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Changing places...

10 June 2005 Angelo Coppola

“Nice guy – but can he do the job” – Mail and Guardian newspaper headline, six years ago.

There was sceptism about whether he could do the job or whether he would toe the party line, when he was appointed to the top job in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Legally trained and and a practicing attorney Bulelani Ngcuka, in his new guise as chairman of Amabubesi Investments, was on hand at an Institute of Directors (IoD) session to talk about some of the issues that he faces on a daily basis in his business dealings.

Media attention was high at the session as it coincided with the reading of the judgment against Shabir Shaik, in his corruption trial, in KZN. Ngcuka was largely responsible for pressing charges against Shaik and publicly stating that he didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute deputy President Jacob Zuma.

He freely admits that he doesn’t like the spotlight much and although the session coincided with the judgment, he checked his invitation to speak, and it was dated at least eight months earlier.

Ngcuka, investment house chairman, Transnet director and director of a firm of attorneys, on the judgment: “I have nothing to say, and I am following my mother’s advice.”

As director general of public prosecutions he started on the back foot, with low prosecution levels, inexperienced prosecutors with the prosecutors office seen as a finishing school for lawyers exiting law school.

Added to which courts were sitting for an average of two hours per day, and inefficiencies were high.

His challenge was to decide where to begin. A court management system was implemented and it soon became apparent that there was a major problem. Court hours are up, reduced waiting time, conviction rates were up, and special Saturday courts were a success.

He used his own ‘hit squads’ to beef up court performance. At the same time he had to deal with organized crime.

He was fortunate to be able to pick and choose the best that the state had to offer – purely because he had the goodwill of the government – to deal with the urban terror problem, which led to 100 convictions. The success in resolving the urban terror problem, led to the formation of the scorpions.

Hi track record will reflect that 1000 cases have been resolved, ranging from white collar crime to drug trafficking, R5bn of contraband and drugs have been taken out of circulation. On the other hand the asset forfeiture unit has been a resounding success. R80m has been seized, with R1bn in assets under restraint.

Commercial crime was another area of concern, during his tenure. Conviction rates went up to over 90%, and more courts have been introduced.

Despite the successes there were and are many challenges. Bribery has become a way of life and fraud is prevalent, with insider involvement, and the issue of under-reporting is rearing its head.

It was tough, but worthwhile, he says, but at the end of the day the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) entrenched democracy and acted without fear, favour or prejudice.

 

And now?

After six years at the NPA he now sits on several boards of directors, with co-directors and he occasionally catches himself wondering whether a co-director was ever the subject of investigation, or as he puts it – on the NPA radar screen.

He says that he has found – in his limited experience thus far – that the companies and people are grappling with the King II report, with a genuine attempt to engage.

He has also arrived at the right time and found a willingness to accommodate and participate. He has also found that the entry time was right as black businesses have emerged, and there is a willingness to help and assist from what he calls the ‘black brothers’.

Amabubesi is a part of a BEE consortium that has entered a partnership with Old Mutual, announced several months ago. Their relationship with Old Mutual has provided them with capital to finance their own deals, although he claims that the search for profit is not his main driver – he is searching.

Whistle-blowing?

He says that whistle blowing will be encouraged as he did while he was at the NPA. He will not be moving away from this stance. Talk that he may be ending his self-imposed restraint in terms of forensic work and a possibility to get involved with George Fivas, were dismissed, out of hand.

In terms of their areas of interest he says that the investment opportunities would include property, media, financial services, leisure and tourism and Amabubesi Enterprises as a catch-all for any other short term income generators.

There will be no mining, energy or resources involvement, specifically because of the involvement of his wife in that sector, as a government minister.

On his take on shareholder activism, they will get involved at board level, specifically on the audit committees and they will take significant minority positions in solid businesses and also look at investing in businesses that are in distress, with a view to returns in the short term. There are three CAs in the investment house, so there is a natural interest in the audit committee.

He wants to sit on the governance committees and make a difference.

His parting shot, in terms of the high profile Shabir Shaik judgment is a sideways reference to read page 18 of Judge Squires’ report.

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QUESTION

The second draft amendments to Regulation 28 will allow retirement funds to allocate up to 45% of their assets to SA infrastructure, with a further 10% for rest of Africa; but the equity & offshore caps remain unchanged. What are your thoughts on the proposal?

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Infrastructure? You mean cash returns with higher risk!?!
Infrastructure cap is way too high
Offshore limit still needs to be raised
Who cares… Reg 28 does not apply to discretionary savings
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