23 May 2024 | 08:20 AM

Advocacy: AmaBhungane calls on parliament to halt finalisation of PIC Amendment Bill

Key Takeaways

On Tuesday, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism will present submissions at parliament’s national council of provinces (NCOP) public hearings on the Public Investment Corporation Amendment Bill.

The Bill was introduced by parliament’s finance portfolio committee, in response to allegations of wrong-doing at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) reported by amaBhungane and other media last year and in response to concerns raised by trade unions and pensioners.

The PIC is an investment manager which is wholly owned by the South African government. The PIC’s largest client is the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), which accounts for 87.12% of the assets managed by the PIC.

The government is the guarantor for the obligations of the GEPF, meaning that a failure of the PIC or of any of the significant investments for the GEPF, exposes the Government, the tax payer and the economy to significant financial risk.

Parliament said the Bill aimed to provide greater transparency and better governance in the PIC”but amaBhungane believes it does not go nearly far enough.

  • Read the Bill as adopted by the National Assembly here.

AmaBhungane has reported extensively on the PIC, including on the controversial R4.3 billion investment into AYO Technology Solutions.

  • Read more about the Ayo deal here.

While the parliamentary Bill brings important improvements, information about the basis for investment decisions remains under a cloak of secrecy.

The importance of greater accountability for investment decisions at the PIC has become overwhelmingly evident with the information emerging from the commission of inquiry into the PIC headed by judge Lex Mpati.

The commission was appointed in October 2018 and is due to conclude is work on the 15 April 2019.

Its terms of reference include recommendations on legislative amendments — which will likely include the PIC Act.

Commission witnesses Vuyo Jack and Victor Seanie have brought to light serious problems with the way in which investment decisions were taken at the PIC, exacerbated by the secrecy which shields this core function of the PIC from necessary accountability.

Seanie in his written testimony said “sound investment recommendations are often ignored at PIC and the independent researched views of investment professionals are undermined”.

As a result of this, in the first instance, amaBhungane will ask parliaments’ NCOP to pause its work on the Bill to allow for meaningful public engagement, and for the Mpati Commission recommendations to be finalised before proceeding.

AmaBhungane submits that the closure of the fifth parliaments NCOP on the 28 March is not sufficient reason to rush finalisation of the Bill, particularly one with such far-reaching consequences.

The NCOP finance committee in particular has rushed its public participation process, allowing only a week for the public to prepare written submissions.

In the second part of its submission, amaBhungane argues that the Bill should not pass without the inclusion of clauses which will allow for the proactive and regular disclosure PIC investment deliberations.

This, amaBhungane asserts, “will ensure that the PIC can be held accountable for its investment decisions. Such an amendment will also benefit government, which may be exposed to significant financial loss if bad investment decisions cannot be identified and mitigated.”

  • Read amaBhungane’s full submission to the NCOP committee here and here.
Public access to Electronic Deeds Registry System

AmaBhungane also recently made submissions on the Electronic Deeds Registration Systems Bill.

The Bill is before the NCOP select committee for land and mineral resources.

The legislation provides for an electronic deeds database (e-DRS), an important step in modernising the deeds system, and is intended to improve efficiencies in deeds registration and ensure public access to information, among other things.

However amaBhungane argues, “The Bill as currently phrased does not sufficiently ensure such (open and public) access. This runs counter to the express intention of the Deeds Registries Act to safeguard the rights of owners and the broader public through open access to the deeds registry.”

In response to this gap and the uncertainty it creates for public access rights, amaBhungane provides proposals for specific public access and for the public interest exemption clauses.

AmaBhungane’s advocacy coordinator, Karabo Rajuili, explained: “AmaBhungane’s submission is important not only for public and media access to the electronic deeds register, but also to ensure that as more public records become digitized, the correct balance is struck between privacy rights and freedom of expression. This is quickly becoming the main challenge for how information rights are conceived in the internet age.”

  • Read the Bill and amaBhungane’s submission here.

AmaBhungane makes these submissions as part of its advocacy mandate, which is to secure the information rights that investigative journalists need to do their work, and in the wider public interest.

AmaBhungane has made other submissions to parliament’s National Assembly and NCOP committees on matters related to media freedom and the free flow of information, including the Companies Amendment Bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill and Political Party Funding Bill.

  • Read all of amaBhungane’s submissions to parliament’s National Assembly and NCOP committees on matters related to media freedom here.
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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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