UDM leader Bantu Holomisa. Picture: MARK ANDREWS/DAILY DISPATCH
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa. Picture: MARK ANDREWS/DAILY DISPATCH

Last week the leader of the United Democratic Movement, Bantu Holomisa, testified before the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) inquiry and in conclusion called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to give the commission more time and resources to do its work.

Holomisa has a point.

For starters, there were indeed delays by the department of justice relating to the establishment of the inquiry. Despite setting out the terms of reference at the start of October last year, the commission only began hearings in late January.

The first hearings were characterised by retired Supreme Court judge Lex Mpati, who heads the commission, reminding people to come forward and making assurances regarding their safety. He also offered to treat submissions confidentially if so requested.

Victor Seanie greatly emboldened other employees and individuals to come forward, and he should be commended for his courage

Those reminders have ceased as the commission progressed and more people have come forward. We know that some potential witnesses took a wait-and-see attitude to developments, gauging how seriously the commission was undertaking its work and how witnesses were being treated.

Initial witnesses largely comprised executives and directors of the PIC. The testimony of the PIC’s assistant portfolio manager, Victor Seanie, in January, was a significant development. This was because he was the first “insider”  — with first-hand knowledge of events — who had the courage to open the lid on a number of irregularities with respect to deals that had generated negative publicity for the state-owned asset manager.

This was a watershed moment early on at the commission. Seanie greatly emboldened other employees and individuals to come forward, and he should be commended for his courage. As more people have stepped forward, more allegations have been made, requiring more investigation and necessitating those accused to provide their side of the story.

Not everything has been about shady deals. The commission, as its broad terms of reference have demanded, has heard extensive testimony on the structure, governance, strategy and operational capacity of the PIC. This testimony will be vital in constructing recommendations the inquiry must make to the president.

From what has been described, the situation at the PIC is worse than thought. In some aspects of its dealings, the organisation —tasked with looking after more than R2-trillion worth of assets, most on behalf of the Government Employees’ Pension Fund (GEPF) — appears to be delinquent. Taxpayers, who ultimately underwrite the promises the GEPF makes to civil servants, might soon be called on to cover any shortfalls.

As of Tuesday, the PIC has its second acting CEO in four months following the departure of Dan Matjila in 2018 and the suspension of his successor, acting CEO Matshepo More. Of 12 appointments to the PIC’s executive committee, six have resigned, been suspended or fired in the past 18 months. Of the six remaining executives, three (including the new acting CEO Vuyani Hako) have had serious allegations made against them and would be expected to come and give their version of events at the inquiry.

In addition, many of those seriously implicated in alleged wrongdoing, including Matjila and More, need to be provided with the opportunity to give their side of the story. Others, like those on the other side of controversial transactions, must be afforded the same chance.

So, there is still a long way to go.

The original terms stated that the inquiry should hand its final report to the president in mid-April. The president is also in the middle of an election campaign and is unlikely to properly consider the contents of the report until after his inauguration, assuming the ANC is returned to power.

Given the importance of the PIC to the financial welfare of more than a million public servants and its ability to support economic growth and development in the country, it is in everyone’s interests to make sure it is reformed carefully and comprehensively. This commission has the ability to do that. But it needs time, Mr President.