Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Steinhoff supervisory board member Johan van Zyl — who with Steve Booysen and chairwoman Heather Sonn have tried to salvage the group in the wake of revelations of gross accounting irregularities — has come out in defence of proposals for the three to be paid up to €200,000 extra for their work since December’s meltdown.

"There are different views in the board on this issue. The one view is that people should be remunerated fairly and what is on the table is fair," Van Zyl said last week.

Steinhoff proposes to pay supervisory members €100,000 each for the 2018 year, with €130,000 for the deputy chairman and €300,000 for chairwoman, Sonn. The proposal that Booysen and Sonn receive an extra €200,000 and Van Zyl an extra €100,000 for "additional work undertaken" since December has been met with howls of derision by the market, in the light of the R300bn loss suffered by shareholders thanks to the collapse of Steinhoff’s share price.

Taxpayers, too, will ultimately end up on the hook for former CEO Markus Jooste’s misdeeds as the Government Employees Pension Fund is a defined-benefit scheme. It owned about 10% of the company’s shares through the Public Investment Corporation.

Mazi Capital founder and chief investment officer Malungelo Zilimbola was scathing about the proposals.

"It is disappointing that the same directors who failed to deliver on their duties have the audacity to request such monies from investors who have been hugely affected by their dereliction of duties.

"This is a barometer of how low the levels of morality and ethics are in our society.

"They have failed in their fiduciary duties to safeguard investors’ funds … and why should [investors] now foot the bill and pay the directors these obscene amounts?"

Lentus Asset Management portfolio manager Nic Norman-Smith said that "for the people who joined very recently, I completely understand" the proposals, "but for those who have been there for a very long period overseeing that whole saga, I find it highly dubious".

Capicraft’s Drikus Combrinck said investors were misdirecting their anger.

"You have to put yourself in the shoes of the exco: you have to keep a team motivated."

While Van Zyl refused to comment on whether his additional payments were fair, he said there was an obligation to pay the directors properly.

"If we don’t do that, all the new directors that we have on board will simply disappear. I spoke to over 40 people and I barely scraped together five who were willing to take on this job. If people are not paid to work, why would they do it? This is my own view."

Sonn, who was parachuted in as chairwoman of the supervisory committee after the resignation of Christo Wiese in December, said "we cannot change the past, but to protect value for the group’s stakeholders, the company needs stability... this requires a successful annual general meeting, which will settle the governance structure of the company and allow the boards to focus on the next phase of the recovery".

Sonn said that Steinhoff was "listening and [we] have heard shareholders’ concerns. We fully understand that the losses sustained by the company... warrant the anger we see in the public domain".

She said the annual general meeting, to be held on April 20 in Amsterdam, was the first opportunity to consider compensation, following the initial work to stabilise the firm, investigate wrongdoing and uncover the true financial position of the company.

This is still not clear almost five months after Jooste’s resignation when auditors Deloitte refused to sign off on the group’s 2017 financials. Steinhoff has since indicated its 2015 and 2016 financials will also have to be restated.

Sonn has defended the company’s decision to retain Deloitte, notwithstanding its role in the scandal and the decision by the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors to investigate Deloitte for its accounting of Steinhoff from 2012 to 2016. Sonn said changing external auditors at this time would be counterproductive and not in the interest of the company.

"We have to be practical and realistic. For now, we must do what is practically possible to get through the forensic audit and the 2017 and 2018 financial statements audit as effectively as possible."

giulietta@bdtv.co.za

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