comparable.

In the memorandum, the institute said: "While we are not aware of any cases where requisitionists have been prevented or deterred from having a resolution circulated, this does not mean that such cases have not occurred."

The ICA made its recommendations in response to a DTI consultation document.

It fretted that because shares held in nominee accounts are all deemed to be owned by the stockbroker, and not the individuals it represents, Sids are denied the right to go to annual general meetings.

Mr Wooller also complained that the Institute is hypocritical with regard to the rules of good corporate governance. The Greenbury Committee on Top Pay recommended greater disclosure of executives' benefits packages in annual reports.

But accountants still do not know how much the bosses of their own professional organisation receive.

"The Institute should be a leader in the field of openness," he said.