The governing board of the Smithsonian Institution said yesterday it will review Smithsonian investments in an international mutual fund to determine if the fund has holdings in companies doing business in South Africa.
The announcement came after the Board of Regents met in closed session, one of the three meetings that it holds each year.
Last June, faced with pressure from congressional critics of South Africa's system of apartheid, the Smithsonian sold about a quarter -- or $9 million worth -- of its investments in U.S. companies doing business in South Africa. Sold were stocks in companies that failed to sign the Sullivan Principles, guidelines for U.S. corporations to follow in improving the living conditions of black South African employes and lobbying against apartheid.
As of December, the Smithsonian held an investment portfolio of $165 million, of which $35 million was invested in 31 companies that have operations in South Africa but also adhere to the Sullivan Principles. The Smithsonian's policy, as of last year, is to divest itself of holdings in all businesses that operate in South Africa without adhering to the Sullivan Principles.
The Smithsonian has no direct investments in South Africa.
The mutual fund at issue represents an investment of $8.6 million; the Trustees Commingled Fund-International Equity Portfolio has a market value of $10.6 million. The fund has no direct investments in South Africa, but is invested in a variety of foreign companies.
It is the operations of these various companies that concern Rep. Norman Mineta (D-Calif.), one of the three members of the House of Representatives who sit on the Smithsonian's Board of Regents.
"Congressman Mineta believes that there are firms in the mutual fund that are doing business in South Africa and have not signed the Sullivan Principles," said his spokesperson, Carol Stroebel.
"A clear consensus emerged from today's board meeting that the regents remain committed to the spirit not just the letter of divestiture," Mineta said in a statement released after the meeting.
Mineta also said:
"I believe that the fund does not fall within the guidelines and I believe our investment policy committee will promptly order the sale of that fund."
The Smithsonian, which owns and operates 13 museums, the National Zoo and various research facilities, received 75 percent of its $218 million net operating income from Congress last year. The rest came from endowments, Smithsonian business enterprises, federal grants and contracts and private donations.
A bill approved by the House Administration Committee last December would require the Smithsonian to divest itself within one year of all holdings in firms operating in South Africa. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), awaits House floor action.
In addition to the three House members, the Smithsonian's governing board consists of three senators, nine citizens, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the vice president of the United States.