The L’Oréal principle
As if the IASB's pensions project was not already bizarre enough, the 16 February 2011 meeting set the scene for one of the most bewildering exchanges between a board member and the staff yet.
In its April 2010 exposure draft to update IAS19, the board required entities to put pension plan remeasurements in other comprehensive income. Then they backtracked and allowed a free choice, only to ask staff in January to investigate how they might place restrictions around that free choice.
So on 16 February, project manager Manuel Kapsis explained: "We've thought a bit about what the board decided in January. We note that these restrictions on the option to present remeasurements in profit or loss will add additional complexity to the requirements and we do think that we're going to need some more time to work through what the consequences [might be] and assess what impact this additional complexity will have." The choice facing the board, he said, was to continue down that route - and delay the project - or revert to the exposure draft.
So when IASB member Paul Pactor intervened, it was hard to know which pensions project he was talking about. "Am I to understand this will be a pure accounting policy choice, not circumstance-driven in any way but it will be plan by plan? I remember at the last meeting you discussed whether we should focus on an accounting mismatch [where] you would put the remeasurement into P&L. Why have you rejected that and made it just a pure accounting policy choice."
As Kapsis replied: "We haven't rejected that. The board decided to make it plan by plan and irrevocable. That's the board's tentative decision, and the board asked us whether any further restrictions should be required. This paper doesn't present the results of our analysis - we require a bit more time to do that."
But when Pactor responded: "I don't understand what we're being asked to vote on here, but I'll figure it out when I listen to the other [members]," the inevitable question was: is this actually good enough? The starting point for answering that question is the IFRS Foundation's latest US tax disclosure document on Form 990. The Foundation, the IASB's parent organisation, enjoys tax-exempt status in the US as what is known as a section 501(c)(3) non-private foundation.
So, for example, whereas Footnote 5 of the 2009 annual report shows that: "In March 2009, effective for April 2009, the trustees approved the following remuneration budgets, including all applicable employment taxes and benefits: £493,990 [€573,155] per year for the IASB Chair (2008: £476,900), £401,370 per year for full-time members (2008: £389,680) and £200,310 per year for part-time members (2008: £194,840)," the Form 990 filing, a reporting requirement arising out of the tax-exempt status, fills in some detail.
IASB chairman David Tweedie received a real-world, fully disclosed salary, not a "budget", of $768,198 (€557,716); each full-time board member received a total of $624,168. The headline figures in isolation are mundane enough. What really grabs the eye is Schedule J of the Form 990, which details "compensation information". This filing shows that at least one of the individuals shown in Section VII Part A of the Form 990 - possibly IASB chairman David Tweedie - received first-class or charter travel, tax indemnification and gross-up payments, or a housing allowance or residence for personal use.
In a supplementary disclosure, the Foundation explains that "some board members are allowed first class flights if the duration is over 12 hours or overnight". And tax, it seems, does not have to be taxing because under the indemnification arrangements the Foundation "pays the taxes rather than reports a taxable benefit to the employee".
Finally, housing allowance "represents hotel-type lodging for four board members that have not established a residence in the UK." Whatever that might mean, you can guess it will not be a Travelodge. Although applying the L'Oréal principle, they might argue that they are ‘worth it'.
The material contained in the Form 990 goes beyond being of prurient interest. When David Tweedie bemoans the critics who attack IFRS for its optionality, taxpaying members of the public are entitled to point out that the IFRS Foundation has the option of posting its Form 990s on line but fails to do so - as the Form 990 indeed suggests it might.