Labour unions who received large stakes in Iqbal Survé-linked Ayo Technology Solutions, through a discounted B-BBEE consortium deal, tried to influence the Public Investment Corporation’s (PIC) decision to invest in another company connected to the Cape Town businessman.
This came to light at the judicial inquiry looking into issues of impropriety at the state asset manager on Wednesday, where recently reinstated company secretary Bongani Mathebula testified that various political formations and unions had sent emails to the PIC in which they tried to lobby it to invest in Survé’s Sagarmatha Technologies.
Mathebula said they had received letters from the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union’s (Popcru) investment arm PGC, the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) and Cosatu’s Kopano ke Matla.
When asked who these parties were Mathebula disclosed that Fedusa’s letter was signed by suspended secretary-general Dennis George, Cosatu’s letter was signed by the CE of Kopano, Steven Thebedi and PGC head Zwilenkosi Mdletshe had signed Popcru’s letter.
In addition, Survé had also sent an email to former PIC CEO Dan Matjila with an attachment of the Cosatu letter said Mathebula. A statement was also received from the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Matjila facilitates union interference
She said that on the eve of the investment committee meeting, which was considering the transaction, Matjila had requested that she forward these e-mails to the committee to try and show support for the investment in Sagarmatha.
“Was there ever any occasion before this one when you were asked by the [chief executive] to forward e-mails from outsiders to members of committees of the PIC,” asked the evidence leader.
“No, there was never such,” replied Mathebula. “The interference by the unions and political formations in board and investment processes facilitated by the chief executive is not in line with the investment and governance processes of the PIC.”
Moneyweb previously reported that an Ayo circular to shareholders dated December 1, 2017, indicated that over 30 million shares were issued to a B-BBEE consortium at R1.50 per share.
The PIC controversially invested R4.3 billion into Ayo when it listed on the JSE in December 2017 at a price tag of R43 per share. This bought it a 29% stake in the company despite red flags raised by the investment team about the business merit of the company and its high valuation.
Popcru and Fedusa were named as some of the members of the consortium. According to Ayo’s share register, the unions are among the top shareholders in the ICT company with Difeme Holdings Group, in which George is the sole director, listed twice, owning eight million and three million shares.
Popcru Group holds 1.8 million shares in Ayo while Cosatu’s Kopano has two million shares.
Similar to the Ayo transaction, the PIC’s investment team had raised reservations about investing in Sagarmatha, which was asking for a R3 billion cash injection from the state asset manager at R39.62 per share.
PIC general manager for listed equities Lebogang Molebatsi and portfolio manager Sunil Verghase previously testified that Sagarmatha’s listing price was too high and recommended that the PIC should subscribe at a price of R7.06.
Both Ayo and Sagarmatha are associates of the Sekunjalo group, which is ultimately controlled by Survé through a family trust. While the PIC was still considering the Sagarmatha investment the company’s listing was suspended by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) because it had failed to comply with certain listing requirements.
Mathebula told the commission that she believed that outside interference of this nature would not only shock the people whose money is supposed to be invested responsibly by the PIC but would also be disheartening to individuals and businesses whose applications for funding were rejected “for lack of political lobbying enabled by the [chief executive]”.
The PIC manages over R2 trillion in assets, the majority of which is from government pensions.
Gigaba asked to prevent Matjila suspension
Mathebula also testified about a board meeting in September 2017 with then finance minister Malusi Gigaba. In the meeting, which was recorded at Gigaba’s request, Mathebula said the minister had told the board about a WhatsApp text that he had received from a “Cape Town businessman” who was worried about media reports that Matjila was removed as chief executive in a special board meeting.
At the time, Matjila was at the centre of controversy after e-mails from whistleblower James Nogu claimed that Matjila had corruptly channelled PIC funding to an alleged girlfriend, and asked an investment company that previously received funding from the PIC to settle her debts.
Mathebula recalled that Gigaba was angry about being dragged into PIC issues that he had no knowledge of, and which would make him look like he was interfering with the business of the state asset manager.
In the texts, the businessman had asked Gigaba to “intervene” and stop Matjila’s suspension “since it’s not good for you and the project”. The man said he had also sent a text to Sfiso Buthelezi who was the deputy finance minister as well as the chairperson of the PIC board.
Gigaba told the board that he responded to the text by stating that he was not on the board and could not intervene because he had not been formally informed about it and Buthelezi had not told him about Matjila being suspended. “I am sure you understand. I have to respect governance,” Gigaba ended.
To which the businessman said he was just “trying to help so that it does not embarrass you, the [deputy minister], and the government”.
Mathebula said while she did not know who the businessman was she said Survé ’s name was mentioned.
Commission assistant Gill Marcus asked the commission to establish authenticity of the message and determine why the businessman was so familiar with Gigaba and Buthelezi to the extent that they would ask them to intervene in the business of the PIC.
Marcus also wanted to know about the details of the “project” that was referred to in the text’s which Mathebula said the board did not probe when it was mentioned by Gigaba.
Mathebula was suspended in April 2018 following the emergence of the James Nogu e-mails and leaks of draft meeting minutes from the PIC. She was accused of distributing confidential information to unauthorised persons.
She was one of the various executives which Matjila spied on in an attempt to unearth Nogu’s identity.
Mathebula was reinstated in March and given a final written warning for acts of misconduct. Mathebula said she regarded the imposition of the final written warning as “unwarranted in law and facts” and is considering legal options to review it and the outcome of her disciplinary.