PIC inquiry commissioners (from left) Gill Marcus, Lex Mpati and Emmanuel Lediga. Picture: WARREN THOMPSON
PIC inquiry commissioners (from left) Gill Marcus, Lex Mpati and Emmanuel Lediga. Picture: WARREN THOMPSON

A senior human resources executive at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the single largest investor in SA, has painted a picture of distrust, frustration and fear of reprisals if employees completed an internal survey explaining their concerns. 

“I have never experienced this level of distrust before,” Ramabu Motimele told the commission of inquiry into the PIC on Tuesday. The situation has been prevalent at the PIC for “some while”, he said.

The commission, headed by justice Lex Mpati, was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 to investigate allegations of governance failures at the PIC, which manages more than R2-trillion in government employees’ pension money and other government funds.

Motimele was describing his experience of designing and conducting an employee survey after he joined the company in May 2016 as senior human resources business partner.

The survey was aimed at canvassing the opinions and perspectives of employees regarding their professional satisfaction, and measuring their level of engagement regarding achieving the organisation’s objectives.

As part of his preparations, Motimele says he canvassed other executives at the PIC to informally gauge their opinion of the status of the working environment and culture at the organisation.

The chair of the employment equity committee, Deon Botha, “strongly cautioned” him that employees may not participate in the survey due to prevailing levels of fear within the PIC.

‘Environment worsened’

“This response was common across the people I had engaged with, including my fellow HR colleagues who have been in the employ of PIC longer than myself,” Motimele said.

The initial survey, “which did not yield any meaningful value to employees” did not lead to any improvements, and “the working environment worsened”.

Employees did not trust each other, Motimele said. 

The second iteration of the survey was done in January 2017 and garnered enough responses, with 51% of employees participating, to render valid results. 

Almost two-thirds of employees would negatively describe the culture prevalent at the organisation and used words such as “frustrating”, “unfair”, “discriminating” and “distrust[ful]” to describe the working environment.

The findings also revealed dissatisfaction with the PIC leadership who, in the opinion of employees, were advised to undertake trust-building exercises with employees.

“The mistrust and fear is high and requires that the leadership take visible actions,” Motimele said, quoting the findings of the survey.

This distrust extended to rewards and recognition, in which it was evident that promotions were based on favouritism.

Motimele’s line manager, human resource director Chris Pholwane, expected a different outcome and wanted to deal directly with the survey service provider to have the scores revised upwards.

Motimele interpreted this as his manager questioning his professional opinion.

The relationship deteriorated until “all my work efforts were frustrated”.