Lukanyo Mnyanda Editor: Business Day
PIC CEO Dan Matjila is defending himself against 'malicious and spurious' allegations Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
PIC CEO Dan Matjila is defending himself against 'malicious and spurious' allegations Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Embattled Public Investment Corporation (PIC) CEO Dan Matjila has launched a defence of his stewardship of Africa’s biggest asset manager, lashing out at "malicious and spurious" allegations against him.

The PIC, which manages more than R2-trillion of mostly government workers’ retirement funds, has been mired in allegations of questionable dealings in some of its investments in the past two years, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to appoint a commission of inquiry headed by retired judge Lex Mpati. As head of the biggest investor on the JSE, Matjila is one of the most powerful executives in SA.

In a 2,000-word letter issued on Thursday, the PIC boss said he welcomed the inquiry, which has been instructed to look at governance issues broadly and also specific transactions that have attracted controversy, but limited to events that took place in 2017 and 2018.

Matjila said he rejected assertions that he had been reckless in letting the PIC invest about R70bn in unlisted companies, with "the implication being that loans have been granted to companies that were irregular and thus under- or non-performing".

Job creation

Such investments had created more than 150,000 jobs and helped support and finance hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses during his tenure, he said.

The PIC had also allocated more than R100bn to black asset managers to support transformation in that sector, he said.

Being linked to the collapse of the "debacle" at VBS Mutual Bank, in which the PIC held about 27% and had two executives on the board, was "the lowest of the low" and the suggestion that he would accept a bribe in order to help channel funds to the bank, which collapsed this year amid fraud involving about R2bn by executives, was "abhorrent to me", he wrote.

He also rejected allegations that losses resulting from the collapse of Steinhoff, in one of SA’s biggest corporate fraud scandals, was a result of ineptitude, saying the company was at the time "considered a sound investment and a darling of the JSE, as well as various stock exchanges around the world".

The PIC’s exposure to Steinhoff represented less than 1% of its assets.

Controversy

However, Matjila did not mention some of the deals that have recently attracted controversy, including the proposed private placement of R4.3bn in the initial public offering of Iqbal Surve’s Ayo Technologies in December 2017. This was at a price that was widely seen to be too high. The PIC’s investment in the S&S refinery in Mozambique has also garnered attention, due to the involvement of the son of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.

A probe by advocate Geoff Budlender, which was finalised this month, found the PIC boss did not have a romantic relationship with a woman called Pretty Louw, but that he had intervened on her behalf to help obtain funding for her business at the behest of then-intelligence minister David Mahlobo.

Matjila did not directly deny this, stating that as PIC CEO he was often approached by "many people of influence" with requests to invest in various companies, the majority of which had not been considered.

"Managing the expectations of politicians and people of influence is a fine line that I continually have to negotiate — a tightrope, if you will. Therefore, it is inevitable and logical that some individuals who have received a negative response to their suggestion would harbour disgruntlement and even enmity towards me," he said.

Read Matjila's full letter here