* PIC says would possibly support changing CEO
* Shareholders vote on governance reforms on March 3
* Ecobank profits up 56 pct in first 9 months of 2013
(Adds quotes, context)
By Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Matthew Mpoke Bigg
JOHANNESBURG/ACCRA, Feb 26 Ecobank's top
shareholder piled pressure on chief executive Thierry Tanoh on
Wednesday, saying he had failed to bolster the bank's capital
and stabilize one of sub-Saharan Africa's largest financial
Daniel Matjila, the chief investment officer of South
Africa's Public Investment Corporation (PIC), said it supported
reconstituting Ecobank's board and might back a change of chief
His comments renewed scrutiny of Tanoh two weeks after the
executives on Tanoh's leadership team called on Feb. 13 for him
to step down because of what they said was a long-standing
crisis of leadership.
Ecobank is in the spotlight over its corporate governance,
but profits in the first nine months of 2013 jumped 56 percent
and costs were down at the bank, which is listed in Nigeria,
Ghana and on the West African regional bourse BRVM.
Officials at Ecobank said that strong performance should
encourage shareholders to give the lender's management time to
pursue planned reforms.
Yet prospects for an end to Ecobank's internal disputes
still appeared dim on Wednesday.
"Tanoh came in to stabilise, extract efficiencies, cut costs
and all other things to extract value from the business. We
believe he has failed to do so," said Matjila, who sits on
Ecobank's 12-member board along with Tanoh.
He said PIC's investment was doing well but Tanoh, a former
vice president of the World Bank's International Finance
Corporation, has not raised "a single cent" of capital since he
took office in January 2013.
"We need to change and reconstitute the board to put the
bank on a growth path, including possibly changing the CEO," he
said, accusing Tanoh of playing politics.
A bank spokesman said Ecobank did not comment on shareholder
issues. Tanoh was unavailable for comment.
PIC holds 18.35 percent of Ecobank's shares, making it the
biggest shareholder ahead of the Asset Management Corporation of
Nigeria, which holds 8.09 percent.
Ecobank is based in Togo and operates in 33 African
countries, giving it an unusually broad footprint and a
significant role in financing economic expansion on a
Shareholders are due to vote on March 3 on reforms that
follow criticism of the bank's corporate governance by Nigeria's
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Critics of Tanoh hold him responsible for any governance
flaws. Other executives say he is working to rectify problems
that predated his tenure.
Matjila did not say what action, if any, PIC planned to
take. One smaller institutional shareholder said it was unclear
how PIC could translate its concerns over the CEO into action.
"The question is: who is going to bring that outcome about?
If nobody raises the matter, the status quo will continue," said
a representative of the shareholder, who declined to be named.
It was not possible to reach other institutional shareholders.
A court injunction filed in Togo by an individual
shareholder blocked a board meeting that was due to have taken
place at the bank's headquarters in Lome on Tuesday and could
have considered Tanoh's tenure.
The shareholder filed the suit alleging that a board meeting
so soon before the March 3 extraordinary general meeting would
prejudice the interests of the bank's 600,000 shareholders.
The shareholders will vote on reforms including the creation
of a seven-member interim board featuring Tanoh and Matjila but
not the four members of the bank's Group Executive Committee who
called on Feb. 13 for the chief executive to step down.
It will also consider a plan for governance reforms to
answer SEC criticism and adopt recommendations contained in two
external reports commissioned by the bank to improve governance.
Adopting that plan could help assuage the concerns of the
SEC, which last week said Ecobank must reinstate its former
finance director, Laurence do Rego, whose allegations last year
of abuse of corporate governance triggered the SEC's probe.
The bank denies do Rego's allegations. It says it suspended
her in a row over her qualifications before she went to the SEC.
(Additional reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha in Lagos; editing by