COMPAS Poll/Survey
June 5, 2006

Corporate Scandals: Jail Trumps SOX and SOX-Light as Deterrent to Crime; Favour Long Prison Terms for Ken Lay, Ebbers, Kozlowski, and Rigas, but Divided Opinion about Martha; Canada Soft

  A Weekly BDO Dunwoody CEO Business Leader Poll by COMPAS in the Financial Post
Policy and Opinion
Business and Finance
In the days between the conviction and sentencing of Enron CEO Ken Lay, the COMPAS business panel sees much value in tough sentences as a deterrent. "Executives who commit crimes that result in the equivalent of financial capital punishment to individual investors…," observed one senior executive, "should receive very stiff penalties and have their personal fortunes reduced to the levels of their victims."

Some volunteered concern that too few Canadian executives are brought to trial and given tough sentences. One CEO summed up the feelings of many that Canadian judicial enforcement is "not stringent enough." According to this panellist, tough sentences are vital because they are "appropriate," not because fear of jail is an effective deterrent.

Most members of the panel do see jail as more effective than the new accounting regulations being introduced for U.S.-listed companies under Sarbanes-Oxley and for Canadian-listed companies under what is often referred to as “SOX-light.” One respondent summed up the panel’s equivocal perspective on the new accounting regulations in the following words:
  • As an executive in a company subject to SOX, the regulations have refocused attention on internal financial controls, which were in placed, but largely ignored. In this regard, SOX is a positive but has been expensive to implement. But as for SOX solving the problems of greed and malfeasance, the criminal mind is often superior, and there is always a way to beat the system if you don't mind breaking the rules and the law.

Asked about recent convictions and sentences in various trials, the panel tends to see the strong sentences as appropriate in the case of the Rigas family, Koslowski, and Ebbers. CEOs and business leaders on the panel are divided about Martha Stewart with sizeable numbers believing that the sentence was too heavy given the “paltry” nature of her crime, as one CEO put it, or too light as a result of favouritism because of her gender or media star status.

As for Ken Lay, the overwhelming majority calls for a tough sentence.

These are the key findings from the current web-survey of the COMPAS panel of CEOs and business leaders undertaken for the Financial Post under sponsorship of BDO Dunwoody LLP.

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