Report just a little late

YESTERDAY marked the closing scene of the corporate soap opera that was the investigation into Allied Group and some 250 linked companies.

The investigation has cost time - it is more than a year now since the Financial Secretary appointed Nicholas Allen to look into the group's affairs - and it has cost a lot of money, both to taxpayers and shareholders.

And, as always, the only ones left licking the cream have been the lawyers.

It has been a running drama, with the Allied parties and their directors seeking recourse to the courts on several occasions - citing the Bill of Rights in the case of director Ronald Tse Chu-fai and, more colourfully, claiming a witch-hunt with the regulators ''out to get'' group chairman Lee Ming Tee.

With the final hurdle cleared, and the report itself all but completed, it is to be hoped the Government presses ahead with its intention to publish and broadcast its findings.

It will be the first result of a Government-appointed investigation to reach the public, and is likely to reveal a raft of undisclosed transactions of the sort that appeared in the group's latest annual report.

While all this transparency is laudable, the delay is lamentable.

The Allied Group of the report is a very different entity from the Allied Group of today, which has been pruned and stripped of many of its subsidiaries, now safely under the wing of largely mainland parents.

Asia Securities, Paramount Printing, Santai, Tung Wing Steel and Guardforce - at one time all subsidiaries of Allied Group - have been hived off.

The group raised more than $1 billion in frenetic wheeling and dealing in the wake of the inspection, leaving the group today bearing little resemblance to the complex structure of 1992.

There is little the Government or anyone else could have done - you can hardly place a moratorium on corporate activity for an indefinite period - but this will not stop questions being asked when the report is published.

Findings that are shared with the public are all very well, but when they relate to companies under the wing of overseas concerns they rather lose their edge.