News analysis: Who is Ms Brown?

2017-11-19 05:57
Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown during a meeting with Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts on May 30, 2017. (Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander)

Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown during a meeting with Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts on May 30, 2017. (Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander)

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In Bob Marley’s song Mr Brown, the reggae maestro asks: “I want to know who is Mr Brown? Is Mr Brown controlled by remote?” South Africans were left asking the same questions about Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, following testimony by an Eskom executive outlining how she was run by the Guptas.

Eskom board spokesperson and reputational manager Khulani Qoma had the country enraptured this week as he spoke of how Brown deliberately fielded weak boards, protected wayward executives and did as much as she could to further the interests of the Guptas.

“Minister Brown’s boards have always attracted lightweights, who also lack the most critical values – probity and morals. It’s like she goes out of her way to look for the worst possible candidates,” Qoma told the parliamentary committee currently conducting a probe into Eskom.

In his written submission to the committee, Qoma painted a picture of a minister who knowingly refuses to take the right decisions that are in the interests of the corporation by hiding behind the sentence, “It’s an operational matter.”

And then, when a crisis she could have prevented hits the public domain, she resorts to the defences of “I was lied to”, “I was misled” and “ I didn’t know”.

Qoma alleges that Brown – together with former Eskom board chairperson Ben Ngubane – enabled the capture of the power utility. It was a task primarily carried out by former chief executive officer (CEO) Brian Molefe, suspended chief financial officer Anoj Singh and suspended head of generation Matshela Koko.

Among the charges that Qoma levels at Brown and Ngubane are that:

  • Despite the damning revelations in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report and Koko’s incriminating performance in a Carte Blanche interview, Brown saw fit to go ahead and authorise the appointment of the Gupta soldier as acting CEO when Molefe left in November 2016;
  • Brown allowed for the concealment of the Dentons report into malfeasance at Eskom;
  • She approved Molefe’s abortive R30 million bonus, then claimed not to know about it when it hit newspaper headlines;
  • She allowed the suspension of legal head Suzanne Daniels after the latter had compiled a report into the massive dodgy payments made to consultants McKinsey and the Gupta-linked Trillian;
  • She did nothing when the board approached her with the “outrageous” request for permission to grant the now suspended Singh – who is facing serious charges – access to its minutes;
  • She took no action when she discovered that Singh had lied to her about payments to Trillian, a lie that led her to mislead Parliament;
  • She allegedly stopped Koko’s suspension after receiving an instruction from one of the Gupta brothers;
  • She authorised the “rotation” of acting CEOs, a recipe for instability;
  • She approved the appointment of current acting CEO Sean Maritz, who was accused of having hired a church friend irregularly, and deleted incriminating evidence from company computers; and
  • Purged credible board members in favour of obscure and unethical ones.

All of these, believes Qoma, are part of Brown’s intention to pursue “her nefarious project”.

On the subject of Brown being captured, Qoma says no less a person than current chair Sithembele Khoza made the claim to him during a meeting at the latter’s house that the minister “was captured and she takes instructions from the G-brothers”.

While he characterises Brown’s board appointments as comprising “lousy” and “vulnerable individuals” who will “bow to her often unethical and irrational decisions”, Qoma is equally harsh on the executive management of the energy utility. “Eskom’s executive committee is old and tired, strewn with instruction-takers, acolytes and straight-up collaborators in the pillaging of the state asset,” he says.

Despite Brown managing to project a clean image in the midst of scandals involving her lover, her personal assistant, board members and executives of entities that report to her, Qoma insists that she “is fully submerged under water”.

“How is it that she is miraculously capture-free when everyone around appears to be captured?” asks Qoma.

When the hearings in the inquiry that Brown has labelled a “kangaroo court” resume, many more surprises are set to emerge.

It may then become clearer as to who Ms Brown is and whether she is indeed controlled by remote.

Read more on:    lynne brown

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