Without knowing much about the other contenders for the global Responsible Investor award, it is difficult to imagine a more worthy winner than the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), which along with its fund manager, the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), has been largely responsible for a revolution in corporate governance in this country.
The GEPF’s John Oliphant has helped to ensure that the boards of listed companies are held to some level of accountability in terms of their commitments to tougher corporate governance standards.
A key aspect of this accountability involves disclosure of the engagement between companies and their shareholders at annual general meetings (AGMs). As the largest single investor on the JSE, the PIC’s public disclosure of its voting record is critical.
The PIC’s website provides an excellent, and now up-to-date, detailed analysis of how it has voted at AGMs for the past number of years, with one exception.
This is last year’s controversial Telkom AGM, at which the reappointment of four directors was dramatically blocked. In addition, Telkom shareholders vetoed the company’s incentive scheme for its managers. The PIC, which played a significant role at the AGM, has not included Telkom voting details on its website.
It is well known that the government used its 40 percent stake to vote against the resolutions. What has been a matter of conjecture is the precise role the PIC played with its 10.9 percent stake, particularly in regard to the four directors. All that the PIC will say on the matter is that “it does not want to publicly discuss individual board members” but it did have concerns about the oversight role of the board and “voted against non-executives whom we deemed could create space on the board for the requisite skills”
It leaves a gaping hole in an otherwise excellent process.
The New Age breakfasts are again embroiled in controversy. Yesterday Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa was wheeled out to take the flak for government’s parlous response to the renewed crisis on the platinum belt.
Out of town was Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu, and it appears Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant had to rush to Rustenburg to provide political direction to trade unionists.
Questions during a post cabinet media briefing turned to her appearance at the breakfast table of the Gupta family’s The New Age. These televised breakfasts have exploded into controversy because state agencies – including the SABC, Transnet, Eskom and Telkom – have sponsored them, apart from pouring R75 million into advertising in The New Age newspaper last year, of which vast numbers of copies are dumped at public buildings.
Molewa, who had earlier assured journalists that the Gupta family’s role in the Waterkloof air force base scandal would be investigated, could not see any conflict of interest over the breakfast, which, according to the newspaper’s website, will cost R695 a head excluding VAT. It takes place on Monday in Cape Town.
Meanwhile, the cabinet statement referred to the Gupta saga as follows: “Cabinet fully supports the preliminary findings from the investigation into the unauthorised landing of a civilian aircraft at Waterkloof air force base.”
So what about attending the Gupta family newspaper breakfast? “Nobody is doing us any favour just as [at] any other press conference,” said Molewa. “We were not invited… we invited ourselves.”
The breakfast would be hosted by the SABC “in partnership” with The New Age, she remarked. The breakfast takes place ahead of her budget vote. She has 27 minutes to speak and her deputy minister just 14 minutes.
Once again, there is no such thing as a free breakfast.
As fears spread about tropical cyclone Mahasen which is battering the west coast of Myanmar, MTN said it was reaching out to the population through a media communication campaign.
“MTN says ‘Hello Myanmar, we’re here to connect you to the world’,” Africa’s largest telecommunications firm titled its statement on Wednesday.
The campaign was an “awareness drive to demonstrate the company’s credentials as a transformational, global mobile communications operator worthy of a licence to offer world-class telecoms services to the people of Myanmar”.
It aimed to inform the nation about MTN’s achievements, capabilities and benefits for Myanmar when, not if, it was awarded the licence.
A message from MTN in newspapers and on radio stations said: “Today, MTN connects nearly 200 million people in 22 countries. Whenever we launch in a new country, we bring with us sustainable, real transformation to that nation, its people, and the local economy. We would like to do the same in Myanmar, and are confident of the benefits we would bring.”
MTN has prequalified, with 11 others, to compete for a telecoms licence in the south-east Asian country and has to submit its formal bid before June 3. With three weeks to the closing date, it is understandable that MTN is pressed for time, but to launch the campaign at a point when saving lives is more important than commercial opportunities may be seen as insensitive.
Simphiwe Cele, MTN’s country representative in Myanmar, said MTN’s “transformative power had brought tangible benefits to all markets” where it operated. MTN empowered citizens and helped raise living standards for millions in the developing world through several avenues, which included job creation and social investment via MTN Foundation.
As Myanmar deals with the crisis, a generous humanitarian spirit may win more votes than a marketing spin.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Ann Crotty, Donwald Pressly and Asha Speckman.