Treasury men out for Jacob Zuma's blood

Ministers, officials line up at Zondo's state capture inquiry

26 August 2018 - 00:07
Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhanare expected to testify at the state capture inquiry.
Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhanare expected to testify at the state capture inquiry.

Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan will headline a high-powered list of current and former National Treasury officials who will present evidence to the Zondo commission of inquiry about how the Zuma administration tried to break down the department to aid state capture.

They include director-general Dondo Mogajane; his predecessor, Lungisa Fuzile; deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat; and former officials Andrew Donaldson, Kenneth Brown, Michael Sachs and Fuad Cassim. The commission is yet to decide when to call them in.

The Sunday Times understands that the commission has already written to Gordhan and Nene asking for evidence on events leading up to their respective dismissals and to confirm the testimony of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas about his interactions with them after the alleged attempt by the Gupta family to bribe him.

The commission has also written to the Treasury asking its current and former officials to make submissions about the alleged illegal appointments of ministerial advisers when Des van Rooyen briefly became finance minister in December 2015.

Nene and Gordhan's testimony in the next few weeks is likely to include a number of bombshell revelations about the complicity of former president Jacob Zuma and current and former cabinet colleagues in undermining the Treasury and attempting to strip it of its powers.

Jonas's testimony at the inquiry on Friday opened a new front for a fightback by the Treasury after deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo said he wanted to know "how deep the phenomenon of state capture went in the country", and specifically the hostility facing the finance department.

Jonas told Zondo that the Treasury lacked political support, particularly from the president, faced "palpable hostility" from other members of the cabinet, and that budgets were undermined.

"There were moments where the borrowing authority of Treasury was literally undermined," said Jonas. "It was increasingly difficult to perform our constitutional role."

Nene and Gordhan are likely to lift the lid on attempts by Zuma and their cabinet colleagues to railroad them into undermining the national budget and approving major contracts such as the R1-trillion nuclear build programme and the R6bn SAA Airbus deal.

Jonas testified that Nene was fired because of his refusal to sign off on the nuclear deal. Nene will be asked to provide details of the nuclear power agreement, secretly signed by former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson with the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom, and the battles in the cabinet to approve the deal.

Nene will also have to testify about his standoff with former SAA chair Dudu Myeni over the Airbus deal. Gordhan was also under political pressure to approve the SAA deal when he was reappointed at the finance ministry in December 2015, but refused.

Gordhan's evidence will also cover the events leading up to his and Jonas's dismissal in March last year, including attempts by former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane to get cabinet intervention to reopen the Guptas' bank accounts.

He is also likely to testify about Zuma's role in his battle with suspended South African Revenue Service boss Tom Moyane.

Jonas testified that during the alleged attempt to bribe him into accepting the position of finance minister, Ajay Gupta said the Treasury was a "stumbling block for their growth" and wanted him to fire Fuzile, Momoniat, Donaldson and Brown.

"Further, he said they would provide me with replacements for all these people and that they would provide me with the necessary support including advisers," Jonas told Zondo.

He said Gupta had claimed that he and his brothers had made about R6bn from the fiscus from state-owned entities and government departments and wanted to increase the amount to R8bn.

A Treasury official, who asked not the be named, said: "We have a lot to give them. The judge's questions to Mcebisi have hopefully broadened the scope so that we are not limited to specific incidents mentioned. There was enormous hostility and undermining of the Treasury.

"They have not even started with Eskom, Transnet and the rest. There is a lot to tell."

Several Treasury officials, including Fuzile and Mogajane, will have to tell the commission about what transpired when Van Rooyen arrived at the Treasury accompanied by Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat. The Sunday Times understands that the submissions will relate how Bobat, who was to be Van Rooyen's adviser, demanded confidential documents about SAA's affairs on his first day at the Treasury.

Several sources said the officials could assist the commission with information about the sustained attack on the Treasury, including how Zuma and former ministers planned to shift the Financial Intelligence Centre to the department of state security in order to conceal damning financial records of those receiving illicit payments through the state capture project. David Mahlobo was state security minister at the time.

They said Zuma also tried to shift the budgeting process out of the Treasury to the ministry of performance monitoring & evaluation in the presidency, at the time headed by Jeff Radebe. The powers and functions of the Treasury, including the budget process, are set out in the constitution and it would have been illegal to reassign these.

"Zuma wanted the budgeting process to be run by Jeff. Jeff should also be asked to answer for his attempts to interfere in the budget," said an official.

Last year, Treasury budget chief Sachs resigned after the presidency took over the budget process to make funds available for Zuma's free education plan.

Other ministers who could be implicated in attacks on the Treasury and undermining of the budget are Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Lindiwe Zulu.

The fightback to restore the integrity of the Treasury could lead to senior officials across the state system coming forward with information on how they were ordered to aid state capture and direct funds to Gupta-aligned companies.

"Everybody has a story like ours. The Treasury was the last one standing and put up resistance to the president, ministers and the Guptas," said one official.

Commission spokesman Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela said they were still consulting with a number of witnesses and could not confirm who would be appearing before the inquiry and when.