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Matjila: I take ministers' calls, nothing 'improper' about meeting with them

Jul 16 2019 16:06
Lameez Omarjee, Fin24

Former PIC CEO Dan Matjila told the commission of inquiry that he did not find anything unethical about meeting with Cabinet ministers during his tenure.

Matjila on Tuesday made his sixth appearance before the commission, led by Justice Lex Mpati, which is investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the asset manager which oversees R2trn in state funds.

Advocate Jannie Lubbe led Matjila's cross examination, starting off with queries on a meeting with former intelligence minister David Mahlobo at OR Tambo in 2017. It was at this meeting, Matjila told the commission previously, that he met businesswoman Pretty Louw and her business partner who were seeking help for their business.

Mahlobo had asked Matjila to assist the business people. Matjila told the commission he had explained the investment process of the PIC to the parties present. After referring their proposal to the PIC's investment team Matjila was informed that the proposal does not meet the PIC's requirements. Matjila said he referred the business people to the Industrial Development Corporation, so that they could get help through the Black Industrialists Programme. Ultimately, businessman Lawrence Mulaudzi assisted the business in his personal capacity, on Matjila's referral.

Lubbe probed Matjila as to why he had accepted the minister's request to meet. To this Matjila responded that he viewed the minister as a stakeholder of the PIC. "The minister called me, I would not disrespect the minister. I see him as one of the stakeholders in the PIC... When they (ministers) call I do want to know what the issues are."

Lubbe asked Matjila if he thought it was "improper and unethical" of a minister of state to call the CEO of the PIC to an airport to deal with a matter like this. Matjila did not agree that it was unethical. "The minister called me and I went to see the minister. I have met ministers not only at the airport, some at their places for their convenience. I do not see anything unethical about meeting a Cabinet minister."

He told the commission ministers discuss various things in these meetings. On other occasions he has been called by ministers to explain how the PIC works so that ministers can see how their departments can assist in delivering the PIC mandate, Matjila said.

"These meetings with ministers in Cabinet are useful for the PIC to understand what is a priority and where the potential opportunities are.

"When a minister calls, I will listen. I will give them a hearing to understand what it is ... they want to discuss with me," he added.

"They are an important stakeholder. And my job as a CEO is stakeholder management. I need to understand what the stakeholder wants to hear or tell me about the PIC."

Matjila told the commission that he did not know the purpose or agenda of the meeting before agreeing to go. He later conceded that perhaps in future it would be best for the PIC CEO to request an agenda of meetings.

Assistant commissioner Gill Marcus asked Matjila how the PIC eliminates political pressures, given that he freely meets ministers on their requests. Matjila responded that in the past meetings with ministries have been preliminary discussions, in which decisions on deals have not been taken.

Matjila also testified on the PIC's investment in S&S Refinery – a business proposal brought forward to the PIC by former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene's son Siyabonga and his business partner Amir Mizra.

Matjila told the commission Siyabonga was introduced to him by his father, at the time Nhlanhla Nene was deputy finance minister and chairperson of the PIC board. According to Matjila, the former minister asked him to coach Siyabonga on business and investments. Matjila said he accepted the request. "This practice is common in the private sector," he said.

Matjila did not view this as a conflict of interest. "I saw it as knowledge sharing and coaching. This is something I am passionate about."

The investment in S&S Refinery went South following the collapse of the Mozambican currency. Media reports followed of how the PIC invested in a "dilapidated oil refinery" in Mozambique.

Matjila however reaffirmed that he believes the plant is a "world-class facility". He said a strategic partner has been roped in to operate the facility and restore its production and in the long run, profitability.

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