US reins back Sarbox

Everywhere you look, the bulwarks of Sarbox are falling.

The senators who devised the legislation are working to soften it. Dick
Cheney, the US vice-president, added to suggestions this week that the rules had
gone too far.

In an interview with CNBC, the business-news television channel, Cheney said:
‘I think you can make a case that Sarbanes-Oxley went too far. The fact of the
matter is, when we had, for example, Enron and WorldCom, the problems that
developed from the standpoint of those companies, those activities were illegal
before there was any additional regulation put in place.’

Quite so, you could say, and refer to arguments that have been made by
professionals ever since the introduction of the rules.

It’s odd that the moves should come now, though. For the last year or so,
companies around the world have spent millions – collectively, probably billions
– on Sarbox compliance. Firstly, one might say this is a good deal too late, and
secondly, people have also been saying that the rules do add value as well.

An argument was developing that companies were coming to understand their
business better as a result of the new control processes. Wouldn’t it have been
a good idea to let that idea run its course?

The upshot, really, is that the US is terrified that its markets are losing
their competitive advantage.

Companies do their best to avoid a US listing, in order to avoid the rules.
Many foreign companies are listing here in the UK.

The worry there, of course, must be that the UK is storing up the corporate
collapses of the future. Unless we are all now convinced that however positive
any of the effects of Sarbox are, they wouldn’t prevent large-scale fraud

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