Lost Opportunity: A different perspective on the PIC Commission Report
CAPE TOWN – It has been a little more than a week since the report into impropriety at the Pubic Investment Corporation (PIC) was released.
In that time, the 995-page PIC Commission of Inquiry report has been poured over by analysts, reporters, regulators, and the public – for a number and variety of reasons. For some, the report is a vindication of their position and for others, it spells a period to come that will include further investigation with potential criminal proceedings.
For others, the report has been disappointing – in as much as it did not deliver on what was planned.
The most important outcome though, is that commissions of inquiry – of which there are several in South Africa – are mostly thorough and detailed and led by an independent judiciary who, when allowed to apply their minds, protect our fragile democracy.
To understand why a small selection of personages in South Africa may well find the outcome of the report hard to swallow, when it comes to Sekunjalo and the companies in which Sekunjalo and its chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé, have invested in, it is important to grasp the background that set the scene for this commission of inquiry.
Back in 2017, a concerted campaign by Gupta aligned individuals was launched with the aim of removing Dr Dan Matjila as CEO of the PIC. The desired outcome would have been to replace Matjila with a CEO who would be more in line, and favourable to supporting transactions that would benefit the Gupta family.
This was extensively covered in the media during 2017. Part of this campaign was the allegation that Matjila had funded an alleged girlfriend – Pretty Louw. Blatant lies, as proven by the independent forensic investigation led by Advocate Geoff Budlender, who conclusively established that there were no romantic links between Matjila and Louw and that Louw also could not have influenced Matjila’s decision to invest PIC money.
Strangely this report was only made public in March 2019 during the PIC Commission of Inquiry – the investigation took place in October 2018.
Nonetheless, Matjila’s critics continued to insinuate and use the allegations to try and remove him.
As a reminder, it was Matjila who stood firm against a takeover of the PIC by the Guptas and their allies, when the PIC board was changed. This change brought about an ironic confluence of interest between the Gupta aligned faction and the new dawn faction, headed by Deputy Minister of Finance (at the time), Mondli Gungubele, who was the Chairman of the board of the PIC.
Gungubele tried to directly involve himself in PIC transactions, which resulted in his subsequent removal by the now Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni.
During this time, Matjila, who was justifiably angered by the PIC officials who had conspired with Gupta aligned people to remove him, then proceeded to take action against those employees. Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement, was alerted and he then wrote a letter to the President calling for a commission of inquiry.
While all of this was taking place, another battle was raging – the battle for media freedom and diversity of opinion, and the desire for ownership of the country’s broadest and most influential titles that are controlled by Independent Media, under the chairmanship of businessman, Dr Iqbal Survé.
Independent Media is a critical tool in the safeguarding of South Africa’s democracy and inclusion of all its peoples. It is a coveted asset, especially for those looking to control communications.
Independent Media remains nonaligned and objective in its reporting of all matters, especially those concerning South Africa, who need a non-partisan voice. For example, despite claims to the contrary, it was Independent Media who first took a principled stance in reporting on the Guptas, but it also did not hesitate to report on the new dawn political leadership. This approach does not toe the party line and can be a thorn in the side of those who have intentions that are not aligned with the country’s best interests.
We, at Independent Media, have written before of the media’s role, which is to report on the facts with as little personal opinion as possible. The media should serve as a trusted and credible source of information to our publics – all of them. However, since time immemorial, media – with its vast reach – has also been used for propaganda and personal gain.
If you tell enough people, enough times, even something untrue, will eventually come to be factual, at least until it is proven not and then only, when that is repeated enough times. As we live in a world of quick and easy content syndication, and where we (all of us) are judged guilty until proven innocent, propaganda campaigns are increasing in number. They are also the weapon of war de jour.
So it was, with the storylines that began to infiltrate the pages, airwaves and online sites of many publishers in South Africa, insinuating improper business conduct and relationships between Independent Media, AYO Technology Solutions (AYO), Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and Dr Iqbal Survé, and the PIC, as an example.
Next, the establishment of the PIC Commission of Inquiry with highly unusual terms of reference – only companies that had appeared in the media over the last two years were the subject of the investigation by the commission.
Although less than 3 percent of the PIC funds were invested in black companies and 97 percent in white companies, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the commission focused on investigating black investors and entrepreneurs that the PIC had supported during this period.
This narrow focus detracted from the fact that during the commission, several well established listed companies tanked and lost billions and billions of rand for the PIC and other investors.
Widescale reporting of the abject losses in Steinhoff, accounting irregularities admitted by the Board at Tongaat Hulett, and the cries of corruption at EOH that cost them the Microsoft contract, and countless others were not enough for the commission’s terms of reference to be broadened. This was a lost opportunity, because perhaps had they been, the PIC may not be sitting in the doldrums with the Sasol investment that has practically imploded and wiped out significant returns for thousands of public servants whose pensions the PIC invests.
Yet, the commission continued to scrutinise the loss of value and monies in 10 black-owned companies whose combined revenue is a fraction of the more than R200 billion wiped out of the PIC’s balance sheet by these conglomerates.
Much of the unwarranted, and as it turns out, unnecessary, focus was on Sekunjalo Investment Holdings and the various companies the group has invested in.
The PIC commission report has made it very clear that there were no adverse findings against Sekunjalo, its companies, or Sekunjalo’s chairman, Dr Survé. In fact, the report has emphasised that no PIC official employee has benefitted from any Sekunjalo transaction. (Read pages 33 and 34 points 60-64).
While the report makes certain recommendations, it does not have any specific findings noted, whatsoever, on these entities. This has not, however, stopped the same media critics from continuing their story spinning though.
In a statement released last week, Sekunjalo said it had now had an opportunity to extensively study and review the 995-page, Judge Lex Mpathi-led, Public Investment Corporation (PIC) Commission of Inquiry report.
Sekunjalo Spokesperson, Mandla Mbusi said: “The PIC Commission of Inquiry report vindicates the transparency and honest principles with which Sekunjalo conducts its business, which is underscored by the conclusion that no PIC official or employee has benefitted in any way from the Sekunjalo transactions.”
Mbusi also noted that the group is aware of the repeated misrepresentation and distortion of the report by certain elements of the media, as they pertain to the Sekunjalo Group and its investee companies, including Independent Media, AYO Technology Solutions, Premier Fishing & Brands and Sagarmatha.
“Sekunjalo has once again noted the makings of a deliberate campaign to undermine the group’s economic sustainability with the potential objective to destroying its businesses, along with the apparent desire to shut down Independent Media. The company believes this campaign is being wrought for crude political objectives and commercial competitive greed.
“As such, the company cautions those who conspire to purposefully destabilise one of South Africa’s most successfully transformed and profitable businesses entities. Undermining successful black businesses is counter to our Constitution and potentially a threat to our fragile democracy and at a time when our economic climate is under pressure, it is also highly irresponsible” said Mbusi.
Mbusi also noted Sekunjalo’s concern, that specific points in the report were factually incorrect, in so far as details of some of the transactions concerned. In this regard, Sekunjalo would write to the commission, and to the relevant authorities and parties, to affect a correction of these matters, he said.
The full report can be found http://www.thepresidency.gov.za under Documents.
These are the facts:
- There are no adverse findings against Sekunjalo, Dr Iqbal Survé or any of the companies in which Sekunjalo and the PIC have invested contained in the report (in fact no findings at all against Sekunjalo are reported on) – ⦁ read pages 33 and 34 points 60-64
- Of the 995 pages, less than 50 pages relate to Sekunjalo – Sekunjalo is therefore not the focus of the report as seems to be inferred by certain journalists
- The Sekunjalo Group Chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, as well as senior executives of the Group, voluntarily presented themselves to the commission and made full disclosure of the transactions, which were highlighted by the commission, and presented the information as comprehensively as possible
- It was Sekunjalo that challenged why the commission was focused on black companies
- It was Sekunjalo that insisted that any commission of inquiry’s terms of refence should be extended to what role the PIC should play in transformation in the country. This resulted in a heated exchange between commissioner Gil Marcus and Dr Survé remained firm on the need for transformation
- It was Independent Media whose editors called for the release of the PIC report. (The report was delivered to the President on the 15th of December 2019 and only released three months later.
- The report very clearly states that no PIC official or employee has benefitted, in any way, from the Sekunjalo transactions.
- The report is very clear that the issues at the PIC and that were covered during the Inquiry, relate to the ineffective governance at the PIC itself, which includes its officials and board members - as opposed to any wrongdoing on the part of Sekunjalo in relation to the PIC.
- Sekunjalo has, from the launch of the commission, fully co-operated with all requests of it by the Commission and regulators and provided all information. Sekunjalo maintains its position as operating with integrity in all of its business dealings.
- The report acknowledges there was no bribery, no corruption, no under handed dealings on the part of any Sekunjalo company.
Adri Senekal de Wet is the executive editor of Business Report.