Could Mr Ram lead the DDL shareholders in taking the matter of dividend size further forward?

Dear Editor,

I had intended to comment on the letter from Mr Christopher Ram, ‘Insensitive gift at DDL’s AGM’ that had appeared in SN on April 11, but I got caught up with other things.

Mr Ram seems concerned that the gift of what he calls “a bottle of cheap white rum which has failed to attract the market” was insensitive because we were being given it during the Christian season of Lent.  I will not presume to speak for others, but many Christian persons that I know merely cut down on their consumption of alcohol during Lent, and abstain from other things.

From the standpoint of religion, though, the matter may not really be as major as Mr Ram may seem to think.  I recall one year when, at the request/suggestion of Mr Burnham, the Roman Catholic Bishop decreed that the ceremony of the distribution of ashes, (traditionally placed on the forehead of the faithful on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent), was postponed to the next day because Ash Wednesday that year fell on February 23, the same day as Republic Day.  For quite some time after that, I was teased over how Mr Burnham was so powerful, he made Ash Wednesday fall on a Thursday.  As regards Mr Ram’s concern about Muslims, I merely wonder why a Muslim would, in the first place, buy shares in a company whose principal business is rum-making and rum-selling.

Mr Ram says: “As a shareholder, I feel strongly that the CEO and the Board of DDL owe an unqualified apology to all shareholders of the company . . .”  I trust that he will follow up this matter eventually by submitting an appropriate motion to the AGM.

Mr Ram points out: “At December 31, 2016, the company had $13,123 million as profits available for distribution [but] it sees shareholders’ funds as cheap money and pays them a pittance as dividends, which in respect of 2016 was 1/27th of the profits available for distribution.”  He also says: “This practice of companies paying sometimes less than one out of every four to five dollars of annual profits after tax is a measure of the intellectual laziness and sloppiness of those who manage our big companies . . .”

Now I do not know about such things as “modern financial analysis … [involving] matters of cost of various forms of capital, internal rates of return, discounted cash flow analysis and gearing.”  Mr Ram does.  Could I invite him to lead us, the shareholders, in taking this matter of dividend size further forward?  There must be some forum and mechanism available to us, the shareholders, so that we are given as dividends a fairer share of the company’s profits after tax.

But I am cautious.  I recall one year when, at the AGM held at the National Cultural Centre, Mr Ram led us in castigating the Directors on a certain matter.  Speaker after speaker did the same.  But when the matter was put to the vote, a sprinkling of shareholders present voted in favour, and Mr Ram and all the others who had spoken against did not vote.  I voted against the motion and had to suffer the indignity of having the Chairman dismiss my vote as being “the only shareholder in this vast auditorium who voted against.”  Fortunately for me, the front page report in the Sunday Stabroek the next day identified me by name as the person who voted against.

As an aside, although the AGM was held on Friday, April 7 and a final dividend was approved by the shareholders, up to this afternoon (Wednesday, May 17) some shareholders in Georgetown have not yet received their final dividend cheque for the year ended December 31, 2016.  If you don’t get your dividend cheque, you can’t cash it, and so I suppose the company keeps getting interest on your dividend money.

Is this one way of paying us, in reality, even less in dividends?  Is this another matter for Mr Ram to comment on?

Yours faithfully,

George N Cave

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