“O Wonder! …O Brave New World” (Shakespeare)
Regrettably the pandemic still shows no sign of going away any time soon, and the social distancing it has brought to our “new normal” leaves companies with a dilemma. How can you comply – safely and lawfully – with the Companies Act’s stringent requirements for the holding of Annual General Meetings and (where needed) interim General Meetings?
The good news is that our South African legislation has for many years allowed the holding of company meetings via electronic communication.
The savings in cost, efficiency and convenience have now – courtesy of the lockdown – been experienced first-hand by many a company and its stakeholders, and a Google search reveals a multitude of AGMs held recently via Zoom or similar platforms (there are also several proprietary platforms specializing in shareholder meetings).
The benefits of meeting virtually are such that even after Covid-19 is no more than a bad memory many of us will continue doing so in place of the traditional “face-to-face all in one place” gatherings.
Expect also an upsurge in hybrid physical/virtual meetings as things get safer.
The formal requirements
- Comply strictly with all the Companies Act’s requirements in regard to proper notice, conduct and minuting of meetings and decisions.
- Observe all the legal requirements set out in ECTA (the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act) in regard to identification of originator, accessibility, storage, retrieval etc.
- Shareholder meetings can be conducted entirely by electronic communication unless prohibited by your MOI (Memorandum of Incorporation) but if you want to avoid any uncertainty have your lawyer draw your MOI to clearly allow them.
- How you hold the virtual meeting is important, the requirement being that “The electronic communication employed ordinarily enables all persons participating in that meeting to communicate concurrently with each other without an intermediary, and to participate reasonably effectively in the meeting.”
- Notice of the meeting – over and above the normal requirements for notice, “the notice of that meeting must inform shareholders of the availability of that form of participation, and provide any necessary information to enable shareholders or their proxies to access the available medium or means of electronic communication”.
- It’s then over to shareholders (or their proxies) to arrange their own access at their own expense, although good practice might be to assist with technical and perhaps even financial support where necessary. Any suggestion of an infringement of shareholder rights could come back to haunt you.
Board decisions generally
Unless your MOI says otherwise, your board can make decisions electronically (without a virtual or physical meeting) if the decision is one “that could be voted on at a meeting of the board of that company”. Decisions can be “adopted by written consent of a majority of the directors” after “each director has received notice of the matter to be decided.”
Shareholder decisions generally
Shareholders can also vote electronically on resolutions relating to any business not required by the Companies Act or by the MOI to be conducted at an AGM
Meetings of public company shareholders “must be reasonably accessible within the Republic for electronic participation by shareholders … irrespective of whether the meeting is held in the Republic or elsewhere”.
Bodies Corporate and Home Owners Associations
Community schemes should take advice on whether in their particular circumstances they can/should postpone their AGMs and/or hold them remotely. Bodies Corporate will need to comply with their Rules and Home Owners Associations with their founding documents (either a Constitution or an MOI).