RICHMOND, SEPT. 12 -- Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's guidelines for divesting the state's investments linked to South Africa impose no deadline and allow agencies to delay selling the stocks and bonds as long as they are more profitable than other possible investments.

By following the guidelines, drawn in response to a highly publicized order from Wilder last May to unload investments with ties to the apartheid-ruled nation, the costs of divestment "can be mitigated significantly and probably eliminated completely," according to a report released today.

Wilder aides said the administration wants to give state agencies maximum flexibility in implementing the divestiture order.

In fact, the approach Wilder announced today allows so much flexibility that a director of the state's $11 billion pension fund said the policy would even permit the purchase of new stocks linked to South Africa if they were profitable enough.

Wilder's plan applies "no pressure to sell an asset before it would be sold for economic reasons," said Mark T. Finn, a director of the Virginia Retirement System, which has $317 million in investments that could eventually be sold to comply with the governor's order.

Witney Schneidman, an official of the Washington-based Investors Responsibility Research Center, said most state and local governments that have implemented divestment policies have given themselves firm deadlines, unlike Virginia.

Wilder's deputy chief of staff, Robert P. Schultze, who was in charge of devising the guidelines, said the administration hopes divestment will be mostly finished by the time Wilder leaves office in January 1994. But this target, he said, is a goal and is not intended to be binding.

"There's a difference," said Wilder press secretary Laura Dillard, between a goal and a deadline.

"We don't want the commonwealth to take a bath in the last months" of Wilder's administration by selling investments at a loss, Dillard said.

Because the governor does not control many of the agencies, their compliance with the policy is voluntary. But most are expected to go along.

Administration officials said that while nothing in the policy says those agencies cannot purchase additional investments in South Africa, the goal of the guidelines is to reduce state investment there. New purchases would work against reaching that goal, they said.

The retirement system has by far the largest amount of money affected by Wilder's order. Finn today applauded Wilder's attempt to "pay respect" to both the burden of protecting the pension fund's assets and the "moral burden" of not giving financial support to apartheid.

Schultze said the governor doesn't want state agencies to unload South Africa-linked stocks that are proving more profitable than other investments would be.

But he said Wilder does expect the agencies to be aggressive in looking for other investments that are just as profitable or earn more than the South Africa-linked stocks -- gradually increasing the state's position in investments with no ties to apartheid.

Republicans in the General Assembly were critical of Wilder's new guidelines, just as they had been of the original divestment order in May.

"It's all a publicity gimmick," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-McLean), who scoffed at the notion that a divestment policy could be implemented without high costs.

"You're not going to accomplish it without losing money," he said.

Callahan said if divestment is "such a pressing issue, they would go hell-bent for leather" to sell the investments quickly. In fact, he said, the time for implementing divestment policies has come and gone, and the latest signs from South Africa are that the nation is liberalizing and may soon deserve new investment.

"The point of the whole thing," Callahan said, "is ridiculous."