Former Public Investment Corporation (PIC) CEO Dan Matjila’s strong opposition to the capture and destabilisation of the multi-trillion rand asset manager by politicians and the business elite resulted in him being hounded out of the institution, the Mpati commission heard on Tuesday.
Matjila was appointed CEO in 2014 and stepped down in November 2018 under a cloud of corruption allegations regarding certain investments related to politically exposed individuals and prominent business people.
The PIC manages R2.083 trillion in state assets, with the vast majority of the funds belonging to the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF).
In the close to six months of public hearings, where over 70 witnesses have come forward to give evidence, Matjila’s name and involvement in various questionable investments have come up in several testimonies.
Matjila said the greatest struggle the PIC had was managing investments in the unlisted division as the misconception among the political and business elite was that the PIC was a “bottomless pit” that responds to funding requests.
It is this misconception, and the subsequent disappointment of many of these powerful individuals whose requests for funding were turned down, that Matjila believes was “wholeheartedly … the root cause as to why [he] was removed from [his] position”.
‘Gloves are coming off’
He told the commission on Tuesday that he was, in fact, a victim of vulnerability created within the PIC by frequent changes to the finance ministry and the PIC’s association with the deputy minister, who ordinarily chairs its board.
Under former ministers Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan and deputy Mcebisi Jonas’s watch, Matjila said that the operations of the PIC had been fairly stable and characterised by good governance.
But when these parties were replaced by Malusi Gigaba and his deputy Sfiso Buthelezi in March 2017, this marked the beginning of instability at the institution, said Matjila, adding that the proverbial “gloves were coming off”.
Gigaba and Buthelezi were appointed in a late-night cabinet reshuffle at the end of March 2017 by former president Jacob Zuma. This led to a public outcry and put SA into further risk territory, with Gigaba’s appointment seen as a final measure to capture the state’s purse. And the Gupta family, which has been at the centre of the looting of public institutions, stood to benefit.
Matjila said that to make things more suspicious, he had received a tip-off from what he called a reliable source who informed him of a plan to remove him and that it had been discussed on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Durban in May 2017.
Fearing that the PIC had “lost its innocence”, Matjila said he informed Jonas that he wanted to resign but that the former chairperson begged him to stay.
Matjila remained at the institution from March 2017 – the time of Gigaba’s appointment – until November 2018, a period he described as unstable with divisions within the board and executive committee of the PIC .
He said he was among the investment professionals who were concerned about the changes within the institution.
“I genuinely felt, as I still feel today, that the PIC was being captured.”
Chess moves: Changes to the MOI
One of the critical changes Gordhan cemented prior to his ousting as finance minister in March 2017 came when he signed off on changes to the PIC’s memorandum of incorporation (MOI), which proposed amendments that allowed for greater independence and governance at the institution.
The new MOI would have been effective at the latest by April 19 2017, but one of Gigaba’s first plays when he arrived at Treasury was to issue a directive for the new MOI to be withdrawn.
Under the new MOI, Gigaba wouldn’t have been able to appoint his own deputy chair to the board who then served as the chair of the investment committee, which is responsible for approving investments of over R10 billion.
Subsequent to the directive to reimplement the old MOI, Matjila said Gigaba then called him to inquire about the process of appointing board members, after which he allegedly instructed Matjila to include the CVs and recommend the appointments of Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi and Mathukana Mokoka in a memo to Treasury.
Asked by the commission if he conceded to this Matjila said he didn’t think he had a choice.
“As they say ‘like turkeys voting for Christmas’, I did – at the instruction of the PIC’s shareholder, being the minister,” he said.
Non-executive directors meddling
Mkhwanazi and Mokoka were successfully appointed to the board as non-executive directors and Mkhwanazi became deputy chair of the PIC and chair of the investment committee.
Matjila said he was aware that Mkhwanazi was coming with a huge pipeline of deals that he could not execute outside of the PIC.
Further, he said he was aware that Mkhwanazi was politically connected, saying that he had seen him a few times before at the PIC, accompanied by one of Zuma’s sons on one occasion when the pair was there to negotiate a deal involving Transnet properties.
Asked by assistant commissioner Gill Marcus if Mkhwanazi ever tabled the “pipeline of deals”, Matjila answered no, adding that they were not directly tabled by him but by “other parties” that were connected to him.
Plot to unseat Matjila
Before getting to his testimony on Mkhwanazi, Matjila spoke about how non-executive directors and politically connected individuals would introduce deals that were not aligned with the PIC’s portfolio investment strategy.
Many of the deals were rejected, which he said caused friction between him and these non-executive directors and ultimately “the political masters they reported to”.
When Matjila stepped down, he had been the subject of two investigations triggered by an e-mail sent to the PIC board and other executives by an anonymous whistleblower named James Nogu. In the communication, Nogu accused Matjila of using his position to ensure that a business linked to his alleged lover received PIC funding.
Matjila said he believed that the Nogu allegations were part of a strategy to remove him because he was a stumbling block for those trying to get their hands on the keys to the PIC’s vault.
Although Matjila was cleared of wrongdoing, he stepped down in November 2018 citing a “fundamental breakdown of trust” between himself and the PIC and said this made it “impossible for the employee/employer relationship to function in the manner required”.
Gigaba denies wrongdoing
Gigaba, through his lawyer Reginald Tshabalala, noted the allegations made against him and “denied them in the strongest possible terms”.
He declined to comment further, saying it would not be appropriate to comment through the media on matters that were pending before the commission.
“Our client has instructed us to approach the PIC inquiry to obtain the statement and transcript of Dr Matjila with a view to respond thereto and also apply for leave to cross examine him,” said Tshabalala.