NASTASSIA ARENDSE: News that Steinhoff’s long-serving CEO, Markus Jooste, had quit sent the company’s share price into free-fall.
Earlier today I spoke to Adamus P Stemmet, who is the spokesman for the Government Employees Pension Fund Monitor Group, on concerns that the GEPF may be exposed to Steinhoff’s shares.
AP STEMMET: We are still very shocked, but to a certain extent we expected a lot of these things, not exactly as it happened. The way they are dealing with the investments of our money could have been expected. I’m quite sure there’ll be some more coming.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: In terms of the communication between yourself and the PIC, how has that been regarding relieving some of the misconceptions and even the fear from other pensioners who could be worried that their money has gone down the drain?
AP STEMMET: I’ll tell you what – the PIC is actually very good. But we must understand that the PIC is only the investment agent of a pension fund. The real responsible people are the members of the board of trustees of the pension fund, and our relationship [with them] unfortunately is not clear. That is why in the statement, we complained about the way they are treating us, [it’s] as if we are children. Every now and then, when there is a big loss like we had in African Bank, and other instances like Isibaya investments, they will issue a statement: “Don’t worry everything is in order, everything is under control.” And we know very well that everything is not under control.
The PIC, I must say, is prepared to answer questions but the GEPF trustee members are not. On March 11 last year we sent them a list of questions, not about secret investments, just standard items related to investments (old and new) like African Bank, Lonmin, Independent Media, Afrisam and others. And the PIC wanted to answer the questions. The GEPF stopped them. And eventually on July 19 this year, the GEPF bluntly said they are not prepared to answer any questions from us. Now that is a cause for alarm. And if you ask them questions about specific investments, you never, ever get an answer. They give you a lecture about investment policy. I see that Solidarity is taking them to court on the prior acts, forcing them, but so far we have not done anything like that.
Our viewpoint is that pensioners, the members of the pension fund, the serving members, as well as the people already on pension, they are the real owners of the fund. The trustees are supposed to administer the fund. Now how they do it we do not know.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: In terms of probably the main question you want answered when you talk with some of the members on some of the concerns that they have shared with you, what will allow you to breathe easy from here onwards? I think we are still waiting to understand what exactly is happening within Steinhoff and how they are going to fix all these governance issues and this big hole they talk about that they have in their balance sheet. What will allow you to rest easy at night from here on?
AP STEMMET: What we want from them now is to please play open cards, tell us what went wrong if they know, because we think they do not know. They invested R28 billion – that is a lot of money. To them it may be small change. To our pensioners it’s a lot of money. What monitoring actions do you have in place? How often did you check on the investment, whether it is still safe? That is point number one.
Point number two is why do you make such clumsy investments – 10% of Steinhoff. Now Steinhoff is a very big concern. In Naspers you have a 15.6% shareholding. That is dangerous. If a big firm goes down like Steinhoff now, your losses are so great, and we only need a few of them to have the pension fund on its knees as what happened to Transnet. That is what the pensioners are dead scared of.
Now, instead of every time just saying every thing is in order – we are not children – give us the facts. As far as Steinhoff is concerned, we’d very much like to have the facts on the table. If you look at the other investors, Sanlam, Mutual – they have a loss of R9 billion so far. Our loss is running into R25 billion. All of them together have a loss of [only] R9 billion.
Another thing that worries us is what are the GEPF trustees doing now to safeguard our money? It is no good to have the directors now trying to rectify everything. What do we have in place to see that they look after the interests of the fund? It’s not good saying: “You’ll have to wait and see; wait and see what is happening.” That is not good.
Some positive steps must be taken. Of course we don’t want to mention names but our people, the people who also have had very, very big losses, are the directors and they are responsible for running the company now. It’s only human that they look after their interests primarily – and only secondarily our interests.