The Public Investment Corporation’s (PIC) former executive head of IT Vuyokazi Menye said on Wednesday that former CEO Dan Matjila had demanded passwords and allowed an outside company to try to penetrate the organisation’s systems, risking its security and integrity.
Menye was testifying at the PIC Inquiry in Pretoria and focused on Matjila’s efforts to uncover the identity of anonymous whistleblower “James Nogu” who sent emails to PIC staff accusing the then-CEO and other leaders of impropriety in 2017.
She said after the emails containing detailed PIC information were sent, Matjila and acting CEO Matshepo More, the chief financial officer at the time, hired IT consulting company BCX to install “an evil twin” on the PIC’s network to see if it could be penetrated. Menye said she and IT security boss Simphiwe Mayisela weren’t told of the attempted hack.
“The way that Dr Dan and Matshepo did [it] is totally not supported and it’s not in line with good practice and good IT governance,” said Menye.
She said it is standard practice to test a network’s vulnerabilities, but that normally happens in an environment controlled by the IT team. If the hack was successful, it could have sacrificed the whole system.
“The whole environment in the PIC could have gone down because of this,” said Menye.
She said BCX’s Eric McGee later congratulated her because the company was not able to penetrate the PIC system.
Menye also said Matjila had demanded the system administrator passwords. She said she didn’t have them and it would put the PIC’s systems at risk if she was able to hand them over. She said Matjila was furious.
“This was very strange. I told him I cannot do that because if I do that I will be breaching IT governance and controls and I will be exposing the organisation to high risk. He stood up shouted and said:
“Vuyakazi, this is my organisation. I own PIC. Give me all the system passwords,’” said Menye.
She said the CEO continued to say “he owns PIC and he will do whatever pleases him”.
Menye was told to submit the passwords after her meeting with Matjila at 10:00 the same morning, but by 9:30 she was called into a meeting and given a precautionary suspension letter by the PIC’s HR boss Chris Pholwane.
She signed the letter, but warned the PIC bosses they would “be dealing with my god and you will no longer be dealing with my god only, you will be dealing with my ancestors” in what she described as a “David and Goliath” battle.
Multiple witnesses at the inquiry have described Matjila and More as holding tightly on to the levers of power at the PIC, as well as Matjila’s paranoia after the Nogu emails.
Despite maintaining her innocence, Menye eventually agreed to sign a settlement agreement after she was persuaded by her husband and lawyers that the bosses wanted her out of the company even if she survived a disciplinary hearing. She was paid R7.25-million.
The former IT boss rejected claims an IT restructuring plan she had proposed at the cost of R1-billion could have been part of the State Capture project. She said there was no evidence to support the claim, which was baseless and defamatory.
Menye also questioned why Matjila allowed an outside company to monitor six executives’ emails without their knowledge while he was trying to uncover who was leaking PIC information.
“To me sir, this was tantamount to the CEO spying on the executives mentioned above. What was even more strange to me was the fact that the CEO was the one that was spearheading this investigation of finding the whistleblower while the very allegations of corruption were levelled against him. So this was really very strange and shocking to me,” said Menye.
She called on the commission of inquiry to reappoint her to her position at the PIC.
“They have destroyed me at the age of 40. There is not a single company that wants to be associated with me because of these media reports that have been published against us,” said Menye.
The PIC Inquiry, headed by retired Justice Lex Mpati, started sitting in January to investigate allegations of impropriety in investment decisions and whether any policies regarding the reporting of corrupt activities were not complied with.
The PIC is the largest asset manager on the continent, controlling over R2-trillion, most of which comes from the Government Employees Pension Fund.
Menye’s predecessor Luyanda Ntuane on Tuesday told the inquiry he was hounded out of the organisation because he had fallen out of favour with More. He dismissed claims against him of sexual harassment and procurement irregularities.
The inquiry will resume on 11 March. DM
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