In his final appearance before the judicial commission of inquiry probing corporate governance failures and impropriety at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), former CEO Dan Matjila named the controversial R4.3 billion investment in Ayo Technology Solutions as the final straw that was used to drive him out of the organisation.
This is Matjila’s fifth week on the witness stand since he began his testimony at the beginning of July.
Matjila is a central figure in the commission’s investigations into the R2 trillion state asset manager. The transactions that have been subject to scrutiny went through under his watch, which spanned over 15 years as CIO and ultimately CEO.
The commission has heard how the board was divided on how to handle allegations of impropriety that created a dark cloud over Matjila before he resigned in November 2018.
Commissioner Lex Mpati wanted to determine, from Matjila’s perspective, what was at the core of this division, which led to his final separation with the PIC.
Matjila said he could only “speculate” that some people were unhappy with the “tight ship” he was running at the PIC.
He said that, as such, a “hostile environment” was created, which started with allegations of him corruptly channelling R21 million to an alleged girlfriend’s business.
Matjila said that when these allegations were quashed by internal and external investigations, his detractors tried other means to “engineer his downfall” through further allegations. This time they came from an anonymous whistleblower, James Nogu, and were sustained by the media.
To add to this, Matjila said board members such as Dr Claudia Manning and Tantaswa Fubu, who were on his side, resigned as the board was at loggerheads with regards to how to deal with the allegations against him. He said this weakened his position as his detractors became stronger.
This was only made worse when former deputy finance minister Mondli Gungubele was appointed to chair the board and, without undergoing any induction, got into “the thick of things”, Matjila said.
Gungubele had made it clear that he was not happy with how the board had handled the R21 million corruption charges and called for a renewed investigation.
“It became clear to me that I didn’t have the support of the chairman and I was going to have a steeper mountain to climb,” Matjila told the commission.
But he said he thinks it was the Ayo deal that “angered” many people who had been trying to get their transactions funded by the PIC.
“I got to a point where I realised that Ayo was probably the one opportunity that pushed me to my downfall,” said Matjila. “I sometimes used to think that, as a cat with nine lives, I must be on the edge and I was at a stage where I thought, I am done – there are no lives left,” he added.
The Ayo transaction has received much criticism. The PIC invested in the company when it listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) almost two years ago. Reports arose that the investment, led by Matjila, had been approved without following proper investment processes.
It also emerged that staff had raised concerns about the company’s valuation, which they believed was too high. Testimony before the commission by members of the PIC’s investment team drew a narrative of Matjila pushing for the deal to be concluded despite his team’s protestations.
‘They refused to pay me’
Matjila said the headwinds had become too heavy so he decided to shift them by handing in a letter outlining the terms of his resignation on November 8, 2018. He had made it clear in the letter that he intended to resign formally in January and serve notice until April 2019.
“But they took it as an opportunity to kick me out,” said Matjila, who was told to resign with immediate effect.
Matjila lamented having to pay his legal fees out of his own pocket in order to appear before the commission, saying the PIC had “refused” to pay him the incentives that were promised to him.
“It’s unfortunate that, after 15 years at the PIC, I was told late in the evening – it must have been around 6pm – that I am no longer wanted at the PIC and I have never set foot at the PIC [since].”
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