Some economic, academic and political commentators raised the question after former board chairperson Gungubele resigned alongside the rest of the board.
A number of its members had been implicated in corruption allegations contained in an email penned by whistle-blower “James Noko” to Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni.
On Friday evening, Gungubele, Xolani Mkhwanazi, Pitsi Moloto, Sibusisiwe Zulu, Mathukana Mokoka, Sandra Beswick, Lindiwe Toyi and Dudu Hlatshwayo offered their resignations after allegations were levelled against some of the board members by the whistle-blower, who is understood to be an insider at the PIC.
In a letter, they said:
“There have also been various allegations against at least four directors, for now. Our assessment is that this may not be the end. There is clearly a concerted effort to discredit the board of directors to an extent that there cannot be any credibility to the work that is executed in fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities. We therefore cannot help but view this as an attempt to bring the institution into a state of paralysis. These events have been unbearable to us as individuals and have undoubtedly had a negative impact on our professional integrity. It is for this reason that we now write to humbly request the honourable minister to release us as directors of the PIC.”
Chris Harmse, the chief economist at Rebalance Fund Managers, said under normal circumstances, Gungubele should have been placed on suspension or dismissed as the deputy minister due to the break in trust and confidence in his portfolio as chairperson of the PIC board.
“If it’s true that the deputy minister and the president were aware of the allegations of corruption against Gungubele, then they should be held responsible and he should be dismissed for breach of confidence. It is also important to ascertain if the Financial Services Board was aware or informed of investment decisions that were irregular and if they queried those investment decisions,” he said.
He was of the view that in light of the widespread resignations, the public protector may have to institute an investigation, or the president would have to re-examine the terms of reference of the PIC Commission of Inquiry, or perhaps establish another commission that aims to deal with corrupt activities that took place when the Government Employees Pension Fund was consolidated in 1996.
Shingai Mutizwa-Mangiza, an academic and political commentator from the University of the Western Cape, was also of the view that Gungubele needed to step aside until his name had been cleared and an investigation had been concluded.
He argued that the current government was running on a banner of anti-corruption, which meant that any officer serving in the government and implicated in corruption should resign and be dismissed if found guilty.
He further explained that there was a drive to try to restore confidence in the Treasury and if the board was stepping down, there needed to be a proper vetting process for new members.
“The Presidency may be waiting for an opportune time as they need to ensure that there is a smooth handing-over process and transition. The series of events that have transpired are very unfortunate and the issue of corruption needs to be dealt with accordingly by fixing the systems that are in place instead of just replacing individuals.
“The resignation of a deputy minister from an institution like the PIC is a major issue and once the president has accepted the resignation, there will be a serious probe into the allegations of corruption along with the establishment of another inquiry, which is open to the public,” explained Mutizwa-Mangiza.
Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and managing director of Clear Content Research and Consulting, said the Treasury needed to reaffirm its integrity and if someone found it untenable to remain as chairperson of the board of the PIC then it made no sense as to why they would remain in the employ of the National Treasury as a deputy finance minister.
“For the mere fact that he recognises that he needs to resign pending an investigation means that he needs to step aside This should not be about waiting for people to be found guilty. Already, the deputy minister has a cloud hanging above his head. It’s unacceptable because these people control pension funds and the PIC is not a bottomless pit of money.
“There should be no room for them to benefit themselves. The PIC Commission of Inquiry, like most inquiries, has backfired with these revelations of rampant corruption, just like with the State Capture Commission of Inquiry,” said Mathekga.
Professor Sipho Seepe, a political commentator, said on analysing the letter of resignation by the members of the PIC board, he had reached a conclusion that it was nothing but grandstanding as no one accepted full responsibility for the rot plaguing the institution.
Seepe’s argument is that when they were appointed, the members were appointed as individuals, yet when they resigned they did it as a collective which ostensibly means that they are protecting one another.
“Usually when people do this sort of thing in the corporate space, it means that there is something seriously wrong and it is irresponsible of them to engage in such grandstanding.
“At the end of letter they are saying they will remain as members of the board until such a time as a new board is appointed and don’t see the letter as a genuine attempt to resign. It is an intention to protect.”
Seepe further explained that the collective resignation could also be an attempt to hide each individual’s transgressions.
“I don’t see intention for them to resign. They are asking to be protected against the allegations that have been made and Gungubele needs to answer as to what has he done to join the bandwagon of resignations. Was he not the initiator of collective resignation?”
In an interview with Radio 702 on Friday evening, Gungubele responded: “These allegations against me are a figment of a whistle-blower I dare say, my conscience is clear.”
Mdluli is a Special Investigations Reporter for Voices360