Somehow it owes Sars R700m…
The business rescue plan for the South African Post Office financial crisis, published late last week, shows a state-owned company that has somehow been allowed to trade to the point that it owes nearly R9 billion to creditors. The revolving door of ministers in the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has not helped.
By the end of September, accumulated losses totalled R19 billion. It has reported losses for the last 16 years! Equity has been completely wiped out. Assets at the end of March were barely R4.4 billion.
The largest chunk of the R9 billion is R4.6 billion owed to Postbank, which was officially separated from Sapo in September.
The list of creditors is long.
There are 1 100 of them, running to 14 pages!
Forget the landlords to which it owes a combined R400 million in unpaid rent. Forget also the group’s retirement fund as well as various medical schemes where contributions have simply not been paid.
It owes the Post Office Retirement Fund R1.22 billion, and Medipos Medical Scheme a further R693 million (plus R25 million to Sizwe Hosmed Medical Scheme, R18 million to Bonitas Medical Fund and R9 million to Discovery Health Medical Scheme).
These contributions impact current and former employees directly. (Quite why it has outstanding amounts to three private medical schemes alongside its own is a mystery.)
These aren’t the most shocking numbers, however.
In the largest 15 creditors – once one removes Postbank, the Post Office Retirement Fund and two medical schemes (including its own, Medipos) – a full seven creditors are government entities or state-owned enterprises.
Top of the list is the South African Post Office financial crisis, to which it owes R697.7 million. Much of this is reportedly pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) tax. As Daily Maverick summed it up two years ago: “Put differently, the Post Office continues to pay its workers their full salaries and probably deducts their PAYE contributions – but doesn’t hand over the deductions to Sars.”
Besides PAYE, the Post Office also failed to make contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
How has it been able to get away with this?
If a large corporation was to not pay Sars, its bank accounts would be seized, and directors would be prosecuted. A small business owner couldn’t even dream of trying this! Yet, the Post Office continues to trade and simply not pay the taxman.
There is a further R115 million that just hasn’t been paid over to the Compensation Fund. This is a fifth instance of a deduction that is being made from employee salaries and not being paid (alongside tax, pension, medical aid, UIF)
|Top Post Office creditors
|South African Postbank SOC Limited
|Related party (government entity)
|Related party creditor
|R4 601 404 292
|Post Office Retirement Fund
|R1 224 163 127
|South African Revenue Service
|R697 676 547
|Medipos Medical Scheme
|R693 016 747
|Telkom SA SOC Limited
|R255 573 511
|Thamani Technologies & Systems (Pty) Ltd
|R194 005 533
|R115 051 436
|Zeda Car Leasing Proprietary Limited t/a Avis Fleet
|R48 909 111
|The Auditor-General Of South Africa
|R39 203 496
|Independent Communications Authority Of South Africa (Icasa)
|R37 676 834
|G4S Cash Solutions (SA) (Pty) Ltd
|R32 261 737
|Airports Company of South Africa Limited
|R28 942 951
|System Applications Products (South Africa)(Pty) Ltd (SAP)
|R25 234 283
|Global postal software supplier
|R24 841 112
|Sizwe Hosmed Medical Scheme
|R24 755 101
|Oracle Corporation (South Africa) Ltd
|R23 039 649
|Special Investigation Unit (SIU)
|R20 307 173
|Vusela Sanmva Joint Venture (Pty) Ltd
|R20 201 743
|Buhlebodwa Trading Enterprise
|R18 762 279
|Bonitas Medical Fund
|R17 914 939
It owes Telkom (which has the same shareholder ministry) over R255 million, presumably for telecommunication and internet services it has provided over the years.
Private shareholders in Telkom ought to apply pressure on the board to ensure the company recovers this debt.
The Auditor-General is owed a total of R39 million, and Icasa another R38 million. One assumes it hasn’t been paying any licence or administration fees to the regulator, which itself relies on government funding (from the same ministry!). For context, Icasa’s annual operating budget is about R500 million.
Bear in mind that the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has an annual budget of R5.3 billion – R4.3 billion of which is spent on “ICT Enterprise Development and Public Entity Oversight”; in other words bailouts for the Post Office (which received R2.4 billion last year).
The Post Office hasn’t paid its bills at the Airports Company of South Africa either. This totals R29 million. Oh, and it owes the Special Investigating Unit R20 million!
The impacts of all of this money owed to state-owned entities will be relatively limited, given the fairly modest numbers involved. In some cases, though, these are material numbers (think Telkom and Icasa).
What happens when a larger enterprise – say, Transnet – stops paying its bills? Will it be allowed to trade as recklessly as the Post Office clearly has been able to do?
What, if any, sanctions will the (current and former) directors of the Post Office face? The goings on at the Post Office makes SAA’s collapse into business rescue look rather like a picnic in comparison.
The business rescue plan is clear: the Post Office as it is currently structured is basically not able to trade profitably.
Its salary bill is 150% of revenue, meaning it pays staff R1.50 for every R1 in sales.
It has even been managing to lose R200 million a year on the payment of South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) grants – mainly because Postbank has enlisted the help of retailers to disburse grants as the Post Office is not able to do so consistently!
The plan is to shrink the business substantially. The business rescue plan sees as many as 6 000 of the group’s 11 000-odd employees being retrenched. The number of branches needs to be halved to 600.
The plan sees concurrent creditors receiving 12 cents in the rand, with statutory and payroll creditors receiving an additional 18 cents in the rand.
This Post Office financial crisis is a hard pill to swallow