The delinquency provisions in the Companies Act are emerging as a key remedy against misconduct by directors in both the public and private sectors.
“What we have seen recently is that these delinquency provisions are increasingly being used to hold directors to account for misconduct,” says Parmi Natesan, CEO of the Institute of Directors in South Africa. “Directors must take note of this, because the penalties are extremely severe.”
In the current battle between Peter Moyo and Old Mutual, the former has instituted action to have the entire board of the company declared delinquent. In the case of the SABC, a news report speculates that the board could be declared delinquent en bloc because they have allowed the corporation to continue trading although it is insolvent. The Public Investment Corporation (PIC) successfully applied to have two directors it had appointed to the board of VBS Mutual Bank declared delinquent. The court agreed, and the Financial Sector Conduct Authority also disbarred Ernest Nesane, the former executive head of legal at the PIC, and Paul Magula, the former executive head of risk, from practising as investment professionals. Another instance is the action brought by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) to have Phumlani Zwane, former director of nuclear services group Nectsa, declared delinquent. This successful application is the first to involve a state-owned entity, and declared Mr Zwane delinquent twice over.
The Companies Act defines various instances of misconduct by a director that could render him or her liable to be declared delinquent by the court. These include consenting to serve as a director while already disqualified or under probation. Other misconduct that would make a director vulnerable to being declared delinquent includes gross abuse of his or her position, taking personal advantage of information or opportunities that came to his or her attention by virtue of his or her position as a director; or inflicting harm on the company or one of its subsidiaries through gross negligence, wilful misconduct of breach of trust in relation to the director’s fiduciary duties. Provision is also made for barring repeat offenders from holding a directorship again.
The consequences for being declared delinquent could include immediate removal of a director, prohibition from serving as director in future, and severe reputational damage.
A wide range of individuals or juristic persons can bring legal action to declare a director delinquent. They include the company itself, its shareholders, unions, other directors or the company secretary or other prescribed officer.
“A company’s directors bear ultimate responsibility for its success, and they are under an obligation always to act in the company’s best interest. That is a very great responsibility, and comes with great opportunities to make a difference. At the same time, though, failure to discharge that responsibility also comes with heavy sanction,” Ms Natesan concludes.
 Warren Thompson, “PIC’s VBS directors declared delinquent”, Business Day (26 August 2019), available at https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2019-08-26-pics-vbs-directors-declared-delinquent/.
 Xolisa Phillip, “High court brings chartered accountant to book”, Daily Maverick (26 August 2019), available at https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-08-26-high-court-brings-chartered-accountant-to-book/.
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