SEBI’s proposal–came late, came correct
-CS Nitu Poddar, Tanvi Rastogi
Financial assistance to related entities is a quite a regular transaction. Considering the transfer of obligations, such transactions are subject to certain regulation under the Companies Act, 2013 (Act, 2013) and SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (LODR). However, despite the prohibitions and restrictions, there are several areas within the periphery of transactions with related parties which remain out of the ambit of law and therefore is beyond required checks. Following the proposal of changes in the provisions of RPT vide the report of the working group, SEBI has floated a consultative paper on 06-03-2020 proposing certain changes to corporate guarantees being provided by a listed party on behalf of its promoter / promoter related entities, without deriving any economic benefit from such transaction.
In this article, we discuss the coverage of the current provisions, gap therein, need for the proposal and the proposed regime to bridge such gap.
Unrelated-related parties – remains unregulated
As compared to the Act, 2013, LODR has a wider definition of related party where it additionally covers related parties under AS-18 / IND AS-24 and also such member of promoter and promoter group which holds 20% of the total shareholding of the listed entity. Despite such wide definition, practically speaking, there may be several interested entities of the promoter which gets excluded from the technical criteria of being a related party due to absence of required shareholding and consequently transactions with them can easily sail through without being subject to required approvals. As such, currently, a listed entity can grant loan, give guarantee / security in connection of loan to / on behalf of an entity, which technically is not a related party, but either is a promoter or an entity in which the promoter has vested interest against the interest of stakeholders of the lending company.
Existing provisions regulating financial transactions
Currently, section 177, 185 and 186 of Act, 2013 are the major provisions governing any financial transactions. Section 188 of the Act, 2013, does not cover financial transaction within its coverage and therefore the same get ruled out anyway. Section 177 provides for scrutiny of inter-corporate loans as well as approval and modifications of all related party transactions. The challenge of this section are that firstly, transactions with interested unrelated party gets ruled out and consequently the committee is left with the duty of a post mortem scrutiny and not a prior scanning of the transaction. Sec 186 provides for limits of financial transaction i.e giving of loan, investment, guarantee, security in connection with loan and also keeps a check on minimum rates to be charged in case of loan. Transactions beyond the limits require approval by special majority of the shareholders. Sec 185 talks about granting of loan to directors and director-interested entities. While there is complete prohibition of granting of such loan to the director himself or his relative / firm, loan can be granted to interested-companies, subject to approval by special majority of shareholders of the lender company.
To get such approval is not a tough task in a company with high promoter-holding, and the promoters can easily get their transaction through. Unlike sections 188 and 184 where the voting rights of the interested parties are restricted in the general meeting and board meeting respectively, section 185 and 186 does not provide for any such restrictions.
As per Reg 23 of LODR, related party transactions, which includes financial transactions as well, requires approval of shareholders by majority. This approval is by the majority of the minority as all entities falling under the definition of related parties cannot vote to approve the relevant transaction irrespective of whether the entity is a party to the particular transaction or not.
Proposed amendment – need and proposal
It is to be noted that whenever there is a transaction with a promoter related entity, there may be a potential threat to the interest of the non-promoter group / minority shares. Accordingly, approval of the majority of such minority is to be essentially sought to ensure that the resources of the company are not been siphoned away / wrongly used / alienated by the promoters and that the interest of such minority is secured. As mentioned above, in the existing regime, question of approval from such majority of minority arise only for material RPTs under LODR.
Hence, all such transactions which does not fall under the category of “RPT” and / or “material” remains unguarded and thus putting the corporate governance of the company at stake. SEBI, in its report on working group of RPT, has clearly put forward its intent to curb such influential transactions by the promoter / promoter group and to revise the definition of related party itself. Once the said proposal is made effective, all transactions with promoter / promoter group will be a RPT. However, inspite of such revision in the definition of RPT, only material transactions will require approval of minority shareholders.
Through the proposal in the consultative paper, SEBI intends to move a step ahead of what the working group discussed. SEBI now proposes to require all guarantee transactions, irrespective of the materiality to be approved by the majority of minority shareholders. Additionally, the directors of lending company are required to establish and record “economic interest” in granting of such guarantee.
Essence of voting by majority of minority
It is no approval, if the person seeking approval and granting approval is the same. In corporate democracy, approval is essentially ought to be sought from the class of people whose rights seem to be prejudiced from transaction proposed in the interest of another class. Reg 23 of LODR and sec 188 of Act, 2013 already recognises such majority of minority approval wherein all the related parties of the company refrain from voting.
Significance of “economic interest”
Any prudent mind would require risk and reward, benefit and burden to be shared proportionately. It is absolutely irrational to say that a listed company is extending guarantee / security in connection with loan but has no benefit in return.
It is to be noted that charging of guarantee commission or charging of interest is not to be misunderstood as presence of economic interest. There are charged only to keep the transaction at arm’s length. However, the exposure of the lender company is the amount of loan / amount guaranteed.
Few examples of embedded economic interest in a transaction can be as follows:
- A holding company extending loan to its wholly-owned subsidiary for funding acquisition of land for building of plant may be benefitted by the figures of such subsidiary at consolidated level;
- A listed company guaranteeing on behalf of another unrelated-related entity which is the customised raw material provider of the lending company
Different scenarios of financial transaction considering the proposal of SEBI:
|S. No.||Transaction between||Existing provision||Proposed amendment||Analysis|
|Two unlisted companies||Section 186 / 185, if applicable||Unlisted companies are not covered||No Impact|
|2||Listed company with its related party – beyond materiality threshold||Section 186 / 185, if applicable and Reg 23- shareholders’ approval through resolution where no related party shall vote to approve||Ensuring the economic interest + Prior approval from the shareholders on a “majority of minority” basis||Irrespective of the materiality, where there is any transfer of financial obligation, prior approval of unrelated shareholders will be required|
|3||Listed company with related party not within materiality threshold||No requirement for shareholders’ approval||Ensuring the economic interest + Prior approval from the shareholders on a “majority of minority” basis||Irrespective of the materiality, where there is any transfer of financial obligation, prior approval of unrelated shareholders will be required|
|4||Listed company with unrelated related party||No requirement prescribed under law|
- While the proposed amendment is absolutely on-point and timely amendment in the wake of several corporate scams in the recent past being witnessed by the country, however, it will achieve its intent if the same is not kept limited to guarantee / security in connection with loan, but also extended for granting of loan to such unrelated-related entities;
- Also, the list of entities is kept vague in the Paper (promoter(s)/ promoter group/ director / directors relative / KMP etc) and may be better clarified in the amendments, however, the intent seems to be quite clear to include any promoter / promoter group / management related entity;
- Lastly, it is not clear as to who should refrain from voting for majority of minority voting – all promoter / promoter group entities / all related parties of the listed entity;
 SEBI Report on working group of RPT dated 27th January, 2020 ibid
 Includes promoters which may not fall under definition of related party – like promoter not holding any shareholding in the company
Read our article on proposed changes by working group of SEBI on Related Party Transactions here: http://vinodkothari.com/2020/01/expanding-the-web-of-control-over-related-party-transactions/
Read our articles on the topic of related party transactions here: http://vinodkothari.com/article-corner-on-related-party-transactions/