US president George Bush last month outlined 10 proposals to safeguard shareholders from another Enron-style collapse.
They centre on the three core principles of providing better information to investors, making corporate officers more accountable, and developing a stronger, more independent audit system.
For businesses, it means: providing quarterly information about performance, condition and risks; giving investors prompt access to critical information; not allowing CEOs or other directors to profit from erroneous financial statements; and making CEOs personally responsible for the 'veracity, timeliness and fairness of public disclosures and financial statements'. Bush proposes to make it a requirement for CEOs and directors to disclose sales or purchases of shares within two days, and to strip those directors who abuse their power of the right to govern any business in future.
'Business people must answer not just to the demands of the market or self-interest, but to the demands of conscience,' he said.
As far as auditors are concerned, Bush wants investors to have complete confidence in their independence and integrity. He proposed an independent regulatory board to ensure the profession adheres to the highest ethical standards; accounting standard-setters would have to be responsive to investors' needs, while auditors would have to be compare clients' accounting with best practice, 'not simply… minimum standards'.
The Securities and Exchange Commission 'should exercise more effective…oversight of accounting standards', and do more to guard against conflicts of interest'.
'We have seen lately how important these standards are, and the harm that can follow when they are ignored,' Bush said. 'Exactly where the blame lies may take a long time to determine… But this much is clear: to properly inform shareholders and the investing public, we must adopt better standards of disclosure and accounting practices for all of corporate America.'