27/09/2017 06:10 SAST | Updated 27/09/2017 06:11 SAST

Dan Matjila's Astounding U-turn On SOE Bailout Plan

PIC boss now playing the "fake news" card.

Public Investment Corporation (PIC) boss Dan Matjila made an astounding U-turn on his claims that he is being targeted by a political elite who want him removed –- and this came after a lengthy meeting with finance boss Malusi Gigaba and his posse.

What first seemed as a ploy to gain control over Matjila's organisation's R1.8-trillion in pension funds is now being guised as fake news.

Gigaba and his team at National Treasury called an urgent meeting with the PIC on Tuesday after media reports at the weekend in which Matjila supposedly said he is being targeted by people who want to remove him so they can have access to the funds the PIC controls, mainly on behalf of the Government Employees Pension Fund.

But at a media briefing after the meeting, Matjila walked into the conference room at Treasury's offices in Pretoria alongside Gigaba, both their faces beaming. It was in the briefing that Matjila claimed the media reports were "distasteful and inaccurate".

The debacle erupted last month when the DA's Robert Lees announced, in a parliamentary question-and-answer session, that he was in possession of a secret document handed to the executive, which indicated that Gigaba plans to give the embattled SAA another bailout amounting to R10-billion.

The document outlined how Gigaba proposed that government dispose of its 39.75 percent shareholding in Telkom, which is currently valued at approximately R14.4 billion, saying the sale of non-core assets is the only viable option to support SAA that will not increase the budget deficit.

Around the same time, Gigaba confirmed that SAA indicated in its corporate plan that the PIC could be a source for the funding of R6-billion in the struggling airline's 2018 financial year.

Then the airline's boss, Dudu Myeni, who is a close friend of President Jacob Zuma, approached Matjila to request a loan. He refused and that is when things went sour for him.

Allegations of financial impropriety against Matjila –- which he denied –- soon surfaced in the media, resulting in him being hauled to a special board meeting at the PIC. Afterwards, the board expressed its confidence in Matjila's "ability and integrity", but also tasked an internal audit team to probe further into the allegations.

Then, last week, media outlets reported that Treasury was pressuring the PIC to provide as much as R100-billion to fund struggling SOEs.

At the media briefing, Gigaba denied making the request.

His deputy, Sfiso Buthelezi, also denied allegations that there was a ploy to remove Matjila from his post.

Then Matjila spoke.

"The article that appeared in The Sunday Times is distasteful, inaccurate and designed to drive a wedge between myself and the minister. We are weighing our legal options...I enjoy good support from the minister, deputy minister, and the board of the PIC," he said.

This is in stark contrast to what The Sunday Times quoted him saying in an article published at the weekend.

"I've got the keys. They're looking for the keys to the big safe... They try to use political pressure and it doesn't work," Matjila said, according to The Sunday Times.

"It may be almost impossible for them to have this opportunity when the political leadership of the party has changed."

But the PIC may invest in SAA indirectly. At the briefing, Matjila hinted that they would not be opposed to investing in a stake of government's shareholding in Telkom –- an entity that is so far performing well. However, he said they would not afford the entire 39.75 percent on offer. That money would then go to SAA if all goes as planned.

The PIC acts an asset manager, handling mostly the Government Employees' Pension Fund (GEPF), which is Africa's largest pension fund. It has more than 1.2 million active members, in excess of 400,000 pensioners and beneficiaries, and assets worth more than R1.6-trillion.

The PIC invests funds on the GEPF's behalf. It is wholly owned by government and is the only asset manager that serves South Africa's public sector, taking care of the investment needs of about 35 public sector pension, provident, social security, development and guardian funds.

Matjila's roundabout turn leaves a lot to be desired. He would not say how The Sunday Times' article was inaccurate. He did, however, say he would release a statement on Wednesday.

The question now is: Were media reports that Matjila is a victim of a political campaign to have him ousted and that Treasury pressured the PIC for R100-billion all inaccurate? Or was Gigaba and his team so effective in turning Matjila in their meeting that the campaign to take over the PIC is effectively well on its way?