Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is opposing the United Democratic Movement's demand to immediately suspend the head of the country’s biggest money manager because his department is already probing allegations of governance breaches at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
The UDM on June 15 asked a court to direct Nene to suspend PIC CEO Dan Matjila, bar the PIC’s board from taking decisions on removing or disciplining the CEO, and instead make this the minister’s responsibility. The UDM’s request follows accusations that Matjila used PIC funds to support the business of a woman with whom he was romantically involved - claims the CEO has denied.
The “invitation to the court to usurp the minister’s powers” isn’t congruent with the constitution because “the facts do not call for such a drastic remedy and doing so would be a breach of the principle of separation of powers,” Nene said in an affidavit dated July 2.
He has engaged “multiple stakeholders” on the governance issues at the PIC, including the allegations against the CEO, Nene said.
The PIC, which manages state workers’ pension funds, handles more than R1.9trn ($144bn) of assets.
The UDM had given Nene a two-day ultimatum on May 29 to suspend Matjila, pending an investigation, or face legal action.
As Fin24 reported at the time, the previous week Nene had written to PIC chair and Deputy Minister of Finance Mondli Gungubele, requesting information relating to allegations in September 2017 that Matjila channelled funds to his "girlfriend".
At the time, the PIC’s internal audit division and the board concluded that the allegations were baseless and Matjila was cleared of wrongdoing.
UDM leader Bantu Holimisa also wrote a series of letters to President Cyril Ramaphosa, alleging serious corruption at the PIC, including allegedly by Matjila and a number of investment firms. Holomisa urged the president to consider broadening the scope of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry on state capture to include allegations of corruption in the PIC.
Three investment groups and three named individuals whom Holomisa had accused of corruption took the UDM leader to court for defamation in an urgent application. The applicants did not include Matjila.
The North Gauteng High Court on Monday issued a gag order against Holomisa, preventing him from making further corruption allegations against the groups and firms he accused of benefiting from what he claims was dubious PIC funding.
The UDM leader was ordered to desist from making "unfounded remarks" about Lebashe Investment, Harith General Partners, Harith Fund Manager and three other individuals, including former deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi.
Moleketi served on the board of the PIC during his tenure as deputy minister between 2004 and 2008.
Judge Vivian Tlhapi on Monday ordered that Holomisa and his party “desist from making or repeating any allegations, whether orally or in writing”, against the applicants including web posts, articles, letters, media interviews and other social media posts.
Speaking to Fin24 after the ruling on Monday, Holomisa said he would consider appealing and will now continue with the matter in Parliament.
“I am still going to speak out against the apparent acts of corruption at the PIC.”
The PIC's head of corporate affairs Deon Botha said in a statement on Monday that even though the PIC was not party to the legal proceedings, it welcomed the high court ruling.
“This institution and its CEO have been the subjects of a prolonged, unjustified and malicious public campaign by the UDM and its leader for what can only be described as inexplicable, yet sinister motives to intentionally cause public confusion and tarnish the PIC’s reputation," he said.
* SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.