PIC board wrecked by anonymous graft whistleblower, commission hears

Evidence heard by the commission of inquiry probing allegations of impropriety at the PIC has detailed how corruption allegations from an anonymous source crippled the board and created a climate of distrust and fear among members.

This is according to testimony by board member Dudu Hlatshwayo, who spoke at length about the discord that arose from emails circulated by an unknown whistleblower who goes by the name James Nogu, or James Noko.

The whistleblower has been circulating explosive allegations of corruption against PIC board members, accusing them of using the corporation for their own benefit. 

The allegations also implicated board chair Mondli Gungubele, acting CEO Matshepo More, non-executive director Sibusisiwe Zulu and Hlatshwayo, among others.

She said "toxicity and suspicion" grew among board members as they "began to suspect one another", with the board holding special meetings to deal with the whistleblower’s allegations.

According to Hlatshwayo, normal meetings were placed on the back burner, with meetings also cancelled at short notice.

The emails began circulating from August 13, 2017, Hlatshwayo said.

She said prior to the emails, the board was "unidirectional and focused on carrying out its fiduciary duties". Asked if there was an indication who the whistleblower was, Hlatshwayo said there was a possibility that there could be numerous people behind the name who were either operating from inside or outside the institution.

A forensic investigation on those implicated is currently underway, which is expected to be concluded in 2-3 weeks, according to Gungubele, who testified on Monday.

Matjila’s resignation in November was also not without related friction. Hlatshwayo further stated that there was disunity over decision-making, including the appointment of acting CEO Matshepo More.

More, who stepped up as acting CEO from her position as chief financial officer, is said to have chaired the committee that signed off on the R4.3bn AYO investment in December 2017.

According to Hlatshwayo, executive head of research and project development Sholto Dolamo was put forward and supported by at least four directors, as there was a view that an executive should be appointed who had not been implicated in any controversial allegations in the past.

"Gungubele has a casting vote and he used it to appoint Ms More, who was supported by four other directors," Hlatshwayo said.

Asked by assistant commissioner Emmanuel Lediga to describe how the climate of distrust brought by the whistleblower's corruption claims affected the board's efficiency, Hlatshwayo said they simply had to "find a way of working with one another."

She concluded that if there was a matter on the table that required their attention, "the board was able to execute [it]."

Nine members of the PIC board resigned on February 1, citing what was called a concerted effort to discredit its functions and credibility.

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