‘Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye’

JUST because Iqbal Survé trumpets transformation at every opportunity, just because he accuses his critics and critics of the companies he is involved in of racism, and just because he claims to hand out (almost) free shares to trade unions does not mean his business practices should not come under the closest scrutiny.

In fact, it is imperative that they do – and he should welcome it.

If he doesn’t, well, then, he shouldn’t be surprised if conclusions that make him uncomfortable, and angry, are drawn.

Survé’s problem is his ego. It’s big. And he is blinded by it.

He believes he is the darling of the masses.

In a recent SAFM interview he claimed to have the support of millions of South Africans, while lashing out at investigative journalist Sam Sole and the Tiso Blackstar newspaper group.

One of the consequence of his mind-set is that it causes him to spot the faults of his critics – but not his own.

Perhaps he should take to heart a parable in one of the Holy Books: ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

‘How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

‘You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye….’

An example of his mote and plank mentality has been his regular and almost mocking claims that Independent Media’s bitter rivals, Tiso Blackstar, is in deep financial trouble.

While this may well be so, he deliberately ignores the fact that Independent is as deeply, or perhaps even deeper, in the red, having defaulted on the repayment of a loan made to the group by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).

Survé’s defence of the business practices of the companies he is involved in often borders on the reckless.

For instance, just recently, he accused two former directors, Siphiwe Nodwele and Kevin Hardy, who quit over the fast-developing Ayo debacle, of corruption.

But in several media releases, and even in the SAFM radio interview, he has not produced a shred of evidence to back up his claims. In this respect, it is worth noting that in the business world, a common tactic in dealing with dissenting directors is to use gossip and innuendo to discredit and cast aspersions.

The whole point of governance is to ensure that a company is in safe hands.

A company’s business is managed under the direction of a Board of Directors, whose role is to oversee the management and governance of the company and to monitor senior management’s performance.

But in the AYO case, all that has been forthcoming from Survé is that a forensic investigation would have clarified the extent of the corruption of Nodwele and Hardy.

Why no acknowledgment from the Mr Know-all of the business world that the remaining directors have an obligation to decide on the merits of an investigation? And why no promise that a forensic investigation will be instituted and that, if necessary, charges will be laid.

Instead, all Survé says is that Nodwele and Hardy had refused to subject themselves to such an investigation – and had resigned.

I don’t buy this.

It’s bullshit.

Resignations do not automatically void investigations that are warranted. If gross negligence or criminal behaviour is uncovered, a board is obliged to act.

The buck stops with it.

Gross negligence or reckless behaviour, or reckless trading are all evidence of the failure of a board to act properly.)

My understanding is that if, as in this instance, directors are suspected of acting inappropriately and their actions warrant an investigation, then the malfeasance must have been serious.

And if this is the case, an investigation should have proceeded – whether or not Nodwele and Hardy resigned.

It’s time for Survé to stop hiding behind bluster.

AYO has a moral obligation to carry out and complete an investigation. It’s easy to see why: how directors behave within the ambit of their fiduciary (duties) has a direct impact on how a board of directors performs.

Let’s take Eskom as an example: the dire situation in which it finds itself in is not because of the actions of ordinary workers.

The rot started and set in at board level.

A company has a duty to report director deviance.

Thus, the capture of Eskom would have been stopped in its tracks if Anoj Singh had been flagged as a deviant director while he was still with Transnet.

Attorney Enver Mall tells me that if the object of a forensic audit is to uncover poor or simple maladministration, it could be that the audit might not be necessary.

But, obviously, if what Survé claims is true, this was not the case.

‘If there are financial issues which may prejudice shareholders and which could result in likely civil or even criminal action against alleged delinquent directors, then clearly it would be in the company’s interests to carry out an investigation,’ Mall says.

And, he adds: ‘If the remaining directors decide not to carry on with the audit for whatever reasons, it would need shareholders to take action against their directors to get the audit up and running again.

What does the King IV Code of Corporate Governance say about the duty of a company and, by extension, its directors?

Section 19(3) of the Companies Act says: ‘If a company is a personal liability company, the directors and past directors are jointly and severally liable, together with the company, for any debts and liabilities of the company as are or were contracted during their respective periods of office.’

If what Survé says about the two former directors is true, their actions would have caused untold damage to AYO, running to losses of possibly more than R2-billion.

The R4.3-billion question then is: why hasn’t AYO done a forensic investigation into Nodwele and Hardy? Why has Survé given the impression that because they resigned nothing further can be done about the damage they allegedly caused to the company?

Could it be that there are other reasons for Nodwele and Hardy leaving – reasons which must still be divulged?

If this is so, be prepared for the AYO story to take off in a direction that will shock the business world….