We have seen this movie so many times now, it’s like a rerun of an old horror flick. The first step is the "invigoration" of the board through the appointment of a new member.
The second step is a shocking leak of insider gossip, usually pretty trivial but personally embarrassing.
The third is an investigation "to find out the truth". The fourth is that some relatively innocent, totally professional, hugely talented insider is suspended, or ousted, more or less on a pretext. Then much later, we learn the truth: that the intention was not to maintain perfect ethical standards, but to remove obstacles to the looting of state structures.
This movie is just beginning to play out with the greatest prize of them all, the Public Investment Corporation (PIC). It’s well known that the PIC is the country’s biggest money pot. It manages a portion of five pensions funds linked to state organisations, the largest being the Government Employees Pension Fund.
The organisation’s CEO, Daniel Matjila, has been accused of funnelling R21m into an organisation run by, it is dubiously alleged, his "girlfriend". It’s not clear exactly who is making the allegations; they appear to be junior staff members. To say the allegations are spacey would be an understatement. "Enough is enough of this dictatorship and tyranny," one of the two complaints cries out, referring to the CEO. The claims are rash and made without any evidence, documentary or otherwise.
The natural course of action in these circumstances would be for a board committee to discreetly investigate the veracity of these obviously dubious claims, during which Matjila himself would be permitted — required, in fact — to present his side of the story. The organisation would of course not publicise the issue until the hearing was conducted. The board could then either discuss the issue on the basis of a facts rather than allegations.
But, in this case, as is typical with the state-capture horror movie, Matjila was scheduled for suspension without the boring necessity of a hearing and the allegations published while he was conveniently out of SA.
But, at this point, it appears the plot didn’t go according to plan. The problem is that the PIC is not, in fact, a funding organisation, it’s an investment agency. It has a small funding capacity, but its primary job is to invest the R1.8-trillion entrusted to it in the most effective way. Consequently, every funding exercise passes through an exhaustive set of hoops and is accompanied by a detailed paper trail.
At the board meeting last Friday, Matjila was due to be suspended by the newly appointed PIC chairman and Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi. Unfortunately for him however, the majority of the board remains appointees of previous finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his predecessors.
They decided, shockingly, to allow Matjila to put his version, which he did assisted with the extensive paper trail, which presumably demonstrated that the decision to fund the shop in question was made for sound business and empowerment reasons by a committee, not him alone.
Faced with this explanation, the majority of the board, excluding the two recent appointments of Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, decided they had heard enough and expressed full confidence in Matjila. A statement was then issued along these lines, but it included the curious addendum that the allegations would still be investigated. Clearly what happened here is that Buthelezi and deputy chairman Xolani Mkhwanazi found themselves profoundly outvoted and fought a rearguard action to keep the issue alive.
The big difference now is that South Africans have seen this horror movie too many times. Knowledge of the methodology makes it increasingly difficult to apply. But, given the size of the prize, they will obviously keep trying.