The possibility that looters are out to steal the keys to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) has triggered panic among pensioners and in the country as a whole.
The PIC, with R1.9-trillion under management, is the biggest pot of money in the economy. Because of its size, it is already invested in most of the top JSE companies and is also the biggest holder of bonds issued by state-owned enterprises.
There is certainly evidence that such a plan is under way. The story of the emergence of dubious allegations about CE Dan Matjila that were presented to the board two weeks ago, has been well told. So too has the story of the role of the new chairman, Sfiso Buthelezi, and his deputy, Xolani Mkhwanazi, who — against the majority in the board — insisted that Matjila be investigated further.
While their plan had been to secure a full-scale fishing expedition, opposition from the board forced them to settle for a lesser process: an inquiry by internal auditors.
What the events of the past two weeks show is that there is a stalemate in the PIC
On Sunday, Matjila decided to take his fight to the public. In an interview with the Sunday Times, repeated on radio and television, Matjila boldly asserted there were people who were out to get him. "I’ve got the keys. They’re looking for the keys to the big safe," he told the Sunday Times.
This, together with a couple of other rumours — that the Treasury intended to raid the PIC for R100bn to support state-owned enterprises — enraged Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, who called a board meeting on Tuesday and told Matjila to explain. Confronted by Gigaba, Matjila backed down. In public, he later said he knew of no plot to remove him.
What the events of the past two weeks show is that there is a stalemate in the PIC. Matjila’s detractors are not strong enough to remove him; he is not strong enough to see them off. It is a struggle that will continue until Matjila’s contract ends in two-and-a-half years from now, should he last that long.
But the fight should not be about Matjila, whether he is good or bad and whose side he is on in ANC internal battles. The fights that members and pensioners of the Government Employees Pension Fund (the PIC’s biggest client) and society at large should take on are ones that put in place the right checks and balances to prevent a raid on the government pension money.
The first and most important one is already set up. The fund, with a board made up of employer and employee representatives, is responsible for providing the PIC with a mandate for its investments. The PIC cannot, whimsically or out of political expedience, make decisions to invest, for instance, in an unprofitable enterprise such as South African Airways (SAA).
These mandates need to be closely monitored and the representatives who sit on the board must be well chosen for their integrity and financial acumen.
The second is a suggestion by Cosatu that the responsibility to appoint the members of the PIC board should not be that of the minister of finance alone.
A third is a measure that is halfway done already. Under its previous chairman, Mcebisi Jonas, the PIC agreed it would disclose its unlisted portfolio. Until now, this has been a black box of billions of rand invested at the PIC’s discretion.
It is here, not in the scare stories about pensioners’ money going into a bottomless pit at SAA, that the potential for the real rot lies. These are deals over which the PIC is relentlessly lobbied and that all manner of politically connected transactions find their way.
The pressure for the PIC to fully disclose its private transactions must be stepped up and institutionalised for the good of pensioner holders and to benefit the overall fight against corruption.