Provide correct information: Finance Ministry tells SEBI
Oct 10, 2007
Provide correct information
Says Finance Ministry to SEBI
By Sucheta Dalal
On August 22, I wrote that differences between the Finance Ministry and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) have degenerated to an unprecedented level of distrust and unease. I now bring you verbatim a letter written by Finance Secretary Ashok Jha on 24th April 2007, which pulls up the regulator for the “serious lapse” of providing “wrong information” for answering parliamentary questions.
Here is the letter verbatim:
Dear Shri Damodaran
Please refer to your letter No. OCH/89515/2007 dated March 22, 2007 indicating that you would call on the Finance Minister and explain the position relating to compliance with SEBI instructions of non-levy of exit charges. While you are welcome to clarify the position to the Finance Minister, the Ministry’s nominee on the SEBI has informed the Government that you stated in the Board meeting on 22nd March, 2007 that the information provided by you and other senior officers of SEBI in this regard in the Board meting on 17th February, 2007 was erroneous. These facts have been brought to the notice of the Finance Minister.
2.As regards the second issue regarding supply of data relating to Rupalben Panchal and others in 2005 to SEBI, SEBI’s letter No.34-2006/ISD/89436/2007 dated March 21, 2007 and the correspondence received from NSDL and SEBI for the Parliament Question (No.1520 answered on 7th March, 2007) have been examined. It is noted that since February 2004, as directed by SEBI, NSDL had been providing monthly information on off-market transactions above 1 lakh shares and since September, 2003, details of beneficial owners whose holding cross 5% of issued capital on any given day. It is, therefore, clear that NSDL had given the data. Even if these were provided in a routine manner and not in the form of an alert, it would be incorrect to say that NSDL did not provide the data. SEBI appears to have given wrong information for answering the Parliament Question. This is a serious lapse.
3.I request you to kindly ensure that correct information is provided for purposes of Parliament and in the Board meetings.
With kind regards
Securities Exchange Board of India,
Plot No. C-4A, G-Block,
Bandra Kurla Complex,
Mumbai – 400 051
At loggerheads: SEBI and the Finance Ministry
By Sucheta Dalal
Mumbai, August 22: Relations between the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Finance Ministry have turned rather cold. Serious differences having erupted over several decisions of the chairman, including senior appointments and the quality of information provided to the Finance Ministry.
Problems between the regulator and the Finance Ministry are not new. Even under Chairman D.R. Mehta, strong letters made their way to the regulator from the Finance Ministry, especially in the aftermath of the Ketan Parekh scam. These missives were often seemed like a directive to the regulator to initiate certain actions.
Yet, the differences between the regulator and the Finance Ministry are far more serious this time. They relate to three kinds of issues – providing inaccurate information to the Finance Ministry, differences over senior level appointments and differences over policy decisions.
The first issue is of grave concern and has attracted strongly worded letters of censure by the Finance Ministry because information from the regulator is often sought to brief parliament. In one case, SEBI is understood to have wrongly informed the ministry that the National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) continues to levy exit charges on those who wish to switch their account to another depository. A miffed NSDL has moved the Securities Appellate Tribunal against the SEBI decision to scrap exit charges, even though it has complied with the order. Another, far more serious dispute arose when V. Leeladhar, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) objected to SEBI’s interpretation of the Securities Contract Regulation Act on the basis of a word that was reportedly not in the statute, say informed sources. Since SEBI meetings are a closed door affair, the details of this episode are not fully available. However, it did lead to a situation where the Finance Ministry representative as well as the RBI representative on SEBI’s board stayed away from two board meetings of the regulator.
We must, however, mention that they did attend the last meeting and even ratified some Executive Director level appointments, one of which had not been ratified for well over a year.
Senior appointments are another area of conflict between the SEBI chairman and the government. While SEBI has taken the stand that senior level appointments need not fulfil the criteria of work experience applicable for government officials (on deputation) the government obviously does not agree. Incidentally, as we mentioned earlier, these appointments have created a lot of heartburn among SEBI’s senior officials, leading to some corrective action in the form of a flurry of promotions of SEBI’s own cadre officials. Yet, the morale remains low and insiders bitterly complain of favouritism and coteries that get all the plum assignments.
The differences over policy are evident in several areas. One issue that this writer has followed with astonishment is SEBI’s determination to scrap the Reverse Book Building rules that give minority investors a say in the price at which a company can delist their shares from the bourses. In fact, SEBI went ahead and debated the issue at its Primary Market Advisory Committee, despite 17 investor associations recognised and registered by SEBI having passed a unanimous resolution urging the regulator not to change the rules. Since the investors’ representatives were opposing the change and companies have not openly opposed the delisting mechanism, it is not clear whose interests SEBI was serving. The irony is that on the day of the SEBI board meeting (August 22), the regulator clearly leaked information to a business paper that it intended to drop its plans to change reverse book building rules and maintain status quo. Who was it conveying a message to?