An Annual General Meeting (AGM) of a company that restricts shareholders to use only text-based communication does not constitute an AGM for the purposes of the Companies Act 71 of 2008. This is according to the legal opinion of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) on holding AGMs via electronic means.
According to the opinion, a company holding an AGM with shareholders attending online must allow those shareholders to verbally ask questions in real-time and without an intermediary. This aligns with the IoDSA’s previous comments on this matter, in which we noted that whilst the section does not specifically state that verbal communication is required, the spirit of the section should be interpreted to allow sufficient engagement at the AGM, as would have taken place had the meeting taken place in-person.
The Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA) welcomes this clarification from the CIPC. “If you consider the Companies Act and King IV in substance over form, shareholders should have a right to be heard at an AGMs,” says Parmi Natesan, CEO of the IoDSA. “It is imperative that companies ensure that AGMs not only comply with the form of the law but that they also enable easy, unrestricted and effective shareholder participation during the meetings, in substance.”
“Whilst engagement between companies and shareholders can take place at any time, the AGM is the key point of formal engagement and the main opportunity for shareholders to exercise their voting rights, raise concerns and ask questions,” explains Natesan.
A key, but often neglected voting resolution at AGMs is the appointment of directors. Shareholders have the legal right and obligation to appoint directors to oversee the company. Those directors, in turn, have a legal obligation to act in the company’s best interests and can be held personally liable if they do not do so. A big emphasis at AGMs should therefore be ensuring that the right people are appointed to the board and that they are held properly accountable.
Shareholders need to be confident that they are appointing directors in whom they have full trust. They then need to allow these directors to exercise their discretion in the fulfilment of their duties while holding those directors accountable. They should also consider when the removal of a director is appropriate as this is another powerful and important tool that a shareholder has to protect the company’s interests.
In relation to the AGM resolution on director appointments, questions asked should therefore be aimed at determining whether board members have the necessary knowledge, skills, experience, independence, personal competencies, track record and even sufficient time available to effectively serve on the board.
“In summary, shareholders now have confirmation of their right to be heard at virtual AGMs and are encouraged to use their voice effectively in exercising their voting rights and holding the directors accountable,” says Natesan.
MEDIA CONTACT: Stephné du Toit, firstname.lastname@example.org, 084 587 9933, www.atthatpoint.co.za
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