Parliament to investigate Zwane over Optimum sale

14 March 2018 - 12:05 By Linda Ensor
Mosebenzi Zwane.
Mosebenzi Zwane.

Parliament's mineral resources committee is to investigate the role of former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane in the sale of the Optimum coal mine and other mining assets from Glencore to Gupta-owned Tegeta Exploration and Resources.

Zwane allegedly travelled to Zurich to facilitate the sale of Optimum and will be called to answer questions by MPs at the inquiry. He has repeatedly failed to appear at the committee's meetings on invitation to account for his actions and will be called by the inquiry - if necessary by subpoena - to answer questions the MPs have.

The committee met Wednesday to decide on the terms of reference for the inquiry into state capture in the Department of Mineral Resources. This will commence as a matter of urgency at the same time that the inquiry into state capture at Eskom by the public enterprises committee winds down. The inquiry is likely to commence next month and take a maximum of two months.

ANC MP Motswaledi Matlala questioned what purpose the committee's inquiry would serve as Zwane was no longer a minister; there was a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture; and law enforcement agencies were already dealing with state capture cases.

But committee chairperson Luzipo Sahlulele clarified that according to the advice of the House of Assembly chairperson Cedric Frolick‚ the committee was required to probe the tenure of the former minister. Frolick will be asked to provide an evidence leader for the inquiry.

Democratic Alliance spokesman on mineral resources James Lorimer insisted that the duty of the committee was to find out what went wrong within the department and to ensure it did not happen again. The inquiry needed to look at the performance of the department and how it acted to the benefit of the Gupta-owned companies to the detriment of other mining companies.

The committee decided that the inquiry would also focus on the alleged non-compliance by the department with the Public Finance Management Act‚ which resulted in fruitless and wasteful expenditure related to travel arrangements made by the department for Zwane.

It will also probe the alleged breach of the constitution and the executive members ethics act by Zwane regarding a conflict of interest.

The inquiry will also investigate the handling of the mining rehabilitation funds by the department. There have been allegations that some of the rehabilitation funds of Gupta-owned mines have been used for other purposes and that the funds are not at their stipulated level.

Also under the focus of the inquiry will be whether the appointment and dismissal of departmental officials was subject to "external undue influence" and allegedly without sufficient cause. In particular this relates to the dismissal of the Mpumalanga regional manager - subsequently reinstated after a ruling by the Labour Court - who was dismissed after he issued a compliance notice against the Gupta-owned Koornfontein mine.

The committee plans to call witnesses during the inquiry.

The inquiry partly emerges from the state of capture report of former public protector Thuli Madonsela‚ which was released in October 2016. The report contained a number of prima facie findings that pointed to possible governance failures and maladministration within the Department of Mineral Resources and the conflict of interest by Zwane.