The role of the deputy finance minister as the chair of the board of the Public Investment Corporation exposes the institution to political meddling, the Mpati commission of inquiry heard on Tuesday.
Former non-executive director Claudia Manning said from her observations of sitting on the board, she believed that the PIC could be held to account by the national treasury through rigorous oversight it already had over its financial performance “without having politicians on the board”.
“I believe that the two-decade tradition of appointing the deputy finance as chairman of the board of the PIC inadvertently exposes the organisation to perceptions of political interference,” she said.
The commission — chaired by the former Supreme Court of Appeal president justice Lex Mpati — is required in its terms of reference to look at whether the operating model of the state asset manager, which includes the composition of the board, is effective and efficient.
At the start of commission’s public hearings, acting secretary Wilna Louw said the tradition of having the deputy finance minister sit as the chair of the board was not legislated but rather a result of the fact that the PIC’s biggest client was the Government Employee Pension Fund.
The PIC manages over R2-trillion in assets, of which 88% consists of the pensions of government workers.
Manning said she saw how this view of undue political influence over the PIC board played out through letters and comments by political parties, trade unions and organisations which had expressed their dissatisfaction over interference which she concluded came from having the deputy minister on the board.
Initially, when reports emerged about former chief executive Dan Matjila using his position to wrongfully channel funds to an alleged girlfriend, it was framed as a political attack on Matjila as part of the state capture project.
On Tuesday, the whistleblower who emailed the allegations against Matjila to PIC board members in September 2017, came “back from the holidays” with fresh claims of corruption, this time against board member Sibusisiwe Zulu, an open opponent of Matjila.
Business Day reported that the unknown whistleblower, who goes by the name of James Nogu, wrote in a new email that Zulu was romantically involved with someone who had benefited from BEE transactions with the PIC. The email accuses Zulu of working with acting chief executive Matshepo More and deputy finance minister Mondli Gungubele to capture the PIC.
In this new email, the pseudonym had changed slightly to “James Noko”.
Business Day reported that Zulu has written to the board saying she would be open to an independent investigation. The PIC board was expected to hold an urgent meeting on Tuesday on the allegations.