Issues of corporate governance have long been a matter for concern in the private sector. Following recent corporate collapses and scandals, legislators and regulators in a number of countries have focused on strengthening governance in publicly traded corporations. Considerable attention has been given to setting clear expectations for the performance of boards and for the disclosure of information to various stakeholders.
Good governance is no less important in the public sector.
Indeed issues of oversight and accountability may be more complex in the public sector, particularly in government businesses. There are more stakeholders involved (portfolio Ministers, shareholder Ministers, Parliament and central agencies) and there are competing – and potentially conflicting - objectives (financial, social, environmental, etc).
Because of these potential conflicts, it is important that Boards understand what government expects of them. Some of these expectations reflect the government’s regulatory role in areas such as safety, pricing and ensuring consumers receive essential services. Some expectations reflect the government’s role as a business owner.
Having a clear separation of regulatory expectations from ownership expectations is essential if boards are to be accountable for their performance on both aspects. To assist in this separation, New South Wales (like many other jurisdictions) has adopted the concept of ‘shareholder Ministers’ – as distinct from the portfolio Minister – to exercise the ownership function.
This report looks more closely at a particular area - how the State conducts itself as the owner of the State owned electricity corporations. This is an important issue as the State’s (ie taxpayers’) equity in these businesses is worth over $9 billion. Managing the risks associated with continuing ownership of these businesses is an essential aspect of good governance.
Although the audit focuses on the State’s holdings in the electricity sector, its findings and recommendations have relevance for all State owned corporations.
Parliamentary reference - Report number #144 - released 19 October 2005