SOUTH AFRICA - PRETORIA - 26 February 2019. PIC Board member Gugu Hlatshwayo testifying at the PIC Commission of Enquiry. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

PRETORIA  - A board member of the Public Investment Corporation, Dudu Rosemary Hlatshwayo, on Tuesday told of an environment of fear and suspicion after myriad emails from an anonymous whistleblower "James Noko/Nogu" started flowing, making grave allegations against board members and political parties.

"The PIC environment became very fearful, stressful, suspicious, disgruntled and very unproductive. Fearful and stressful, especially when anonymous emails started floating around, and a myriad of allegations being revealed - not only to the board but also to political parties, parliament and to newspapers. Board meetings were held in evenings until sometimes very late into the night," Hlatshwayo told the Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Lex Mpati in Pretoria.

"The further characteristics of the board was that there was some toxicity and suspicions. The suspicions grew firstly among board members and thereout the environment where all of us began to suspect one another. We began to watch each other's behaviour in and out of meetings."

In the midst of this "toxic environment" Hlatshwayo testified that PIC employees became increasingly disgruntled "whenever the National Treasury arbitrarily slashed employee bonuses and incentives regardless of remuneration policy and the applicable formula for the calculation of bonuses and incentives having been approved by the board ..."

Hlatshwayo also testified that "low staff morale and lower levels of productivity could be felt throughout the organisation when James Nogu arrived. Board meetings' center of focus was on the allegations and how to deal with them. The board had several special board meetings in quick succession just to deal with the James Nogu allegations."

Through the anonymous emails, Nogu has made numerous allegations, including the widely reported claims that the former PIC chief executive Dan Matjilla had facilitated the channeling of funds to a business owner by his alleged lover, businesswomen Pretty Louw - the owner of Maison Holdings. A report by Advocate Geoff Budlender, who was asked by the PIC board to look into allegations around Matjila and Louw, found the former CEO did not have a romantic relationship with Louw.

James Nogu/Noko started streaming in with allegations from August 2017 - after the departure of PIC board chairman Mcebisi Jonas - who was fired from the deputy finance minister by former president Jacob Zuma.

"Before the arrival of James Nogu, the PIC was characterised as stable, peaceful, and productive. Stable, in the sense that the PIC had never experienced resignations of board members before their terms came to an end. Peaceful in the sense that board members could debate, argue and disagree with each other professionally," said Hlatshwayo.

Last year on 17 October, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he had set up a commission of inquiry into allegations of impropriety regarding the PIC and gave it six months to complete the investigation. 

The PIC, the biggest asset manager in Africa and which manages almost R2 trillion in government pension and other funds, has been mired in controversy with allegations of impropriety against its directors regarding some of its investment decisions.

The commission is led by Mpati, assisted by former Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus, and veteran asset manager Emmanuel Lediga. 

Among the 16 Terms of Reference the Commission must probe, is whether any alleged impropriety regarding investment decisions by the PIC in media reports in 2017 and 2018 contravened any legislation.

The Commission is probing whether PIC policy or contractual obligations resulted in any undue benefit for any of its directors, or employees or any associate or family member of any director or employee at the time.

- African News Agency (ANA)