Former finance minister Trevor Manuel has developed a reputation for being cantankerous since he stepped down from the post almost four years ago.
Yesterday in his role as minister for national planning, he tried to instill confidence in South Africa’s mining industry, but became noticeably irritated when a journalist asked an awkward question at the African Mining Indaba.
He was asked why foreign investors “should come to South Africa” given that the advantage of cheap electricity had “gone out of the window”. Manuel interrupted the journalist and said the media could “doorstop” him after the session as he would “like delegates to dominate the floor”. He said: “We can deal with this separately, we are going to talk past each other… let the delegates talk.”
But he answered the question anyway. He said cheap electricity had been “a kind of cherry on the top” in the past, but it had never been a determining factor in drawing investors to the country.
This harked back to 1867 when the first investment in mining took place. “It was not because energy was cheap but because the resource was there.”
He argued that there had been significant investment in platinum group metals when there had been a good demand for catalytic converters by the automotive sector. Now that there was less demand, that picture had changed.
When he was asked a similar question by one of the business delegates later, he was a little more courteous. “Part of the difficulty of a sector like mining is that people follow the resources.”
He referred to the fact that mining continued to occur in Afghanistan despite the presence of the Taliban. Some of the places “where there has been extraction of oil and stuff are not the places that we would send our children to emigrate”.
Perhaps he meant there wasn’t much point in listening to the background noise of politicians.
Parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests was unaware of the Werksmans investigation into the expenditure of MTN’s sponsorship of the information and communication technology (ICT) indaba last year.
Ben Turok, the committee’s co-chairman, said yesterday that the registrar, who investigates on behalf of the committee, was requesting a copy of the report.
Turok said the document would have a bearing on the committee’s probe, although he declined to mention the people the committee were likely to interview in regard to the investigation. He could not provide a timeline of when the committee’s investigation would wrap up or when the report would be made public.
Meanwhile, the DA said that it would ask the public protector to expedite her enquiry into the possible conflict of interest of Communications Minister Dina Pule’s involvement in the ICT indaba.
The party’s latest remarks follow a story by the Sunday Times over the weekend that revealed MTN had appointed Werksmans to look into how the cellphone network giant’s sponsorship funds were spent by the organisers. Alarmingly, the telecoms firm allegedly instructed Werksmans not to interview its executives and told the firm not to probe too deep.
The Sunday Times also shed light on an affidavit allegedly sent by conference organiser Carol Bouwer to the ethics committee alleging that the minister’s close friend, Phosane Mngqibisa, had received R6 million in management fees for the indaba. All the conference work was allegedly performed by Bouwer and officials within the Department of Communications.
Pule’s career in President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet hangs in the balance, according to speculation, especially since she was dropped from the ruling party’s national executive committee in December.
The publicity, albeit a spot of embarrassment and deja vu for the minister, is confirmation that even if her superiors are unlikely to act swiftly on the matter, the media will not allow it to be swept under the carpet until there is an explanation and, if necessary, repercussions, over the ICT Indaba skeletons that keep on rattling.
In a determination released last week to a complaint by investors in the Zambezi Retail Park scheme promoted and marketed by Sharemax, financial advisory and intermediary services (Fais) ombud Noluntu Bam said this scheme was “nothing more than a Ponzi scheme” with investors paid interest out of their own funds.
Business Report reported in October last year that the Hawks were investigating allegations that Sharemax had committed fraud and probing whether it operated a pyramid or Ponzi scheme.
If Sharemax schemes are proven to be illegal and a pyramid scheme, it will become the largest case of fraud in South Africa’s history.
This determination will provide hope to many of the around 40 000 investors who invested a total of some R4.5 billion in Sharemax’s various schemes, and who have been left destitute by the loss of their investments since Sharemax’s collapse in September 2010.
A long road lies ahead for those who lost their investments in Sharemax schemes before they are likely to get any of their money back
. Bam and the people in her office also deserve credit for standing firm in the face of “bullying” and threats of a high court review – and for highlighting the need for legislative amendments to close the loopholes that have allowed illegal schemes to proliferate.
It is a pity some of the regulators and professional bodies that have an important role to play in protecting the interests of investors by stopping illegal investment schemes and taking action against the masterminds have not been as bold, having decided instead to sit on their hands and do little to bring the perpetrators to book.
Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Donwald Pressly, Asha Speckman and Roy Cokayne.