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Is sunshine required for bailout salaries?

By Kevin Gaudet
web posted April 27, 2009

How much does Arturo Elias make as President of GMAC Canada?  How much does Tom Lasorda make as President of Chrysler Canada?  What about AbitibiBowater President David Paterson?  And really, should it matter?  After all, they’re private companies, or are they? 

When governments give companies like these more than $5-billion in bailout cash, taxpayers suddenly become de facto shareholders and, absurdly, are forced to care how well the firms are managed and how much their executives are paid.

Taxpayers are able to see how some of their bailout cash is being spent and to pass judgment on executive compensation for AbitibiBowater, a taxpayer-bailout-receiving-firm under bankruptcy protection.  But GMAC and Chrysler have also been promised $5-billion in taxpayer cash, yet are not required to disclose executive compensation in Canada. This is because both GMAC Canada and Chrysler Canada are wholly owned subsidiaries. 

GMAC’s Mr. Arturo can say he’s taking a 10 percent salary cut, but 10 percent of what?  Typically, CEO pay is incentive-heavy and salary-light; comprised of around 25 percent salary with 75 percent in bonuses, incentives, stocks, options and pensions.  So, a 10 percent salary cut would only amount to a 2-3 percent reduction in total compensation.

Due to his former tenure on the management board we know Chrysler’s Mr. Lasorda made $21-million in 2007.  However, we don’t know what any other Canadian Chrysler executives make, nor will we know going forward. 

On the other hand, Abitibi’s Management Proxy Circular dedicates over 60 pages to senior executive and director compensation.  Taxpayers can see that president David Paterson took home cash and equivalents last year totaling some $3.3-million in salary; incentives; pensions; stocks; options; and  change of ownership and performance bonuses. 

However, it should be worrisome for taxpayers that publicly-traded firms have a terrible track record when it comes to properly disclosing executive compensation.  According to a 2008 report by the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (the CCGG is a group created to protect the interests of institutional shareholders), 82 percent of publicly-traded firms “still had substantial work to do” on complying with disclosure requirements.

Publicly-traded firms are required to disclose compensation for the CEO, CFO and the next three highest paid executives.  The CCGG report reveals publicly-traded firms can’t even get that little bit right.

If taxpayers are going to be forced, through direct government intervention, to take direct financial interests in publicly-traded or privately-funded corporations, then taxpayers will be forced into the absurd position of acting like shareholders. 

What’s next, should the auditor general be examining corporate compensation to see whether there is value for money in the leadership of those getting the bailouts?  Will there be calls to publish names of all those earning in excess of $100,000 per year, as the Ontario governmen does for the public sector?

The same goes for CAW labour costs.  There should be no reason they are made public or debated by Members of Parliament; except that taxpayers now have a vested interest in knowing. 

At this pace, it’s not a far stretch to believe MPs will soon debate on the floor of the House of Commons how many cup holders should be installed in the latest model of the Dodge Caravan.

Just as absurd, companies will now be pushed to take into consideration more than shareholder value, but also taxpayer value.

Clearly, the ultimate answer is that governments should just avoid this whole headache by not doling-out taxpayer cash for corporate bailouts.  Doing so will save money and avoid making shareholders out of taxpayers. ESR

© 2009, Kevin Gaudet

 

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