Should Maria Ramos Be In The PIC

Maria Ramos, the former head of ABSA Group Ltd, has been appointed to the interim board of the Public Investment Corporation.

As a “big name” in the financial services industry, many see this as a “strong” & “prudent” decision by Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni.

But in a world connected by social media & in a South Africa in the grips of coming to terms with the realities of a captured economy… it would seem her appointment does not hold up too well to scrutiny.

So, we must first ask, who is Maria Ramos?

Beginnings

Ramos was born in Lisbon, Portugal, on 22 February 1959. Her parents emigrated to Mozambique & then South Africa in the mid 1960s in search of better opportunities.

She matriculated in 1977 & joined Barclays in Vereeniging as a clerk, collecting & processing deposit slips and cheques.

She applied for a scholarship with the bank, but was denied as it was only open to men. Ramos fought this & eventually earned herself a Banker’s Diploma with the Institute of Bankers.

She then achieved a BComm from Wits in 1986, Honours in Economics in 1987 & a Master of Science (Economics) from the University of London in 1992.

Becoming “Maria Ramos”

So, we must first ask, who is Maria Ramos?

She served as the Director-General of National Treasury from 1996 to 2003, Group Chief Executive of Transnet Ltd till February 2009 (during which she oversaw the sale of the parastatals stake in telecoms titan MTN & the V&A Waterfront) and then in March of the same year, took the helm of ABSA as Group CEO.

She was a non-executive director on the boards of Sanlam Ltd (who is invested in the PIC), Johan Ruperts Remgro Ltd (which PIC owns a stake in) & SABMiller Plc (whom PIC bought a controlling stake of Distell from, outbidding… Remgro, who currently own 30.65% of Distell).

She is currently a member of the Board of Johan Ruperts Richemont SA.

She was also the Chairperson of the Banking Association of South Africa until June 2018, is a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum’s International Business Council and sits on the Board of Business Leadership South Africa.

With such an impressive CV & wealth of experience, it is no wonder business is lauding her appointment. But it is not her capabilities that come into question… it is her allegiance.

She is currently a member of the Board of Johan Ruperts Richemont SA.

Manipulating The Rand

In 2015, the Competition Commission launched an investigation into market manipulation involving the Rand by a host of local & international banks.

This included Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas, JPMorgan Chase, Investec, Standard New York Securities, Commerzbank AG, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Credit Suisse Group, Standard Bank, Nomura, Macquarie, Maria Ramos’s ABSA & her old stomping ground & ex ABSA shareholder, Barclays.

But though Citibank pleaded guilty & paid an “administrative penalty” of R69.5m and Standard Chartered agreed to pay a fine of $40m, the investigstion seemes to be, like derivative bubbles, up in the air.

In 2017, the Competition Commission accused the banks named in the Rand Fixing Scandal of trying to collude on their defence against the allegations, to get off on technicalities.

As then ABSA Group CEO, Maria publicly apologised for her part in “currency-fixing”.

But in a strange twist earlier in the year, Tito Mboweni, the former governor of South Africas central bank, said (in his capacity as Minister of Finance) that “the Treasury does not have any evidence of any form of currency manipulation.”

The PIC

The Public Investment Corporstion is a state owned entity. As of March 2018, it was responsible for managing about 2.083 trillion Rand worth of assets.

It is Africa’s largest asset manager & holds a large stakes in several South African companies.

She was a non-executive director on the boards of Sanlam Ltd (who is invested in the PIC), Johan Ruperts Remgro Ltd (which PIC owns a stake in) & SABMiller Plc (whom PIC bought a controlling stake of Distell from, outbidding… Remgro, who currently own 30.65% of Distell).

It is also one of the main vehicles through which the government implements its BBBEE policy, but more importantly… The PIC is responsible for investing the South African Government Employees Pension Fund.

The board is appointed by The Minister of Finance & due to the large amount of government pension money invested in the PIC, its chairperson is normally a member of government.

In February this year, the entire PIC board of non-executive directors wrote to Minister Mboweni and asked to be “relieved of their duties”

This was on the back of allegations of corruption against 4 of the directors, including then-deputy finance minister and chair Mondli Gungubele.

It is also one of the main vehicles through which the government implements its BBBEE policy, but more importantly… The PIC is responsible for investing the South African Government Employees Pension Fund.

The PIC is currently the subject of an inquiry led by retired judge Lex Mpati, into its governance that was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in October 2018.

Besides Maria Ramos, the new interim board of The PIC comprises of:

Irene Charnley

Former Executive Director of the MTN Group. She is currently the Deputy Chairperson of Smile Telecoms Holdings.

Sindi Mabaso-Koyana

A CA who is a former member of the boards of MTN, SANRAL, SAA, SAICA & Altron.

Tshepiso Moahloli

Chief Director of Liability Management at The National Treasury.

Barbara Watson

Chief Director of Transformation Policies at The Department of Public Dervice and Administration.

Ivan Fredericks

General Manager of The Public Servants Association.

Zola Saphetha

General Secretary of NEHAWU and member of COSATU’s central executive committee.

Bhekithemba Gamedze

A non-executive director at Santam;

Dr Angelo David Sabelo de Bruin MD

Prof Bonke Dumisa

Professor in Economics.

Makhubalo Ndaba

Company Secretary of the PGC Group

Reuel Khoza

Chairman of Dzana Investments & former Chairperson of Nedbank.

Pitso Moloto & Xolani Mkhwanazi from the previous board have been re-appointed.

Ties That Bind

Though her ties to some business entities may raise both eyebrows & blood pressures, it is her closer ties that trigger alarms.

In 2008, the world was forever changed by the crash of the global market. Many lost their homes & savings. It was also the year that Maria, then Group CEO of Transnet Ltd, married then Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel.

Though there is no law that prohibits the head of an SOE hooking up with a Minister, it was ofcourse a major event in the socio-economic landscape of the country.

The following year Maria took the helm at ABSA and though Trevor stepped down as the most powerful man in the South African economy… his wife Maria ascended to become the most powerful woman in the African financial services industry.

It was almost poetic.

The rest as they say, is in the paragraphs above.

Though her ties to some business entities may raise both eyebrows & blood pressures, it is her closer ties that trigger alarms.

But though all of this paints quite a jaw dropping picture, the most unsettling part is what her husband chose to do once he stepped away from politics.

In 2014, Trevor Manuel, stuggle icon, media darling, “the best Minister of Finance we ever had”, “one of the good guys”… joined Rothschild & Co. The Rothschild families South African division. He currently serves as their non-executive chairman.

As a trusted ally of South Africas newly elected president, Trevor seems to have been recalled to public service. He was infact the chair of the panel that interviewed for the new head of SARS, following the presidents axing of Tom Moyane.

He however recused himself from the interview of candidate Edward Kieswetter as he stated Mr Kieswetter had worked under him in a past capacity & he was “still on friendly terms with the candidate”

The panel felt Edward was the best candidate to restore SARS & he was recommended for the position of SARS commissioner.

The rest as they say, is in the paragraphs above.

Conscidering the ties between Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni & President Cyril Ramaphosa and conscidering the ties between Maria Ramos, Johann Rupert & foreign global interests… it begins to become clear why her appointment to the board of The PIC is raising as much dust as it is.

This all begs the question, can she really be trusted to serve the public interests? Or is what the EFF stated in their rebuke of her appointment true?

“Maria Ramos will unavoidably be conflicted and will certainly not defend the interests of government employees on the PIC board, as she has direct relationships with the companies she served as a director in.”

It remains to be seen.

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