Wehby welcomes COVID-19 AGM amendmentMonday, October 25, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Senator Don Wehby says that it is unlikely that Jamaican businesses will return to holding only in-person Annual General Meetings (AGMs) in the future.
“My personal opinion is that we are not going to go back to having an Annual General Meeting (AGM) where you have to be physically present. I think the hybrid is going to become the norm,” he told the Senate on Friday.
Senator Wehby also informed the Senate that GraceKennedy’s fears about being able to hold an AGM during the summer, with the social distancing rules of the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) to observe, were laid to rest when a Jamaican owned company came up with the all-in-one communications platform, similar to Zoom which the company has been using since.
“I always use the term, ‘where there is a crisis, there is an opportunity’, so the first thing we did, we did research in terms of is there technology that will support hosting an AGM that all shareholders can participate in. Well, you know the great news is, and I am very proud to stand up and say to all of you in here: It is owned by a Jamaican company, developed in Jamaica and the intellectual property is owned by that Jamaican company. So, we found what we needed right here,” he told his colleagues in the Senate.
He made the announcements during the Senate’s debate on The Companies (Amendment) Act, 2021, approving the government’s support for virtual and hybrid general business meetings during the pandemic. Virtual meetings are those in which participants speak from their locations, while hybrid meetings include both present and absent participants.
Leader of Government Business, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, on Friday piloted the Bill through the Senate, providing relief for companies which are required to hold AGMs and extra-ordinary general meetings for stakeholders in business within 15 months.
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Audley Shaw, piloted the Bill through the House of Representatives, noting that the DRMA prevented many companies from holding annual general meetings within 15 months of their last meeting, as mandated by Section 126 Subsection 1 of the Companies Act.
According to Wehby, when the social distancing (six feet apart) protocol was added to the DRMA’s anti-pandemic arsenal, he had concerns about how an AGM could be held without shareholders present.
He said that there were basically three obstacles to hurdle: the software must have audio and visual capabilities; it must have chat and messaging tools within the software programme; and, it must have sharing capabilities that, for example, a CEO can make his presentation visible to all and must have a voting capacity.
“I always say, you know, that Jamaican people are the brightest anywhere in the world. This young man (he refused to give his name) developed this software to facilitate it,” he told the Senate.
“We were also able to do bench marking, because Nestle and Coca Cola had their AGM virtually, and when we compared what we were offering, in terms of the technology developed by a Jamaican, it was just as good as any Coca Cola or any other company in the USA,” he revealed.
“I really felt very, very pleased about it, because I was so concerned about where we were going to find the technology. I am saying to you that the talent is here to do this kind of thing,” he added.
He said that the development ensured that, for the first time, Jamaican shareholders in the company in 24 countries were able to participate in the AGM held in Jamaica.
“So, when you hear the saying that Jamaicans are everywhere, it is not a joke. These are Jamaicans owning shares in firms that I work for and for the AGM this was the first time this was happening in our company’s history that the Diaspora, who have shares in our companies, were able to participate in the AGM. So, we had Jamaicans from Italy, Australia, China and Japan participating and asking questions about their company,” he pointed out.
“So, this new world that is evolving is just going to be unbelievable, in terms of how technology is going to be used, and my personal opinion is we are not going back to having an AGM only when you can be physically there,” he promised.