‘Food at Lafarge AGM a Malaysian tradition’

‘Food at Lafarge AGM a Malaysian tradition’ (Malaysia) When Lafarge Malayan Cement Bhd holds its AGM this May 12, one thing is for certain – there will be no food fights, or will there be? In what it describes as a “brave move”, Lafarge does not plan to serve any to shareholders at the AGM. While it deems it necessary for a more meaningful event, others tend to disagree in view of a deep-seated tradition. In a letter dated April 8 to its shareholders, Lafarge chairman Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar said no food would be served at its AGM “in the best interest of all shareholders”. He said: “The impression arising from each AGM seemed to be that the primary aim of attendance at AGMs for an unacceptably large number of shareholders was more for food and refreshment than an active participation in the matters presented and deliberated at the AGM”. However, Federation of Public Listed Companies president Datuk Seri Megat Najmuddin Megat Khas says the serving of food has long been the traditional Malaysian way to treat guests and as such ought not be discontinued. “I know there are some ugly Malaysians who grab food and pack it home, but they are really the minority. We should not punish the majority,” he says. The quality of Malaysian shareholders’ participation in company meetings had also caught the attention of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. www.theedgedaily.com quoted the then deputy prime minister, Abdullah, on March 11 last year as saying: “We should ensure that shareholder activism in the form of attending AGMs for the refreshments or to complain about the door gifts to be a thing of the past.” Stemming from this, a few Malaysian companies had tried to stop giving out door gifts to their shareholders at their meetings. www.theedgedaily.com later also reported Abdullah as clarifying that the advice was not meant as a specific directive to companies not to give away door gifts to their shareholders, but meant to improve shareholder participation. Minority Shareholder Watchdog Group chief executive officer Yusof Abu Othman says Lafarge’s decision shows good intention, but may have gone against societal norms of being hospitable to people. Nonetheless, he says shareholders should also be open-minded if they were not served food at AGMs as it is not a legal obligation for companies. KarenSoft Technology Bhd executive chairman Chee Chong Hwa says his company does not “mind giving a treat” to its shareholders at the once-a-year event. “Most of them are elderly people who happen to be real supporters of the company. The food is a gesture of goodwill,” he says. When contacted, a Lafarge official says the decision is undoubtedly a “brave” move. “We fully subscribe to good corporate governance and have been doing this in the past,” she says. This is why the AGM will include a presentation by its chief executive officer and chief financial officer, which is somewhat rare in the Malaysian investment scene, she says. Cost is not part of the consideration when Lafarge directors decided to stop serving food at its AGM, as “the cost for food would not have made much difference to us”, she says. In response to complaints of insufficient food over the past two years, Lafarge switched to giving food vouchers to its shareholders. By Tong Yee Siong

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