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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Bush on business: Are you convinced?
President George W Bush has called for financial executives to be jailed if they deliberately falsify accounts.
In a speech to Wall Street executives the president pledged to crack down on corporate misconduct, saying the days of US firms "cooking the books" are over.
The Bush administration are aiming to re-establish public trust in big American companies, severely damaged by recent accounting scandals involving companies including Enron, Worldcom and Merck.
Mr Bush was forced onto the defensive on Monday when asked by reporters about his own business past as an oil company director and an eight-month delay in reporting the sale of shares he held. He dismissed the accusations as "recycled stuff".
Are you convinced by Mr Bush's ultimatum to corporate America? Did he address your concerns? How far will it go towards restoring your faith in big business?
This Talking Point was suggested by Greg,
"Can there be faith in President Bush to prosecute corporate criminals?"
"Can there be faith in President Bush to prosecute corporate criminals?"If you have any suggestions for Talking Points,
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Roger K, USA
US president Bush has been pressurising small, developing countries into creating transparent and accountable leaderships. I suspect that a lot of people from such countries would derive great satisfaction from being able to say to him, "Clean out your own backyard first".
I can't remember the last time I had confidence in a big business company. You can't get around them as they control much of what is on offer regarding food, fuels, communications and many other products, but do I trust them? No. I much prefer to find local shops run by my neighbours rather than any high street multinational. But again, there is no going around them sometimes.
The real question is will the shareholders do anything? Who put the cheating CEOs in? Who set up and approved their compensation? Who is whining now? The greed goes ALL the way up, past the CEOs to the people who put them there. Bush and Congress can help, but as long as we ignore bad news and pay CEOs to lie to us, we can expect to hear lies.
We live in a world surrounded by conflicts of interest. The CEOs are concerned about their multimillion dollars in stock options; our politicians are consumed by dreams of re-election and the money to support to their re-election.
So who do you look to take care of the little people and their little money?
We all should encourage the companies with which we choose to do business to act more ethically, especially when it comes to honest bookkeeping. Those of you reading this commentary are probably in a decision-making role, whether a large or small company, public or private. Take it upon yourself to set the moral and ethical example. Instead of somehow blaming Mr Bush for this fiasco, when was the last time you asked yourself," Is there anything I can do to help?"
Misha Taylor, UK
I find it rather droll that we expect a man whose own stock sales and ties to big business are so shady can even speak of corporate responsibility. That aside, however, President Bush's proposals would seem ineffectual at best, and offer no real solutions. A change in corporate culture and real public accountability is needed, not more empty words from our oily Texan head of state.
The chickens are roosting and it will take much more direct effort by both the US administration and the global business community to recover investor confidence quickly. It looks as though it will be long and slow road back.
The question we should be asking is why has it taken the collapse of two large corporations before any action is taken. The horse has bolted. If you believe that Bush is run by big business, then presumably he wants it to be healthy, robust and producing lots of money. He realises that these corporate frauds are a seriously threat to confidence in the markets, and thus investment in US corporations.
President Bush is the product of big business. To believe that his administration would seriously take steps to quash the greed of their corporate "buddies" would be foolish. I believe his threats are merely rhetoric and behind closed doors, those who outwardly cower from his threats are giggling alongside him.
If he would first answer questions on how he and Cheney were involved in the entire Enron collapse, it would be possible to think that he is serious. But I think his hands are far too dirty as far as US corporations are concerned. The current White House staff is far too deeply involved in the business sector to clean it up honestly.
I trust Bush as our president to provide leadership in this time of scandal, but I wouldn't go as far as to look to him for the answers to our problems. It goes much deeper than that. A lot of these accounting practices began to take shape during Clinton's watch, but I don't blame him either. It has to do with greed, not who is president or head of the SEC. What we must do is take our existing regulations concerning corporate and accounting practices and give them a boost with some new oversight power.
Even if Bush gets Congress to legislate what he's proposing, the other changes he wants won't happen. No one can force a corporation of any kind to drastically curtail benefits to executives or Board members, this cannot be legislated. There would have to be an across-the-board reduction in perks and benefits for company leaders, levelling the playing field. No one will take jobs with that level of responsibility for much lower compensation unless all the companies agree to this. But increasing SEC powers to include enforcement would help achieve the ends that Bush is talking about. It would take very many years but would be worth the effort.
There are no new substantial penalties for corporate profiteers. All George W. Bush has done is to basically rearrange the deck chairs on the (Wall Street) Titanic.
These scandals started before Bush became President. Blaming a President or Congressperson is not realistic. The ones at fault are the CEO's who lied and cheated their investors.
V Gill, UK
It doesn't matter whether I'm convinced or not. What matters is whether or not the market is convinced. If large institutional investors continue to believe that corporate balance sheets are suspect because the laws and regulations aren't strict enough or they aren't being enforced properly, then the market won't bounce back, the economy will suffer, and George Bush's re-election will be in jeopardy. There's an old saying in American politics - Americans vote with their pocketbooks.
I trust Bush about as far as I can throw him. However there is one idea that he and his advisors have mentioned that interest me. It has been suggested that CEOs be required to sign off on the financial statements of their company, and then be held liable for any gross impropriety. I'd like to see this perpetuated to the entire "head shed", to include CFO's and the like. In the event of a catastrophic error, somebody will go to jail. That is what you call motivation.
I am not convinced. He's shown a tendency to speak roughly and carry a very small stick. I've already written to my Congressman, my two Senators, and President Bush, letting them know that rhetoric will not be enough this time. Either something changes or they will. The only problem is that it's hard to threaten today's politicians while most of my fellow Americans don't seem to care enough to force their hand.
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