Blameless Professionals Will Be Scarred By PIC Inquiry
Updated: Oct 13, 2019
The commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) came to an end this week - well, at least for now. Some executives and board members may have been cleared of damning allegations, but the stench of corruption emanating from faceless accusers will be hard to wash off for many of these professionals - often for no fault of their own. I have written previously about the danger of over-reliance on whistleblowers, and the assumption that all that is "whistled" about is worth investigating.
Before the commission closed its hearing, the findings of a lifestyle audit on five former PIC board members were revealed. No evidence of criminality was found against them, but these professionals will carry the scars of this inquiry for the rest of their careers. Google searches will forever reveal that they were once implicated in one of the biggest corruption inquiries of our time. Yet nothing was found.
PIC executives, board members and staff have faced ridicule and have had their reputations tarnished by one James Nogu, a faceless whistleblower, whose e-mails, containing damning allegations, have been found to contain half-truths, if any truth at all.
For the past eight months, I have watched young, mostly black and highly skilled professionals at Africa's largest money manager being hauled before the commission to testify on allegations of corrupt multibillion-rand deals that smell of political machinations.
Take Vuyokazi Menye, for instance. The PIC executive head of IT was forced to resign at the age of 40 after a disciplinary hearing that was subsequently deemed unfair. It was eventually found that she did nothing wrong and should never have been charged in the first place.
Had she not had the fortitude to fight the charges, Menye's skills and qualifications - a BSc from the University of Cape Town, an MBA from Henley and two qualifications in investment management from the US - could've gone to waste. Menye has since been reinstated.
Then there is Mervin Muller, the former PIC executive head of private equity and structured investment products. He testified how he had to resign and emigrate to London with his family after being victimised for simply doing his job. Muller testified in March that the job offers he received in London have been frozen until the commission clears him of any wrongdoing. With his 11 years at the PIC, where the chartered accountant rose through the ranks, Muller's career and skills, including three degrees in law and accounting, have been held hostage to allegations that seemingly have nothing to do with him. How is that fair on Muller?
But it was the testimony of former board member Sibusisiwe Zulu this week that put into perspective just how agonising allegations of corruption can be. Zulu was one of the board members subjected to a lifestyle audit. Not only did she have to leave her position in February, she opened her books and her family had their finances scrutinised. Even her mother's bank accounts were investigated by PwC - because the elusive whistleblower alleged she was syphoning money via her mother's bank accounts.
"At a personal level, this has been an agonising period. Because of this unknown James Nogu we have been subjected to inaccurate media reports and slanderous social media posts. Our families have also been negatively impacted and humiliated by this. it has been interesting to watch the tactics grow from a concerted effort to discredit me, to a low blow where it matters most, my family," said Zulu.
I am no expert on commissions of inquiry. I also cannot vouch for the characters of all the people who testified in this inquiry. But that they have had their reputations unfairly tarnished because one "whistleblower" wrote an e-mail cannot be right.
This article first appeared in the Business Times section on The Sunday Times on 18 August 2019.