| WP presidential hopeful unpacks pay cut proposal

Cape Town – On Monday, one of Zelt Marais or Peter Jooste will be voted in as the new president of the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU), replacing the outgoing Thelo Wakefield. 

Both have served the union for over a decade – Jooste currently sits on the Executive Committee while Marais is the deputy president and head of the finance committee. 

While Jooste, who is also a Springbok selector, is considered an out-and-out rugby man, Marais’ major strengths lie in finance where he is the head of tax transfer pricing at Nedbank. 

WP’s financial woes have been well-documented, with around R40 million in debt still owed to former equity partners Remgro while there is also the ongoing multi-million Rand legal dispute with former commercial partners Aerios. 

That all makes Marais and his corporate nous a potentially attractive option, but he rocked the boat last week when Sport24 exclusively revealed a proposal from the finance committee to employ pay cuts across the board. 

Sport24 revealed a cut of 25% for staff who earn above R20 000 per month, which would have had a serious impact on coaches and players. 

On Wednesday, Sport24 met with Marais, who sought to clarify that issue. 

Nothing, Marais says, has been finalised yet and the proposal must first be discussed at a board level at a December 7 board meeting. 

“There is a proposal from the finance committee based on future projections. South African rugby as a whole is facing a major cash flow problem. We will probably need to do something,” the soft-spoken Marais said.

“This will be compensated by giving equity to those persons, because we’re now looking at the long term sustainability of the organisation. It’s not a matter of being cruel.”

It has hard to imagine staff members – players or management – being satisfied with accepting a pay cut in exchange for shares in a union as cash-strapped as WP. 

Marais insists, however, that the proposal was never meant to target the players. 

“It was never intended to operate on a player level. We need to debate it, but it was never meant for the players,” he said.

“It is very unfortunate that there was that misinformation. 

“If players want to come on board (in terms of equity shares) then we can talk. As a collective we need to bring in everyone on board if we want to make WP the biggest franchise in the world.

“Pay cuts is a discussion to be had and say ‘this is reality’.”

Cutting salaries is not Marais’ only plan when it comes to generating funds, though. 

His run at the presidency is based heavily on his support of club rugby in the Western Cape.

“The clubs are the owners, effectively, and those entities must be regarded with the utmost care and respect,” Marais said.

“We need to make sure that our customers are happy, and the clubs are our ultimate customers.”

Keeping the clubs happy means that they must have an open line of communication to the WPRFU leadership, Marais says, but they must also be compensated financially. 

Marais wants to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lotto fund, which pumps millions into club rugby each year, but he also wants to use the assets of the WPRU to benefit the clubs in the long run. 

The freeing up of WPRFU-owned properties in and around the Newlands and in other areas of Cape Town is still considered the cash injection that the union so desperately needs. 

Knocking off the R40 million Remgro debt is obviously the priority, but the vision is for the income generated from those long-term lease holds to trickle down to the clubs. 

“If you look at it in the context of the union then that R40 million (debt) is about 10-15% of the total assets of the union,” Marais said.

“We are in the process of unlocking the value of those assets and to partner with businesses and put it onto long-term lease holds.

“There will be annuity income generated from these developments and that surplus income will eventually filter through to the clubs in about three to four years.”

Marais also hinted at future discussions with Remgro in asking for leniency in repaying the debt due to the fact that Remgro was an equity partner of the now-liquidated professional arm. 

“They do take some of the responsibility because they were a 25% partner, and I’m sure they will see that,” he said.

“But, of course, the interest is building up so the sooner we get the developments going the better.”

That process at the moment, however, have hit somewhat of wall and it may have to do with the fact that there is uncertainty surrounding the future leadership of the union. 

Having been a member of the original property portfolio, Marais is hopeful that turning those assets into income will be a swift operation. 

“I’m pretty sure that by the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, things will start happening,” he said.

“It’s not like buying a car. Property dealers want to make sure, because there is no turning back.

“Every property deal that was done by WP in the past … they weren’t the best of deals. I was very surprised when I came in and I wanted to know how we agreed to these deals.

“Nobody could give me answers.”

Sport24 has spoken to Peter Jooste and will be publishing a story on his plans for the presidency shortly …

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