Gigaba wants forensic probe into allegations into 'governance concerns' at PIC

Gigaba said that his request was aimed at reassuring pensioners their money was safe. (David Harrison/M&G)

Gigaba said that his request was aimed at reassuring pensioners their money was safe. (David Harrison/M&G)

Finance minister Malusi Gigaba has asked the board of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and its chief executive Dan Matjila to conduct a forensic investigation into concerns of irregularities at the state-owned asset manager.

Gigaba has also asked the PIC to provide a list of all the investments it has made, and their beneficiaries, to the national treasury, which he intends to make public, he said in a statement on Friday.

The move was an attempt to address the “politicising of the Public Investment Corporation”, the statement read.

It comes a week after the board concluded an internal investigation into allegations against Matjila, which cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The probe was led by the PIC’s audit unit.

The claims — which the PIC deemed to be baseless — intimated that Matjila had used PIC funds to support the business of an alleged girlfriend.

They have been viewed as an attempt to smear Matjila — something he appeared to affirm in an interview given to the Sunday Times newspaper. Although he would later call the article “distasteful” and “inaccurate”, transcripts published by the newspaper indicate that this was not the case.

The PIC manages about R1.9-trillion on behalf of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) and other social welfare funds such as the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

There has been growing worry that the PIC is being leaned on to rescue ailing state owned entities, and that its refusal to do so has led to campaigns to discredit the organisation.

In a press briefing responding to the allegations of a smear campaign, Matjila confirmed that the PIC was approached by SAA for a loan to keep it afloat. He said however it refused the request as the company did not meet the PIC investment mandates given to it by its clients.

Days later, SAA was issued with a R3-billion bailout from the Treasury to cover a loan it could not repay to Citibank as well as working capital requirements.

Gigaba said that his request was aimed at reassuring pensioners their money was safe.

“We need to assure pension holders that those with political or economic power will not be allowed to unduly influence the PIC,” he said in the statement.

“It is in the best interest of pension holders and investors in the PIC, for us to ensure that the asset manager does not function in an opaque manner.”

Trade unions have been vocal critics of the machinations playing out at the PIC and warned that they would act to protect workers money.
The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) – whose affiliates include the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (HOSPERSA), the Public Servants Association (PSA), and the South African Parastatals and Tertiary Institutions (Saptu) – has threatened to get the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) to pull funds from the PIC if it suspects they will be misused.

Fedusa General Secretary Dennis George was cautiously optimistic about the proposed probe.

“It might be something good,” he said, because it would reveal which companies had been granted funding.

The federation was concerned about the PIC’s active take up of bonds issued by paratstatals such as Eskom and Transnet. These large state owned companies have found it difficulat to raise money from capital markets since private investors became increasingly reluctant to buy their debt.

This has coincided with allegations of corruption and poor governance at these state owned companies revealed through the #GuptaLeaks dossier.

According to George the PIC held about half, or over half, of all the bonds issued by Transnet, Eskom and the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

“For us it is over exposed to those state owned enterprises,” he said.

But he stressed that any investigations report must be made public.

The federation has also asked Gigaba that worker representatives be appointed ot the board of the PIC.

In his statement Gigaba said he is considering this request and will arrange a meeting with labour representatives to discuss the matter further.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) was sceptical of Gigaba’s motives however, calling the move a desperate game of catch up.

“The truth is the minister’s “spin machine” is playing catch up desperately trying to claim ownership of processes that are already underway at the PIC,” said David Maynier, the DA spokesperson on finance.

The PIC had already begun disclosing its investments last year he said. This included disclosing details of directors and shareholders.

The PIC has already begun work preparing the second disclosure, said Maynier.

THe PIC’s board chairperson, and deputy finance minister Sfiso Buthelezi, had already agreed to “consider an investigation into irregularities, including the recent smear campaign, which did so much damage to the PIC” he added.

Gigaba had merely packaged processes “already underway … in an effort to frame the minister as a crusader against “state capture” and a protector of the integrity of the PIC,” Maynier said.

The PIC did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

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