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Desperate businesses swamp Rupert’s relief fund


Desperate businesses swamp Rupert’s relief fund

Small and medium enterprises have also turned to government and private firms to get their money back

Consumer journalist
Johann Rupert.
RUMINATING Johann Rupert.
Image: Louise Gubb/Gallo Images/BusinessLIVE

The more than 10,000 small to medium business owners who have swamped Johann Rupert’s Sukuma Relief Fund since the weekend are not only looking for money from the fund, but are pleading for the private companies and government departments to pay them what they owe for services rendered.

“That is our appeal to the private sector and government,” said Business Partners marketing GM Gugu Mjadu. “Pay SMEs [small and medium enterprises] what you owe them.”

“Process those invoices, even now during the lockdown period, to ensure SMEs in the country survive this particularly disruptive time.”

Business Rescue Limited, one of Africa’s leading risk finance companies for SMEs, was appointed administrator of the fund, established with a donation of R1bn from the Rupert family.

They’ve promised to transfer funds to successful applicants within seven days of their application.

Applications poured in from all provinces, with most from Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

This exceeds the available donated capital of R1bn almost three times over. As such, we have decided to suspend access to the application portal with immediate effect.

Business Partners MD Ben Bierman said the number of applications in just three days was indicative of the Covid-19 crisis’ “crippling impact” on SA SMEs.

“This exceeds the available donated capital of R1bn almost three times over. As such, we have decided to suspend access to the application portal with immediate effect,” he said.

“Should we then find that there is still capital available, either because some of the applicants were not verified and approved, or because we have managed to secure additional capital, we will then open the programme for applications again,” says Bierman.

“We realised when engaging with our clients that the situation is dire, but we have been surprised by the sheer number of SMEs that are in desperate need of assistance,” Bierman said.

He has called for more donors to come forward, but at the time of writing, that hadn’t happened.

“SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy, and they are in need of financial assistance, now more than ever before, due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Now is the time to get involved and support each other.”

Mjadu said the company would use the coming week to assess the applications received and provide feedback to the applicants.

She was unable to say which sectors featured most strongly in the applications or reveal any details of the financial trauma the applicants shared in their applications.

“But based on our experience in the sector, we expect business owners will be mostly looking for funds to pay salaries, rent and other overheads,” she said

The most that will be provided to formal sole proprietors is a R25,000 grant per qualifying business.

For close corporation, companies and trusts, the maximum they can receive is an unsecured loan of R1m per qualifying business, coupled with a grant of R25,000.

We expect business owners will be mostly looking for funds to pay salaries, rent and other overheads.

Business owners owning close corporations, companies and trusts have a repayment holiday of 12 months, and there is no interest charged on the loan portion, also for 12 months.

Repayment and interest charges resume from month 13, when it is hoped the business is back on its feet.

“The repayment of the loan portion is an appeal to the beneficiaries of the initiative to ‘pay it forward’ and allow the continuing support of SMEs into the future,” Mjadu said.

“This capital will be available to assist SMEs in providing relief when new and other challenges, such as Covid-19, need to be confronted in the future.

“It will never be repaid to the donors.”

As for whether the much-touted “force majeure” applied as a corporate tenant’s defence to being evicted for not paying rent, Jack said that could come into play.

“It really depends on whether or not your lease agreement contains a force majeure clause, or whether you will need to rely on common law,” he said.

“Force majeure looks to exceptional events or circumstances that are out of our control.

“Tenants could receive some reprieve under this particular clause, as long as the events and timeline are well-defined.”

Office tenants requesting payment holidays

Twelve days into lockdown, John Jack, CEO of Galetti Corporate Real Estate, says that just under half of its clients have requested financial relief in the form of a structured payment holiday from their landlord.

Offices across SA are now bare, and companies are scrambling to save on costs and reduce overheads.

“The lockdown has put plans on hold,” Jack said. “Many companies have halted their investment plans for the time being and those planning to take occupancy of a new office space or to commence with fit-outs have had to press pause.

“This causes an immediate and drastic cash-flow cutoff for the entire system; tenants’ revenue drops immediately because of the halt in trade, landlords’ income dries up as the tenants are unable to pay their rental, and lastly the banks are impacted as a significant number of landlords will be unable to service their debt if this situation is protracted. The effects could be dire.

“This is a time for compromise – agreements should be put in place for companies requesting payment holidays,” Jack said.

“The pain needs to be shouldered in equal measure, but this generally all starts at the top, yet banks have been silent on structures to help larger business and landlords facing waning rental income.”

His advice to commercial landlords and their tenants: “Be transparent and communicate throughout. Work together during this period and follow best practice guidelines by putting everything in writing.

“A WhatsApp message is now legally binding.”

Jack said his company recommended the appointment of a corporate adviser to handle the rental restructuring process.

As for payment holidays, he said: “While it’s far more desirable to take out a payment holiday than to default on a loan, it’s important to review the interest rates associated as well as the Ts and Cs. These differ per financial institution.