Interview | Mark Aquilina: Good governance as corporate responsibility

Multidisciplinary firm of certified and experienced public accountants, auditors and company service providers NOUV recently launched GetGovernanz, a new corporate initiative to promote good and sound corporate governance amongst the private and public sectors. BusinessToday caught up with MARK AQUILINA, Managing Partner of NOUV about this latest initiative in favour of good governance

The team behind Get Governanz: (from left) Terrence Norris, Mike J. Masoud, Andrew Naudi, L. Burke Files and Mark Aquilina
The team behind Get Governanz: (from left) Terrence Norris, Mike J. Masoud, Andrew Naudi, L. Burke Files and Mark Aquilina

What is Get Governanz?

We set up Get Governanz in collaboration with the American Anti-Corruption Institute (AACI) and the International Due Diligence Organisation (IDDO) to offer training and advisory services on good governance to individuals and commercial and non-commercial organisations. These certified training programmes and advisory services focus on anti-corruption, fraud awareness, due diligence, and anti-money laundering matters and they are all delivered by local and international experts, officially accredited by the American Anti-Corruption Institute.

Why did NOUV feel the need to embark on this initiative?

Companies are today moving beyond the concept of corporate social responsibility, a shift that is taking them towards more pressing issues such as the environment, society and governance.

We decided to focus on governance because we form part of the financial services sector and we wanted to do something more tangible from which this sector stands to gain a lot in the long term. We have built our business and reputation on providing local and international clients with trusted, ethical and professional financial, advisory and IT services.

Therefore, we are fully aware that real corporate responsibility starts when businesses operate ethically and responsibly. Therefore, we decided to make it our mission to promote good governance by setting up Get Governanz.

So, you think CSR is on its way out?

CSR refers to those actions which allow companies to not only meet their legal obligations but also to go beyond and invest in human capital, in the environment, and in strengthening relations with their stakeholders. But real commitment to address today’s more pressing issues has long become absent and CSR activity has been conveniently reduced to PR exercises that reap very little long-term dividends.

CSR is on its way out not because companies no longer need to be socially responsible but because they must do so more effectively and more responsibly; where their actions and the respective outcomes can be truly monitored and measured. Therefore today, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) have claimed their place as the new qualities defining social responsibility. They have become the best criteria with which responsible businesses operate and define themselves.

What mostly makes this shift meaningful?

Perhaps the most meaningful aspect in this important shift is the inclusion of governance and its heightened role in defining companies, how they operate and whether they truly seek to be good corporate citizens. It is an important development especially in the light of huge financial and environmental scandals around the world. Within this context, the idea of corporate governance as an active and tangible commitment to the values of social responsibility is an idea which is being increasingly studied, discussed, proposed, and implemented.

So we are essentially talking about values.

Yes in fact, one of the key shifts we’ve seen in recent years is a move toward “values.” A company’s approach to the way it wants to impact its community is a reflection of that company’s values, the values of its customers, employees and increasingly of its investors. It’s a shift that has been accelerated by the current political climate, in which companies have had to publicly stand up, both individually and collaboratively, for values like inclusion, empathy and environmental preservation in the face of questionable policy decisions in the recent past.

What is your personal interpretation of Good Governance?

A lack of good governance comes at a very hefty price. The American Anti-Corruption Institute (AACI) with whom we have set up GetGovernanz, states that many countries do not have formal corruption prevention policies and that the average annual corruption costs as a percentage of gross revenues is 15% in developing countries and 7% in developed countries.

We firmly believe that Good Governance is a key principle to be embraced by all - private and public institutions alike. It is a concept that needs to be built on three distinct pillars namely accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. These have become the three critical qualities which make it possible to successfully run a company or an organisation whilst forming solid professional relationships among all stakeholders which include board directors, managers, employees, and most importantly, shareholders.

It is very positive that the Malta Chamber of Commerce has endorsed this initiative....

Yes very positive. In fact Get Governanz was launched following a collaborative Memorandum of Understanding we signed with them so that together, we can promote the values and the mission of our initiative to help Malta’s businesses embrace governance and what it stands for. Together we wanted to send a collective message that Malta is willing to redress the current problems in a tangible and effective manner.

However, although the financial services sector is usually the one expected to show trustworthiness, transparency, and compliance, these should be values embraced by all organisations and institutions and not just those in the financial services industry. All business organisations, duly elected Governments and its’ agencies, authorities and education institutions have a responsibility to promote and commit to the practice of good governance. We want to stimulate a cultural change in mentality across the board and we are doing this by the necessary tools to implement a good governance framework and mitigate corruption not only to private companies but also to public institutions.

Who are the main exponents of Get Governanz and what can you tell us about your courses?

The team at Get Governanz is led by its CEO Terrence Norris, a seasoned expert in audit, investigation and management consultancy services to the public and private sectors, and to international organisations for over 35 years. Then there is Andrew Naudi, Technology Partner at NOUV, L. Burke Files, an international financial investigator and due diligence expert who has run cases in over 130 countries and Mike J. Masoud, an internationally known expert in the anti-corruption field who leads the American Anti-Corruption Institute (AACI) business and initiatives in the Middle East and Africa.

Our certified programmes focus on providing individuals, corporations, government and non-profit organisations with contemporary knowledge and skills to mitigate risks of corruption, fraud, and unethical practices, while simultaneously strengthening the elements of ‘good governance’. On the other hand, our advisory services focus on assisting organisations to establish ‘governance’ policy, procedures, internal controls, monitoring and reporting mechanisms as an essential part of their commitment to embrace business ethics, comply with local and international laws and respect social norms.

There’s a lot to work on when it comes to good governance in Malta....

Indeed. But we still see hope for this country, and we have not given up. Had we totally lost our faith in restoring this country, we would not be here still trying to make things better. But it is not enough being vociferous when our country’s reputation finds itself threatened by corruption. At this point, we all need to ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. We now have the tools with which to work towards good governance and more transparency starting from our own companies and organisations.

It is only by showing integrity and by working ‘above board’ that we can be effective contributors to our economy, to all our stakeholders’ growth and success and ultimately, to our country’s prosperity. So in the end, the principle is simple: If you are willing to compromise on integrity and professionalism, why should you be trusted?

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