According to the judges of the inaugural Hong Kong Corporate Governance Excellence Awards, participating companies benefited from the experience through the rigorous process of self-assessment they were required to undertake. Anthony Neoh, a member of the judging panel and former chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), said the most important dividend to each company that entered the competition had been the opportunity of going through a rigorous process of self-assessment. 'This has to be of value to any company. All the winning companies displayed strong board inputs into the process of self-assessment,' said Mr Neoh who is also the ex-chief adviser to the China Securities Regulatory Commission. As part of the evaluation process each entrant was required to complete a five-page questionnaire accompanied by a self-commentary. In some cases the self-commentary submitted extended to 15 pages. 'It was very clear from the submissions we saw and the 30-minute presentation and question-and-answer session, that the shortlisted finalists have accepted corporate governance as a core value within their companies. This was clearly articulated in corporate literature, company policies, annual reports, and well disseminated among board, management staff and shareholders,' said Mr Neoh. He said the judges had been impressed by each finalist's programme of implementation of corporate governance policies and monitoring procedures including internal auditing systems. The finalists also earned praise for the way they had structured a system of active engagement between the board of directors and senior management, such as retreats and visits to operating departments. It was also clear that the finalists had put into place measures that allowed management and the board of directors to develop strategies for development in a way the board of directors could conduct their monitoring role seriously. The finalists were acknowledged for their commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, it was not clear if each company had given sufficient thought to devising performance indicators, both qualitative and quantitative, for their CSR programmes. Mr Neoh said qualitative indicators could include tangible improvement in community relations in spheres of importance to the operating environment of the company such as better relations with local government. This could also be refined further into the achievement of company objectives. Quantitative indicators could include better productivity, better sales, and better brand recognition by way of market surveys. 'In time, these indicators will force a company into thinking through its CSR programmes,' said Mr Neoh. He said despite the positive commitment shown by the finalists to corporate governance and CSR throughout the Hong Kong business environment, there was no room for complacency. 'There are lots of compliance requirements nowadays and the challenge is not to let form overreach substance,' said Mr Neoh. 'Professional bodies do a good job but there is still a need to look deeper into corporate governance issues.' Hong Kong began stepping up its corporate governance regulations following the Asian financial crisis, which revealed significant weak spots in several Asian business environments. The Hong Kong Code on Corporate Governance Practices was again strengthened following the launch of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US during the summer of 2002. This sweeping corporate governance reform package altered the landscape for directors and executive officers of public companies by increasing the risk and burdens of their roles as they integrate new forms of control self-assessment. In June this year, Hong Kong's first Corporate Governance Charter was launched aimed at deepening local corporate governance culture among listed companies and raising awareness of the spirit and core values of corporate governance and their importance to maximising long-term firm value. The charter was the initiative of The Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies (CHKLC) and Centre for Corporate Governance and Financial Policy, Hong Kong Baptist University. All listed companies are welcome to sign the charter on a voluntary basis. The charter is endorsed by the Securities and Futures Commission, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEx) and the Hong Kong Chinese Enterprises Association. Lawrence Ho, chairman of CHKLC, said the significance of the Charter lay in the fact that it was self-initiated by listed companies, for listed companies, and embodied the principles and core values of good corporate governance.