Chairperson of the PIC Commission of Inquiry, Justice Lex Mpati. FILE PHOTO: Oupa Mokoena / African News Agency (ANA)

PRETORIA – A former board member of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), Dr Claudia Manning, on Tuesday told the commission of inquiry probing allegations of impropriety that deep divisions and polarisation crippled the board in 2017, diverting its attention from the organisation’s core business.

"The period between September and December 2017 can best be described as a tumultuous one, characterised by fierce divisions in the board, creating a tense and polarised environment at the board," Manning told the inquiry led by former Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Lex Mpati in Pretoria.

"Both the board and the management were devoting considerable attention to managing the crisis, rather than on the core business of the PIC. The public attention on the PIC eventually waned towards the end of 2017."

Manning said, however, that the PIC became the subject of renewed public and media attention in March and April 2018 when a series of media articles were written about transactions the PIC had entered, as well as allegations of victimisation of certain staff.

"What was striking about the March/April media attention was the new narrative that the board had acted improperly in not suspending the chief executive in 2017, that the board had been intent on protecting a corrupt chief executive in 2017, and that the chief executive's attempts to identify leaks and enhance the IT security of the organisation amounted to the chief executive conducting a witch-hunt against honest whistle-blowers," said Manning.

"The role that the board and the minister had played in urging the chief executive to ensure that the PIC's IT security be enhanced did not feature in this narrative. Furthermore, any suggestion that the PIC had been the subject of an attempt at state capture had completely disappeared from this new narrative."

Manning said she believes this negative narrative, which culminated in United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa last year launching an urgent high court application for the suspension of PIC chief executive Dan Matjila ahead of a disciplinary process was being driven by staff who had an axe to grid with the chief executive.

"It is unclear to me who or what was behind this renewed attention on the PIC, but it seemed to me to be driven by disaffected staff who had an axe to grind against the chief executive, and who were leaking information and misinformation to politicians," said Manning.

"This culminated in the UDM launching an urgent application in June 2018 directing the minister to suspend the chief executive, conduct an independent inquiry into the MST transaction, prohibit the board from taking any decisions concerning the suspension of the chief executive, as it had a conflict of interest concerning the chief executive after failing to suspend him."

Last week, the PIC's executive head of internal audit, Lufuno Nemagovhani, told the commission of inquiry that no evidence of wrongdoing was found when former PIC boss Matjila was last year probed for widely reported alleged impropriety.

The alleged impropriety centred on a loan to Maison Holdings (MST) owned by Pretty Louw. 

In November, Matjila resigned from the PIC.

African News Agency (ANA)