Parliament is turning up the heat in the state capture kitchen

26 July 2017 - 08:43 By ranjeni munusamy
President Jacob Zuma
President Jacob Zuma
Image: Thuli Dlamini

The Pandora’s Box of state capture has officially been cranked open‚ with a preliminary hearing by parliament’s public enterprises portfolio committee being told that there is “mafia-style nefarious control of state-owned enterprises by an elite that is pivoted around the president of the republic”.

The committee is preparing for a wide-scale inquiry into irregularities and allegations of corruption involving the Gupta family at major state-owned companies.

The inquiry‚ which begins in mid-August‚ could see the heat finally turned up on the Gupta network that appears to have received political protection up to now.

After a flood of evidence of corruption in the public domain‚ particularly through the leaked Gupta emails‚ parliament is putting the spotlight on Eskom‚ Transnet and Denel.

As with the ad hoc committee inquiry into the SABC board‚ ANC MPs are becoming bolder in holding people close to President Jacob Zuma to account.

The public enterprises committee intends to call the top brass of the three entities to give evidence‚ particularly those implicated in collusion with the Guptas‚ such as Eskom CFO Anoj Singh.

Committee members across party lines are also demanding that the three Gupta brothers‚ Ajay‚ Atul and Tony‚ as well as Duduzane Zuma‚ be called to answer allegations that they rigged tender procedures to benefit their companies.

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Floyd Shivambu said the president‚ Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba‚ Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and “everything Gupta that has benefited from this process” should be summonsed to appear before the committee.

He also wanted former Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane and CEO Brian Molefe to be on the list. The National Prosecuting Authority and police should be called to account for the progress in the cases related to state capture that were reported to them‚ Shivambu said.

After receiving damning reports from the South African Council of Churches (SACC)‚ the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and a group of academics called the State Capacity Research Project‚ committee members appeared determined to break open the state capture network.

SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said state capture was of such a scale that it was a threat to the country’s democracy.

“It was clear there was mafia-style nefarious control of SOEs by an elite that is pivoted around the president of the republic‚ and that is systemically siphoning the assets of the state and blunting any possible effective means for law enforcement‚” Mpumlwana said.

“The rot goes beyond SOEs to other organs of state. It has a cancerous effect. Those upholding the Constitution are sidelined. Skilled and committed professionals are weeded out and replaced by others who do not act in the interests of the country.”

Speaking on behalf of the academics‚ Professor Ivor Chipkin said there was a political project behind the state capture activities. He urged the committee to scrutinise the “extraordinary escalation” of Eskom’s coal contract costs.

Outa’s Ted Blom‚ a former Eskom employee‚ claimed that the 2008 and 2014 bouts of load shedding were “self-inflicted” by the power utility. He also pointed to irregular expenditure of up to R3 billion at Eskom‚ and the escalation of the Medupi‚ Kusile and Ingula building costs.

But it will be the line-up of witnesses that will draw the most attention when the inquiry commences.

The committee chairperson Zukiswa Rantho was pushed by the Democratic Alliance’s David Maynier to commit to ensuring that the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma were summonsed‚ not invited.

Rantho had earlier referred to them as “potential” witnesses who could be called “if necessary”.

While the parliamentary inquiry into the SABC was able to break the stranglehold of the hitherto invincible Hlaudi Motsoeneng on the public broadcaster‚ it will take more than a committee probe to disinfect the state of the Gupta contagion.

But the inquiry could be the first step in unravelling the state capture network while we await a judicial commission of inquiry proposed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela‚ whose report has been put on ice pending Zuma’s review of her findings.

- TimesLIVE