The Public Investment Corporation's chief executive, Dr Daniel Matjila. File picture: Dean Hutton

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s trade unions have unanimously opposed the current favoured government’s position of a deputy minister of finance chairing the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) board, while calls have mounted for the PIC to invest in projects that promote inclusive economic growth and job creation.

This was revealed on Wednesday by Yunus Carrim, the chairperson of parliaments standing committee on finance. Carrim said in terms of the PIC Memorandum of Incorporation, it was not required that the board chairperson be the deputy minister of finance. 

However, he said the unions acknowledged that the minister and deputy minister have to have a relationship with the PIC for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the pension of public sector workers is in the form of “defined benefit pension fund”. 

“The Committee proposes that the Minister and Deputy Minister engage with the trade unions on their proposals in this regard. The Committee will take this issue further at the November briefing,” Carrim said.

His utterances followed Tuesday’s briefing by the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), PIC and the trade unions to the committee on the use of public sector workers’ pension funds for investment purposes.

In that meeting the PIC, as per the directive from the Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba earlier this month the PIC published a full of its unlisted assets, which showed growth of 52 percent to nearly R70 billion in the year to end-March. Gigaba had said that his directive was to ensure transparency and further build confidence in the institution.  In the same communiqué, Gigaba also noted calls by labour unions for a representative of labour on the PIC Board and said he was considering this request and will arrange a meeting with labour stakeholders to discuss this matter further.  

Sizwe Pamla, the spokesperson for Cosatu, on Wednesday said that the federation felt Treasury had too much influence on the PIC and that must change.  “If you want to capture the PIC, you just have to deploy a pliable deputy minister who will then be seconded to chair the PIC board. Parliament as the representative of the people must have a more prominent role in the appointment of the PIC chairperson,” Pamla said.

Pamla’s views were shared by Fedusa. Dennis George, the general secretary of Fedusa, on Wednesday said that it was undesirable for the deputy minister of finance to be the chairperson of PIC as politics grip in the decision making processes at PIC.  “We want the role of the chairperson of the PIC depoliticised and an independent chairperson appointed.”

“The other issue is that the current chairperson was implicated in the State of Capture report for his shenanigans while he chaired the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa),” George said.

In September, The Star reported that plans were afoot to oust PIC chief executive Dr Dan Matjila in a ‘plot’ to hijack the institution.  The plan, according to The Star’s sources was for the incumbent chief executive to leave and for an alleged Gupta appointee to take over.  The National Treasury has previously vehemently denied the allegations and said it supported Matjila. 

However, Treasury’s assurances of full backing for Matjila have persisted unabated with some unions threatening to ditch Africa’s largest fund manager if speculations of the capture of the PIC prove to be true. 

Johan Kruger, the deputy chief executive of Solidarity, on Wednesday said that the organisation was worried about alleged attempts to capture the PIC.

“Our members, who include current public service employees and pensioners, are anxious about rumours of state capture. We need to get answers to try to reassure them and the public at large that their funds are safe and that they are managed in a responsible way. We cannot allow rumours about state capture and dubious investments in failing state-owned enterprises to be left unanswered,” Kruger said.