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THE BIG READ: Don't hold your breath over Guptagate report

Sibusiso Ngalwa | 2013-05-15 01:21:28.0
Bollywood meets African safari during the recent Gupta wedding at Sun City
Image by: SUPPLIED / SUPPLIED

One day, a president asked a senior minister to get rid of a certain director-general who was being "defiant" (read: failure to carry out the president's wishes).

So urgent was the need to fire the director-general that at a meeting of senior government suits a few days later, the said director-general was informed and "congratulated" on his new deployment - a parallel move to another department. Except, he had no say in deciding his future.

Still bewildered by the events of that morning, he called his new minister, who had not attended the earlier meeting, to set up an appointment so they could discuss his new role.

The minister was equally stunned and asked him to stay at home for a few days while he made further inquiries about the decision.

A few months down the line, the senior official quietly left the public service.

This may sound like a tall tale, but sadly it is true. It happened in our beloved country. It demonstrates how easily dispensable senior civil servants have become.

This brings me to the subject of the much-awaited report by seven directors-general who have been investigating the controversial landing of the Jet Airways Airbus carrying 207 guests to the Gupta wedding at the Waterkloof Air Force Base on April 30 in Pretoria.

An initial report was completed and handed over to the government yesterday.

If Justice Minister Jeff Radebe is to be believed, the report will tell us "the truth", and that "shall set us free".

But there is something inherently wrong with how the investigating team has been established.

The seven directors-general involved are from police, justice, home affairs, international relations, South African Revenue Services, defence and state security - the same departments implicated in one way or the other in the Waterkloof controversy.

That means that the very departments implicated in the saga have been investigating themselves.

For all we know, it may turn out that some of these directors-general have been dinner guests at the Gupta compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, and that the taste of the "most delicious" Gupta curry (to borrow from DA leader Helen Zille) may still be fresh on their tongues.

This will be hardly surprising considering the influence of the Gupta brothers - Ajay, 45, Atul, 42, and Rajesh, 39 - who are known to summon ministers and directors-general to their compound. They are also not shy to brag about President Jacob Zuma being a regular dinner guest there.

Muddying the investigation is the existing personal relationship between Zuma and the Gupta family.

Imagine a situation where the director-general of one of the departments has to be party to a report that points a finger at his department and, by extension, his minister? He would not last another day in office. Already South Africa has a problem of a high turnover of directors-general who are either shifted to other departments or fired after falling out with their principals.

Even the authors of the National Development Plan highlighted this problem, hence the proposal to "remove the political interface" in the appointment of directors-general. However, this is unlikely to happen.

If the Zuma government is to convince the public that it was as outraged as most South Africans were by the Waterkloof landing, then an independent inquiry would make more sense.

Calls for someone like public protector Thuli Madonsela (let's hope she has not been a dinner guest at the Saxonwold compound) to investigate Guptagate should be taken more seriously.

Even the Gupta family has undertaken to "cooperate with any investigations."

"The family will, similarly, partake and cooperate in any other investigations to assist authorities in addressing any alleged unlawful conduct by individuals, officials or family members," the Gupta family said.

As it stands, it is clear that any report from the government investigation will not be enough to restore public confidence.

I would not be surprised if the report ends up pointing fingers at the already suspended officials - including the chief of state protocol, Bruce Koloane, and a few other officials from the police and the air force.

By yesterday afternoon, countless inquiries were made to government spokesmen about the status and the release date of the report. But I won't hold my breath.

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