Objections as Patel appoints acting chair of Lotteries Commission

02 December 2020 - 21:14
Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel has appointed NLC board member Zandile Brown to act as a caretaker chair.
Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel has appointed NLC board member Zandile Brown to act as a caretaker chair.
Image: 123rf/Andriy Popov

The appointment of a new board chair for the embattled National Lotteries Commission (NLC) will be delayed as the parliamentary committee tasked with finding a suitable candidate elected to start the process next year.

In the meantime, trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel has appointed NLC board member Zandile Brown to act as a caretaker chair.

Outgoing Prof Alfred Nevhutanda's term ended on November 30.

In a heated meeting of the trade and industry portfolio committee on Wednesday, opposition MPs expressed unhappiness over Brown's appointment. They also wanted the parliamentary committee to meet during the December recess to shortlist and interview candidates so the process can be concluded before the year ends.

Parliament is going on its Christmas break on Friday.

DA MP Matthew Cuthbert said Brown was an ill-advised appointment by Patel as she had been part of the same board that, he said, allowed for looting to continue unabated despite being the minister's representative.

Cuthbert said had Brown spoken out about wrongdoing in the lotteries, her appointment would have been a different story. Brown, an employee of the department of trade & industry is Patel's representative in the NLC board.

Cuthbert accused the ANC of leaving the recruitment to the last minute.

Another DA MP, Dean Macpherson, urged the parliamentary committee to express its extreme disappointment in the way in which Patel exercised his right to appoint an acting chair for the NLC.

He said Brown had serious question marks hanging over her head, had been complicit in the destruction of the NLC and had shown no ability to speak out in the face of wrongdoing.

“That's something that should concern the committee extremely, that the minister has not sought in any shape or form to try to remedy the decline and rot at the NLC and, in fact, what he has done is take a lot of infected dirt and rubbed it in the wound of the NLC to try to quicken its demise by this appointment,” said Macpherson.

“It is the poorest of the poor that some of us here claim to represent who will be the hardest hit,” he said.

He made an impassioned plea to MPs to forego a few days of their break to make sure they recruit a new chair before the end of the year.

“Option one is to fold our arms and go on holiday and fill our beach towels while sipping pina coladas while the sun sets, or we can roll up our sleeves, get on a plane to Cape Town and start the process of shortlisting candidates,” he said.

Macpherson said the success or failure of the NLC single-handedly hinged on whether MPs elected to fast-track the process.

ANC MPs disagreed.

Judy Hermans said she was not surprised that Patel's pick was being rejected by opposition MPs. “But as the ANC, we have all the faith in our minister that he has applied his mind and appointed the best person. We support the proposal by the minister,” she said.

ANC MP Tozama Mantashe accused the DA of grandstanding, saying the NLC was an entity that had produced clean audit outcomes over time.

“Just like any other entity, it has its problem. I don't know what the hullabaloo is about because the irregularities identified by the minister are being investigated,” she said. “We will not be tossed around by the DA,” she said while expressing support for Patel.

Mantashe said she was not aware of the rot the DA spoke about “because those irregularities ... that happens in all entities”.

In the end MPs voted to start the recruitment on January 26.

According to the draft programme they adopted, short listing of candidates will be done on January 26 and 27, followed by a public participation process and interviews to conclude the process on March 3.

The DA and FF Plus voted against the programme and the EFF abstained.

The Lotteries Commission has been marred by allegations of corruption, nepotism and other forms of wrongdoing. This prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to sign a proclamation last month authorising the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the allegations of corruption at the NLC.

The appointment of a new chair was expected to help restore the credibility of the organisation.

Last month, Patel kicked off the recruitment process by referring a list of nominated candidates to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise, requesting that a relevant parliamentary committee recommend a preferred candidate that he could appoint.

Patel, following advice of an independent shortlisting panel, also identified three prominent South Africans from the nominations — former public protector Thuli Madonsela, anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Reverend Frank Chikane and human rights lawyer and academic Barney Pityana for consideration. Madonsela has since withdrawn from the process, citing a busy schedule.

The EFF objected to the process, questioning Patel's role in what it said should be a parliamentary process. Parliament's legal advisers agreed that the shortlisting of nominated candidates was the job of the parliamentary committee.

MPs will be shortlisting from the 41 names that Patel referred to Modise.