By Pinky Khoabane
Its not often that annual general meetings (AGMS) of large corporations serve the purpose for which they are meant – to hold managers accountable. They are rarely met with controversy or challenged. It’s usually a case of the big boys having their decisions rubber-stamped by the AGM.
In 2003, the Business Report reported that the First Rand’s annual general meeting would have “gone-off without a hitch were it not for three colourful characters.”
Each of the three held 100 shares but they all had an axe to grind and they planned to sue First Rand.
One was a former employee disgruntled with the corporate governance of the organisation, another was Michael Harris who was suing the company for R50m in damages following the sequestration of his company, which he says was fraudulent.
Then there was a group of individuals who represented Barry Spitz of International Law & Tax Institute demanded compensation for commission he claimed was not paid.
Large corporations on the main, manipulate and control these meetings to ensure as little commotion as possible occurs.
Security will be beefed up and “settlements” will be reached to try and keep these elements out of the AGM.
Until five or six years ago, Remgro’s AGMs were simply “formulaic events” reported Business Day a few weeks ago. The event was packed with shareholders who came to pay “respect”, hear global news and head back home.
But this year, a shareholder made it all exciting when he flew down to Somerset West to engage billionaire Johan Rupert on corporate governance issues.
There was the news of an increase in the vote against Fred Robertson from 19.25% in 2015 to 22% in 2016. And then the rejection by 31.6% of Paul Harris who had been on the Remgro board since 2001.
Somehow the paper had to include the fact that Remgro had long-standing relations with service providers, among them auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) which it has used since 1948.
Madonsela, Remgro, PWC, Rupert and State Capture Report
PwC is the same audit firm that former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela appointed to compile the State of Capture report.
Madonsela despite 6 years of investigating large-scale apartheid looting ahead of the democratic dispensation – which amounts to R26bn – could not come up with findings. Those implicated include Johann Rupert and financial institutions ABSA and Nedbank, and Daimler Chrysler. She will next year, become an employee at the Stellenbosch University where Rupert is a chancellor.
We have here at UnCensored posited that there’s a conflict of interest in this matter which ought to be scrutinised by the public protector.
Our contention has always been that this is a typical swing-door syndrome which in other countries would be declared unlawful and criminal.
At the same AGM, Rupert spoke of how his company’s PR company of around 18 years had turned against him in a Gupta-orchestrated campaign to link him to allegations of state capture. He said the campaign included a narrative that said he had control of the media.
Rupert, Tobacco Wars & Fake News
The tobacco industry has a long standing record of manipulation and disinformation. Lobbying activities range from inviting policy makers to drinks to outright bribes. Then there is massive amounts spent on public relations, media, sponsorship and advertising.
UnCensored has shown Rupert’s investments in media but the involvement of the tobacco industry, from which he made his fortune, in lobbying policymakers and the medical community for purposes of promoting cigarettes epitomises the extent to which this industry has gone to glorify tobacco for the sole purpose of making money at the expense of the lives of smokers.
Reinet Investments, headed by Johann Rupert, holds shares in British American Tobacco (BAT) which it has sold over the years but BusinessDay in May this year reported that the value of the remaining shares was at about R61 bn.
UnCensored in September revealed how BAT had been involved in a full-scale war against African policy makers keen on curbing cigarette smoking. It had also run a sophisticated spying network aimed at closing down competitors. Allegations include widespread fraud, racketeering and illegal activity involving South African crime fighters and representatives of BAT.
BAT, Apartheid Spies and Propaganda
A closer inspection of the people behind the industrial espionage in the tobacco industry in South Africa shows a host of former apartheid intelligence operatives including Craig Williamson.
He’s an apartheid spy linked to many state-sponsored atrocities including bombings, killings, burglaries, kidnappings and propaganda. He applied for amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for bombing the ANC London office. He was involved in the burglary at the PAC office in London. He sent letter bombs which assassinated anti-apartheid activists Ruth First and Jeanette Curtis Schoon and her six-year old Katryn.
Leading Politicians and the Tobacco Propaganda
In an explosive article in a publication by Standford Medicine, detailing among others, the “1999 Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry, 46 state governments and five U.S. territories,” former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is identified as among the leading politicians who worked for the tobacco industry, specifically the American tobacco conglomerate, Phillip Morris.
“Of course, Philip Morris’ desire to use Thatcher’s prominence to help gain access to world leaders and promote tobacco around the globe was never explicit, but the company’s intent was clear,” the article reads.
An internal memo between two Philip Morris executives in January 7, 1992, shortly after the partnership commenced reads:
To: Murray H. Bring
From: Charles R. Wall
Subject: Margaret Thatcher
Two thoughts on Margaret Thatcher.
1) Can she help the proposed Ad Ban Directive under wraps? I can check with Hugh or someone to check with our Brussels people.
2) Can she help with any Eastern European countries where we are in negotiations, etc. with the governments? I do not know enough to be more specific”.
A report in the Independent in 2011 revealed the covert actions of the tobacco industry and its use of public relations and law firms in accessing health documents held in public organisations and manipulating and lobbying policymakers.
Lord Robin Renwick is a former ambassador to South Africa between 1987 and 1991 and was deployed to Southern Africa during the Thatcher years. Black Opinion described him as a “chief imperialist negotiator” whose chief task was to find a negotiated settlement between liberation movements, their oppressors and Britain. Renwick sits on the board of numerous companies including Rupert’s luxury goods brands group, Richemont.
The tobacco industry spends billions in marketing and promoting cigarettes through advertising, promotions and sponsorships, largely of sports events. It is estimated that tobacco kills 35000 people a year and 1000 a day. And so this industry uses athletes, young people and the glamour and television coverage that comes with sport, to sell death.
Virtually all tobacco advertising has been banned in South Africa, the UK and many other countries and the industry has had to turn to other forms of extremely persuasive means to ensure policy makers and government officials adopt a lenient stance on some the stringent rules being imposed on cigarettes.