CAPE TOWN – Public Investment Corporation (PIC) Commission of Inquiry assistant commissioner Gill Marcus is the executive director of the Knysna Initiative for Learning and Teaching (Kilt), a non-profit organisation (NGO) that has received donations from the Steinhoff Group.
The collapse of the Steinhoff Group has featured prominently in the commission’s hearings, as the PIC lost billions of rands of state pension fund investments through its shareholding in South Africa’s biggest corporate disaster.
The inquiry heard evidence from 77 witnesses over the past eight months, and is working to finalise its report for submission to President Cyril Ramaphosa by October 31.
On Tuesday, a businessperson who preferred to remain anonymous but who has been close to the inquiry, questioned why the commission never requested Steinhoff management to testify, while other companies were vigorously questioned for lengthy periods about much smaller investments made by the PIC.
The businessperson suggested that perhaps it was due to Steinhoff’s support of the NGO, because he alleged Marcus had become a “major beneficiary” of the Steinhoff Group.
The commission responded yesterday to say Marcus had made “full disclosure” of her interest in the NGO to the commission.
“The work she performs there is pro-bono; she does not receive any remuneration from it. Furthermore, the commitment made by Steinhoff is also detailed in the Kilt’s annual reports, which is publicly available,” the commission said.
Responding to a question why Steinhoff had not been asked to testify, the commission said that it was required to look into the question of impropriety on the part of the PIC.
“The PIC’s decisions to make further investment in Steinhoff was extensively covered in the testimony and cross-examination of Dr (Dan) Matjila and other PIC officials, as well as testimony and evidence related to the Lancaster Group,” the commission said.
Kilt was established in 2017 with Marcus’s assistance, with the aim of supporting 17 government schools in the Knysna area, by providing funding for additional teachers, assisting in projects to repair schools and to assist in funding education infrastructure.
Its annual report shows that between January 2019 and December 2019, it had a budget of R24.7 million. Steinhoff donated R10.9m to the NGO during the 12 months ended February 28, 2018.
The report noted that the NGO had become dependent on Steinhoff, and there was uncertainty whether the group would continue donating to the NGO given its financial difficulties, even though Steinhoff had committed to continue its funding.
Matjila, the former chief executive of the PIC, testified before the commission that the asset manager had in 2016 leapt at an opportunity to raise its stake in Steinhoff when businessperson Jayendra Naidoo approached them with an opportunity to buy up to 3.5 percent of the shares in Steinhoff that carried special voting rights and a seat on the board. The PIC ended up acquiring a 3 percent stake in Steinhoff for R9.4 billion.
Matjila told the commission that they had wanted to get closer to the Steinhoff management structures, because the PIC had problems with the governance of the group, and had, for instance, voted against its primary listing in Frankfurt.
In addition, Steinhoff was the fifth biggest share on the stock exchange at the time, and the PIC was underweight in Steinhoff shares, Matjila said.
The special-purpose black economic empowerment vehicle set up for the share transaction, Lancaster 102, headed by Naidoo, has since started legal proceedings in a R12bn claim against Steinhoff.
Matjila said the PIC’s exposure to Steinhoff had represented less than 1 percent of the PIC’s assets, one of 300 securities in the PIC portfolio and the loss was “thoroughly cushioned”.