First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
But a recent presentation to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance (Scof) – which is responsible for oversight of the National Treasury as well as statutory entities like the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), Land Bank, Financial Intelligence Centre, the revenue service and a dozen others – simply beggars belief and cannot go unchallenged.
The Sekunjalo group had been invited to make a presentation to Scof, as it’s known, on its response to the findings of the Mpati Commission of Inquiry, or at least that is what the MPs attending were led to expect.
As you may remember, the Mpati Commission was established in 2018 to examine allegations of impropriety regarding the PIC. The 900-page report was made publicly available about a year ago and its findings on the Sekunjalo group of companies, among others, were clinical and damning.
Yet, in December, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni suggested that Survé’s companies be invited to meet Scof to discuss the disputes between his companies and the PIC.
He was reported as saying: “I think that maybe this committee should invite the chair of AYO and Sekunjalo … to have a conversation on how these arrangements were made. But I think it would be very wrong of us to tarnish the reputation of the whole of AYO or Sekunjalo organisation based on this…”
I have a huge amount of sympathy for the many people in AYO Technologies who are just trying to make an honest living, despite controversies at shareholder level.
But for the Minister of Finance to invite these companies to present their case to Scof was wrong on many levels, not least because the facts of the matter are being tested in court: the PIC is attempting to recover about R1.5-billion loaned to the Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium, as well as its R4.3-billion investment in AYO.
Whatever the outcome of the cases, the matter will eventually and inevitably land on the minister’s desk in one form or another.
It’s notable that other companies and individuals named in the Mpati report have not been invited to Parliament to present “their side of the story”. But Sekunjalo – and by extension AYO and Independent Media – were. And, boy, did the various executives of these companies make use of the opportunity to present, as one MP called it, an Alice in Wonderland version of reality.
According to Dr Wallace Mqoqi, chairman of AYO, a smear campaign was launched against the company in March 2018 in which journalists, public commentators and private entities collaborated to inflict maximum damage on AYO. Asset managers then took advantage of this negative publicity to undermine the company’s value.
The company, said Mqoqi, is defenceless against the resources of the PIC, which is using pensioners’ money to drive a political agenda against AYO. He concluded by requesting that Scof initiate an investigation into the conduct of institutions (among them the JSE, the banks, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and Treasury officials who have a hidden hand in the cancellation of AYO contracts) that are undermining democracy and business confidence in our country.
With due respect to the good doctor, he is talking twaddle.
The Mpati Commission found, among other findings, that the Sekunjalo Group investments showed a marked disregard for PIC policy and standard operating procedures; that proper governance was absent or poor; risk identification processes were downplayed by looking for risk mitigants to make sure the deals were approved; and that the “close relationship” between then PIC chief Dan Matjila and Survé created top-down pressures to approve the deals. It recommended that regulators investigate whether any laws or regulations had been broken by the PIC or the Sekunjalo group and determine what legal steps, if any, should be taken to address any such violations.
That the Sekunjalo executives did not use the privilege bestowed on them by Scof to answer any of these issues is telling, regardless of how you spin it.
The reactions of the PIC and the Treasury at the Scof meeting were muted. Wisely, neither added much to the debate, with the PIC’s Abel Sithole saying: “I would like to say to the committee … there have been a number of factual assertions that we are not able to respond to at this time.”
National Treasury Chief Director Unathi Ngwenya added: “We appreciate the information shared with the committee. A lot of it, it’s new how it is conveyed in this perspective and we will relay this to our principals for … consideration. Thanks.”
It seems none of the assembled MPs – ANC, DA or EFF – bought the spin either. What a waste of parliamentarians’ time. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.