INTEREST FREE LOANS TO DIRECTORS

A3bIt is very often the case that a company extends an interest free or low interest loan to a director. This manifests either as a true incentive or benefit to that director (mostly the case in larger corporate environments) or in a small business environment in lieu of salaries paid. The latter is especially the case for example where a spouse or family trust would hold the shares in the company running the family business, but which business is conducted through the efforts of the individual to whom a loan is granted from time to time.

In terms of the Seventh Schedule to the Income Tax Act[1] a director of a company is also considered an “employee”.[2] This is significant, since directors can therefore also be bound by the fringe benefit tax regime applicable to employees generally.

Paragraph (i) of the definition of “gross income” in the Income Tax Act[3] specifically includes as an amount subject to income tax “the cash equivalent, as determined under the provisions of the Seventh Schedule, of the value during the year of assessment of any benefit… granted in respect of employment or to the holder of any office…”

Clearly, benefits received by a director of a company would therefore rank for taxation in terms of this provision. The question remains therefore whether loans provided to such directors by the companies where they serve in this capacity would amount to such a taxable benefit, and further how such benefit should be quantified.

Paragraph 2(f) of the Seventh Schedule is unequivocal in its approach that a taxable fringe benefit exists where “… a debt … has been incurred by the employee [read director], whether in favour of the employer or in favour of any other person by arrangement with the employer or any associated institution in relation to the employer, and either-

(i) no interest is payable by the employee in respect of such debt; or

(ii) interest is payable by the employee in respect thereof at a rate of lower than the official rate of interest…”

Paragraph 11 in turn seeks to quantify the amount of the taxable fringe benefit to be included in the gross income of the director. Essentially, the taxable fringe benefit would be equal to so much of interest that would have been payable on the loan at the prime interest rate less 2.5%, less any interest actually paid on the loan. The benefit therefore does not only arise on interest-free loans, but also on loans carrying interest at less than the prescribed interest rate.

It is necessary to note that a fringe benefit otherwise arising will not be a taxable benefit if the loan amount is less than R3,000, or if it is provided to the director to further his/her studies.

[1] 58 of 1962

[2] Paragraph 1 of the Seventh Schedule, paragraph (g) of the definition of “employee”

[3] See section 1

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

REMOVING DIRECTORS OF A COMPANY

a4bThe Companies Act, 71 of 2008, requires that the business and affairs of any company be managed by or under the direction of its board, which has the authority to exercise all of the powers and perform any of the functions of the company, except to the extent that the Companies Act or the company’s Memorandum of Incorporation provides otherwise (section 66(1)). The Companies Act further requires that a company must have at least one director (section 66(2)), and further that only natural persons may serve in that capacity (section 69(7)(a)).

Those individuals occupying the position of directors of a company are therefore responsible for managing the affairs of the company and they do so as custodians on the shareholders behalf. It should be remembered that the directors do not own the company: the company rather is owned by the shareholders and the directors serve therefore to promote the interests of the company, and indirectly therefore the economic interests of the shareholders.

Quite often, in the case of private companies, the directors and shareholders may be the same individuals. However, where the directors have no or limited shareholding interest in the company itself, it may happen that the shareholders may wish to move to have certain directors removed and replaced on the company’s board if e.g. the company’s financial performance or operations otherwise are not satisfactorily conducted according to the shareholders’ liking.

Naturally, a director may be requested to resign under amicable circumstances. However, where a director refuses to resign (and may perhaps have the backing of other shareholders), the question becomes what remedies the aggrieved shareholders still have? It is possible to have these matters regulated in terms of the company’s Memorandum of Incorporation specifically to dictate under which circumstances a director may be removed from the board of a company. It could also be agreed with the director initially by way of a clause in the appointment contract.

Irrespective of whether the Memorandum of Incorporation or an appointment contract addresses the matter specifically, a director may always be removed by way of a majority vote at an ordinary shareholders’ meeting (section 77(1)). Before the shareholders of a company may consider such a resolution though, the director concerned must be given notice of the meeting and the resolution, and be afforded a reasonable opportunity to make a presentation, in person or through a representative, to the meeting, before the resolution is put to a vote (section 77(2)). In terms of procedures not entirely different from that as applied to shareholders, the directors may among themselves too resolve to remove a director from the board of a company (sections 77(3) & (4)).

It is important for directors to realise that they serve at the pleasure of shareholders. It is likewise necessary for shareholders to know that they have remedies against directors who do not deliver on their mandate, and that keeping directors in check amounts to good corporate governance.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE BY COMPANIES TO ISSUE SHARES

Section 38 of the Companies Act, 61 of 1973 (now repealed) contained a prohibition against companies issuing shares to prospective shareholders on loan account.  This was identified as one of the hurdles in the way of BEE empowerment deals specifically (which quite often involves BEE participants requiring funding to be able to subscribe for shares in a company).  Consequently, this was addressed in the Companies Act, 71 of 2008, through the introduction of section 44 which now specifically provides for new share issues to be undertaken on loan account, subject thereto that this is not prohibited by the company’s memorandum of incorporation.

The board of directors of a company may now authorise financial assistance to be provided by the company by way of a loan, guarantee or the provision of security to any person for the purpose of subscribing for shares issued in that company.  However, and despite any provision of a company’s memorandum of incorporation, the company’s directors may not authorise any financial assistance unless the financial assistance is for either an employee share scheme, or has been authorised through a special resolution by the shareholders of the company.  (A special resolution involves a resolution adopted with the support of at least 75% of the voting rights exercised on the resolution, or a different percentage which may potentially be allowed for in the company’s memorandum of incorporation.)  In addition, the company’s directors must be satisfied that the terms of the loan (or other form of financial assistance) is fair and reasonable to the company, and that the company would, after providing the financial assistance, still be both solvent and liquid.  If the company’s memorandum of incorporation specifically imposes certain further conditions on the company granting financial assistance for the issuing of its shares, these requirements too need to be adhered to.

Any agreement to provide financial assistance which would be contrary to the requirements set out above in terms of either section 44 of the Companies Act, or the memorandum of incorporation of a company, would be void.  Directors in breach of this may be held personally liable for damages caused.

The new regime in the ‘new’ Companies Act is enabling for business, but directors should caution against applying this without due consideration to the above requirements.  Of specific relevance would be if for example the recoverability of a loan granted to enable the borrower to subscribe for shares is doubtful.  If this is the case, the duty of care of the directors towards the company may be called into question by other shareholders prejudiced as a result, potentially leading to delictual claims against the directors in personal capacity for not displaying the statutory required duty of care towards the company.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)