FAQs on Corporate Social Responsibility

SEBI tightens its norm on resignation of auditors

– Priya Udita

resolution@vinodkothari.com

OVERVIEW

Observing that a lot of statutory auditors of the companies are abruptly resigning before completing their tenure either due to lack of cooperation or lack of information provided by the company, SEBI has taken the matter in its hand to strengthen the norms. Consequently, SEBI issued a Consultation Paper[1] on policy proposals with respect to resignation of statutory auditors from listed entities (‘Paper’) dated July 18, 2019. The Paper discussed the policy proposal with the twin objective of strengthening disclosures to the investors and clarifying the role of the Audit Committee. Our analysis of the Paper can be assessed here.

Based on the policy proposal and public comments, SEBI issued circular on Resignation of statutory auditors from listed entities and their material subsidiaries (‘Circular’)[2] dated October 18, 2019 defining compliance to be followed by the listed entity and its material subsidiary while appointing or reappointing the auditors.

KEY AMENDMENTS

  1. Applicability:

The Circular is applicable on listed entities and its material subsidiaries. The material subsidiaries can be a listed or an unlisted entity. However, it is interesting to comprehend the applicability of the Circular on the debt listed companies (analysed below in our comment section).

Further, the Circular has come into force with immediate effect from the date of its notification.

  1. Exception:

The provisions of this Circular  is inapplicable in case the auditor disqualified under section 141 of the Companies Act, 2013.

  1. Compliance for limited review or audit review while appointing or reappointing the auditors:
  2. Within 45 days from the end of quarter of a financial year- the auditor shall issue the limited review/ audit report for such quarter before resignation.

For Example: if the auditor resigns on May 28, 2019 then the auditor is required to submit limited review of quarter ending on June 30, 2019.

  1. Resignation after  45  days  from  the  end  of  a  quarter  of  a  financial year- then the auditor shall issue the limited review/ audit report for such quarter as well as the next quarter before resignation.

For Example: if the auditor resigns on August 25, 2019, then the auditor needs to issue limited review/audit report of quarter ending on September 30, 2019 as well as December 30, 2019.

  1. However, if the auditor has signed the limited review/ audit report for the first 3 quarters of a financial year- then the auditor shall issue the limited review/ audit report for the last quarter of such financial year as well as the audit report for such financial year before the resignation.
  2. Role of Audit Committee

Though the SEBI (Listing and Disclosure Obligations) Regulation, 2015 (‘SEBI LODR Regulations’) laid down the broad role of the audit committee inter alia the appointment, remuneration of the statutory auditors, but, there was not much for the audit committee to delve once the auditor resigns. Thus, with the intention to further enhance the role of audit committee, SEBI has laid down following procedures:

  1. For the auditors:
  2. In case of conflict with the management of the listed entity due to lack of cooperation or non-availability of information, the auditor can approach the chairman of the audit committee of the listed entity.
  3. Where the auditor proposes to resign, all concerns with respect to the proposed resignation, along with relevant documents should be given to the audit committee.
  4. Further where the proposed resignation is due to non-receipt of information/explanation from the company, the auditor will have to inform the audit committee of the details of information asked and not provided by the management.
  5. For the Audit Committee:
  6. In case of concern raised due to non-availability of information, audit committee must receive such concern directly and immediately without specifically waiting for the quarterly audit committee meetings.
  7. On receipt of information from the auditor relating to the proposal to resign, the audit committee/board of directors must deliberate on the matter as soon as possible but not later than the date of the next audit committee meeting and communicate its views to the management and the auditor.
  8. Disclaimer by the auditor:

Where the auditor does not receive the information demanded for the purpose of auditing, an appropriate disclaimer in the audit report must be provided in accordance with the Standards of Auditing as specified by ICAI/NFRA.

  1. Obligations of the listed entity/material subsidiary
  2. The listed entity/its material subsidiary are required to ensure that the new compliance is included in the terms of appointment at the time of appointment or reappointment of the auditors. In case of existing auditors, the appointment letter is needed to be modified to give such effect.
  3. The listed entity/its material subsidiary need to obtain the information about the auditor’s resignation in a format as specified in the Circular. Further, the listed entity has the obligation to ensure disclosure of the same under Sub-clause  (7A)  of  Clause  A  in Part  A  of Schedule  III under Regulation 30(2) of SEBI LODR Regulations.
  4. The listed entity/material subsidiary will provide all the relevant document or information as required by the auditor during the period from its proposal to resign and submission of the limited review/audit report.
  5. The listed entity will disclose the views of the audit committee to the stock exchange as soon as possible and not later than later than twenty four hours after the date of such audit committee meeting.

ANALYSIS

Firstly, we need to understand the current regulatory provisions governing the resignation of the auditors and the need felt by SEBI to issue this Circular.

Section 140(2) of the Companies Act, 2013 along with the Companies (Audit and Auditors) Rules, 2014 mandates the auditor to file a statement in a prescribed form to the company and to the Registrar citing reasons for resignation, within 30 days from the date of resignation. In addition to that, sub-clause (7A) of Clause A in Part A of Schedule III under Regulation 30(2) of the SEBI (LODR) Regulations prescribes that the listed entity shall disclose detailed reasons of the resignation to the stock exchange within 24 hours of such resignation. ICAI’s auditing standards (SA-705) enumerates that in a situation where the possible effects on the financial statements of undetected misstatements are both material and pervasive such that a qualification of the opinion would be inadequate to communicate the gravity of the situation, the auditor can resign. According to the Rule 5 of National Financial Reporting Authority Rules, 2018 (‘NFRA Rules’), every auditor of the entities covered by these rules are required to file an annual return in form NFRA 2 with the authority giving details with respect to the audit as well as resignations given in the past 3 years.

Though the law provided these rules and regulation, the rising trend on abrupt resignations by the auditor citing reason as ‘pre-occupation’ were leaving the investors vulnerable to various threats. Due to resignation of the large audit firms, SEBI was forced to review its listing and disclosure obligations. In order to enhance accountability of auditors and protect the investors from the insecure environment due to abrupt resignation, SEBI felt the dire need to regulate such resignations and took the step in a right direction by issuing this Circular.

OUR COMMENT

The Circular was much needed as the rules governing the resignation of auditors across different forums were inadequate. The Circular, in addition to regulation of abrupt resignation, will give a helping hand to the auditors especially in case of lack of cooperation by the management, if any, faced by them. This will ultimately benefit SEBI to look into the matter for potential fraudulent or vulnerable transactions. Further the enhancing role of the audit committee is commendable.

However, the Circular has few gaps such as the applicability of Circular on debt listed entities. Now, there can be various scenarios. Suppose the listed entity ‘A’ has a material subsidiary ‘B’. The Circular will be applicable where ‘B’ is unlisted but a material subsidiary of ‘A’. The question arises where ‘B’ is a debt listed entity only, whether the Circular will be applicable? In our view, the Circular will be applicable in the instant case since B is a material subsidiary.

Further, it is important to note that the intimation requirements under the Circular are two-fold and both are parallel to each other serving different intents. In the first part, the listed entity has to inform the stock exchange within 24 hours of the resignation as per Sub-clause (7A) of Clause A in Part A of Schedule III under Regulation 30(2) of SEBI LODR Regulations, whereas in the second part the audit committee is required to inform the stock exchange as soon as possible from the date of resignation but not later than date of next audit meeting.  The intimation under the second part will carry the views of the audit committee on the concerns raised by the auditor before resignation whereas the intimation under Regulation 30 is an intimation of a material event. We shall be coming out with our set of FAQs on the Circular discussing the same at length from various perspectives.

[1] See the paper here.

[2] See the Circular here.

 

SEBI’s Framework for listing of Commercial Papers

Munmi Phukon | Principal Manager, Vinod Kothari & Company

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Introduction

SEBI on 22nd October, 2019 came out with a Circular to provide for the Framework for listing of Commercial Papers (CPs). The Circular is based on the recommendations of the Corporate Bonds & Securitization Advisory Committee (CoBoSAC) chaired by Shri H. R. Khan which was set up for making recommendations to SEBI on developing the market for corporate bonds and securitized debt instruments.

CPs are currently traded in OTC market though settled through the clearing corporations. Evidently, listing of CPs for trading in stock exchanges will enhance the investor participation which will in turn help the issuers to cope up with their short term fund requirements. SEBI’s current move in laying down the Framework is to ensure investor protection keeping in mind a prospective broader market for CPs. The Circular is mostly concerned about making elaborate disclosures at the time of submitting the application for listing and also some disclosures on a continuous basis post listing of the CPs.

As evident from the content of the Circular, some of the disclosure requirements proposed at the time of application for listing of the CPs are same as provided in the format of Letter of Offer as provided in the Operational Guidelines on CPs[1] (Operational Guidelines) prescribed by the Fixed Income Money Market and Derivatives Association of India (FIMMDA). However, there are certain additional requirements which are discussed in this article.

Disclosure requirements at the time of application for listing

Annexure I of the Circular provides for the disclosure requirements which the issuers are required to make at the time of submitting the application and the content of the same is quite elaborative which covers almost every aspect of an issuer. The broad segments of disclosures are as below:

General details of issuer
Under this heading, details such as, name, CIN, PAN, line of business group affiliation will be given. The issuer will also be required to give name of the managing director, CEO, CFO or president as chief executives. The disclosures are same as provided in the Operational Guidelines.

Details of directors
Details of current set of directors including inter alia their list of directorships and the details of any change in directors in the last 3 financial years and the current year shall be required to be disclosed.  Currently, the Operational Guidelines do not require these details.

Details of auditors
Details of current auditor and any change in directors in the last 3 financial years and the current year shall be required to be disclosed. Currently, the Operational Guidelines do not require these details.

Details of security holders
Under this category, the disclosure shall be made for top 10 equity shareholders, top 10 debt security holders and top 10 CP holders. However, the date of determination of the same has not been provided. Currently, the Operational Guidelines do not require these details.

Details of borrowings as at the end of latest quarter before filing of the application
Details of borrowings are divided into 3 parts-

a.      Details of debt securities and CPs. The Operational Guidelines require the details of CPs issued during last 15 months and also of the outstanding balance as on the date of offer letter.

b.      Details of other facilities such as secured/ unsecured loan facilities/bank fund based facilities, borrowings other than above, if any, including hybrid debt like foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCB), optionally convertible debentures / preference shares from banks or financial institutions or financial creditors. The details related to outstanding debt instruments and bank fund based facilities are same as provided in the Operational Guidelines however, it was silent on the hybrid instruments.

c.      Details of corporate guarantee or letter of comfort along with name of the counterparty on behalf of whom it has been issued, contingent liability including debt service reserve account (DSRA) guarantees/ any put option etc. Operational Guidelines do not require these details currently.

Information related to the concerned issue

The content is more or less similar to the details required to be provided in the Letter of Offer as provided in the Operational Guidelines. The additional requirements are as follows:

d.     Details of credit rating letter issued should not be older than one month on the date of opening of the issue and

e.      Copy of the executed guarantee.

Financial information
The stock exchanges shall be provided with the following financial information-

a.      Audited / Limited review of half yearly consolidated financial statements, if available;

b.      Financial statements along with auditor qualifications, if any, for last 3 years along with latest available financial results;

c.      Latest available quarterly financial results prepared under Regulation 33, if applicable;

d.     Latest audited financials not older than six months from the date of application. However, companies already complying with the Listing Regulations may submit unaudited financials with limited review.

The Operational Guidelines currently require the financial summary only of last 3 FYs to be provided in the letter of offer.

Material information
The following shall be disclosed-

a.      Details of all default/s and/or delay in payments of interest and principal of CPs, (including technical delay), debt securities, term loans, external commercial borrowings and other financial indebtedness including corporate guarantee issued in the past 5 financial years including in the current financial year.

b.      Ongoing and/or outstanding material litigation and regulatory strictures, if any.

c.      Any material event/ development having implications on the financials/credit quality including any material regulatory proceedings against the issuer/ promoters, tax litigations resulting in material liabilities, corporate restructuring event which may affect the issue or the investor’s decision to invest / continue to invest in the CP.

The disclosures in point (a) and (c) above are not required to be disclosed in the letter of offer as per Operational Guidelines.

Asset Liability Management (ALM) disclosures for NBFCs and HFCs

The Circular specifically provides for some additional disclosures for NBFCs and HFCs which are currently not required to be provided in the letter of offer prescribed by FIMMDA:

a.      NBFCs shall make disclosures as specified for NBFCs in SEBI Circular nos. CIR/IMD/DF/ 12 /2014[2], dated June 17, 2014 and CIR/IMD/DF/ 6 /2015, dated September 15, 2015. Further, “Total assets under management”, under the aforesaid Circular dated September 15, 2015 shall also include details of off balance sheet assets.

b.      HFCs shall make disclosures as specified for NBFCs in the said SEBI Circular no. CIR/IMD/DF/ 6 /2015, dated September 15, 2015, with appropriate modifications viz. retail housing loan, loan against property, wholesale loan – developer and others.

In terms of the SEBI Circular dated June 17, 2014, NBFCs are required to disclose the details with regards to the lending done by them, out of the issue proceeds of previous public issues, including details regarding the following:

a.      Lending policy;

b.      Classification of loans/advances given to associates, entities /person relating to Board, Senior Management, Promoters, Others, etc.;

c.      Classification of loans/advances given to according to type of loans, sectors, maturity profile, denomination, geographical classification of borrowers, etc.;

d.      Aggregated exposure to the top 20 borrowers with respect to the concentration of advances, exposures to be disclosed in the manner as prescribed by RBI in its guidelines on Corporate Governance for NBFCs, from time to time;

e.      Details of loans, overdue and classified as non-performing in accordance with RBI guidelines.

The Circular dated September 15, 2015 provides for the following additional disclosures:

a.      In case any of the borrower(s) of the NBFCs form part of the “Group” as defined by RBI, then appropriate disclosures shall be made as regards the name of the borrower, Amount of Advances /exposures to such borrower and Percentage of Exposure;

b.      A portfolio summary with regards to industries/ sectors to which borrowings have been made by NBFCs;

c.      Quantum and percentage of secured vis-à-vis unsecured borrowings made by NBFCs;

d.      Any change in promoter’s holdings in NBFCs during the last financial year beyond a particular threshold (RBI has prescribed such a threshold level at 26% at present).

Continuous disclosures after listing of CPs

Annexure II of the Circular provides for the disclosure requirements which shall be observed on a continuous basis. The details of such disclosures are broadly as below:

a.      Submission of financial results

i.          For issuers which are required to follow Chapter IV of SEBI LODR Regulations i.e. whose specified securities are listed, the financial results shall be in the format as prepared and submitted under Regulation 33. The issuers will also be required to disclose along with the financial results the additional line items as required under Regulation 52(4). This shall also apply to an issuer which is required to prepare financial results for the purpose of consolidated financial results in terms of Regulation 33;

·      The line items as provided under Regulation 52(4) are as below:

o  credit rating and change in credit rating (if any);

o  asset cover available, in case of non- convertible debt securities;

o  debt-equity ratio;

o  previous due date for the payment of interest/ dividend for non-convertible redeemable preference shares/ repayment of principal of non-convertible preference shares /non- convertible debt securities and whether the same has been paid or not; and,

o  next due date for the payment of interest/ dividend of non-convertible preference shares /principal along with the amount of interest/ dividend of non-convertible preference shares payable and the redemption amount;

o  debt service coverage ratio;

o  interest service coverage ratio;

o  outstanding redeemable preference shares (quantity and value);

o  capital redemption reserve/debenture redemption reserve;

o  net worth;

o  net profit after tax;

o  earnings per share:

 ii.          For issuers which are required to comply with provisions of Chapter V of the Regulations only i.e. whose NCDs/ NCPSs are only listed, the financial results shall be prepared and submitted as per regulation 52; and

iii.          Issuers who only have outstanding listed CPs shall prepare and submit financial results in terms of Regulation 52.

 

b.      Disclosure of material events

The issuers shall disclose the following details to the stock exchange(s) as soon as possible but not later than 24 hours from the occurrence of event (or) information:

i.          Details such as expected default/ delay/ default in timely fulfilment of its payment obligations for any of the debt instrument;

ii.          Any action that shall affect adversely, fulfilment of its payment obligations in respect of CPs;

iii.          Any revision in the credit rating;

iv.          A certificate confirming fulfilment of its payment obligations, within 2 days of payment becoming due.

c.      ALM Statements for issuers who are NBFCs/HFCs

NBFCs and HFCs will be required to simultaneously submit to the stock exchanges the latest ALM statements as and when they submit the same to respective regulator(s) viz RBI/NHB, as applicable.

d.     CEO/ CFO Certification

A certificate from the CEO/CFO shall be submitted by the issuers to the recognized stock exchange(s) on quarterly basis certifying that CP proceeds are used for disclosed purposes, and adherence to other listing conditions.

Conclusion

As mentioned above, the disclosure requirements as provided in the Circular are meant for assisting the investors in taking an informed decision. Since the requirements are new, it is expected that apart from the stock exchanges, FIMMDA/ RBI will also come out with the revised Operational Guidelines/ Directions in order to bring more clarity on this aspect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.fimmda.org/modules/content/?p=1033
[2] https://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/attachdocs/1403065620622.pdf