Mkhwebane 'stalls' Gupta probes

18 June 2017 - 00:04 By QAANITAH HUNTER

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is sitting on at least four separate investigation reports involving the Gupta family, keeping them under wraps for the eight months since she took office.
Apart from the infamous State of Capture report, the office of the public protector investigated a series of separate complaints involving the Guptas and businesses co-owned by President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane.
The revelations come in a week when Mkhwebane undertook to conduct a preliminary probe into the leaked Gupta e-mails.
Mkhwebane's inaction is vindication for her critics who said, even before she was appointed, that she would be a paper tiger.Since taking office in October last year, Mkhwebane's office has released 11 reports, none of which involved any big political figures.
Mkhwebane's spokeswoman, Cleopatra Mosene, confirmed the existence of the reports, but said the investigations were pending - not buried.
However, legal expert Phephelaphi Dube, a director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, said there were no legal grounds for the protector to keep the findings of any report to herself once an investigation had been conducted.
"The overwhelming public interest in matters involving maladministration by the state or state-owned enterprises overrides whatever entitlement the public protector may have to hold onto any report," she said.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela left a draft report on the illegal landing of Gupta wedding guests at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013, in which it is believed that a finding was made against Zuma.
Madonsela conducted the investigation following a complaint from DA MP David Maynier.
A source with intimate knowledge of the investigations said the report noted that Zuma had failed to act after his name was used for an illegal action and even promoted the man who abused his name - former head of protocol Bruce Koloane - to ambassador to the Netherlands.
The decision to investigate the matter was taken in 2013 but the probe went slowly due to a lack of resources.
"That report was ready ... I don't know why it has taken nine months to finalise it," the source said.
Maynier accused Mkhwebane of delaying finalising the investigation. He said her inaction could erode public trust in her office.
Madonsela also conducted three investigations involving The New Age newspaper. These dealt with:
• The relationship between The New Age and the SABC;
• The millions of rands in sponsorship The New Age received from state-owned companies; and
• The relationship between The New Age and the North West provincial government.The main complainant in The New Age investigations was the Roman Catholic Dominican Order.
Madonsela also investigated the relationship between the Guptas and influential politicians, including Zuma, after a complaint by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
An insider who was close to these investigations said Madonsela left a preliminary investigation report on The New Age investigation involving state-owned companies.
"That investigation was almost concluded and section 7 (9) notices were issued where implicated parties have 10 to 14 days to convince you otherwise on the [findings]," a source close to the matter said.
Madonsela investigated the alleged R40-million that Eskom paid to sponsor the Gupta newspaper's breakfast briefings. The utility's decision to spend millions of rands on buying copies of the paper was also investigated alongside the SABC's decision to broadcast the briefings in its lucrative morning slot free of charge.
"There was a finding that there was irrationality in terms of value for money from The New Age," the source said.
The public protector also investigated allegations there was no commercial value for the government to fund the paper and place adverts in it.
"The [readership] of the [Duduzane] Zuma and Gupta-owned New Age was not verified. Government was putting money in a project and they did not know whether The New Age was read by people or not," the source explained, adding that there was a provisional report prepared on the matter.
The insider revealed that the investigation into the alleged dodgy partnership between The New Age and the North West government to set up a newspaper was also almost completed.
Mosene said the investigations into the SABC and The New Age "were part of State of Capture, which is currently under judicial review".However, in her State of Capture report, Madonsela wrote that she had decided to investigate "any contract(s) awarded to The New Age newspaper and/or TNA Media by the SABC. The investigation into SABC will, however, form part of the next phase of the investigation."
Mosene said the public protector was still investigating allegations by Numsa. She declined to give details, saying that to disclose confidential information would compromise the probe.
She dismissed suggestions that Mkhwebane was sitting on investigations involving the Guptas.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.



Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.