How Gupta-linked adviser went over Van Rooyen's head – ex-Treasury DG

2018-11-22 15:45
Former minister Des van Rooyen. (Gallo Images)

Former minister Des van Rooyen. (Gallo Images)

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Former Treasury director general Lungisa Fuzile revealed how Des van Rooyen, who was appointed finance minister by former president Jacob Zuma for a calamitous weekend in December 2015, allegedly arrived at the National Treasury with a pre-appointed adviser.

Fuzile testified on Thursday at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture about the impact Van Rooyen's appointment had on the Treasury, one of the country's most respected institutions.

"I was taken aback," said Fuzile about the moment when Mohamed Bobat introduced himself as Van Rooyen's adviser ahead of the ill-fated swearing in of South Africa's shortest-serving finance minister. 

Fuzile was shocked further when Bobat allegedly gave him instructions.

"I'd require a statement from you to be issued by the minister," the adviser told the director general even before he had a signed contract in place.

"Mr Bobat did not care about protocol and civilities at all. He appeared determined to assert authority over me. He was not bothered that he was not an employee of the department and that his role had never been explained to me by anyone else other than himself," Fuzile told the commission.

'You are now going to get a Gupta minister'

"Mr Bobat felt such a sense of authority and empowerment that he could issue instructions to anyone without first checking with the person (the minister-designate) on whose behalf he purported to act. He gave me the impression of being a law unto himself," said Fuzile.

On Tuesday, Fuzile revealed that on the evening Nene was axed (December 9, 2015) he received a call from the head of the ANC's economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana, who told him: "You are now going to get a Gupta minister who will arrive with (Indian) advisers."

While Fuzile said he tried to give Van Rooyen's appointment the benefit of the doubt, when he met Bobat, he realised that Godongwana's warning was, in fact, true. It was also clear, said Fuzile, that the new minister and his appointed adviser did not really know each other.

"I picked up that Mr Bobat had tried to call Mr Van Rooyen earlier. There was a bit of agitation in Mr Bobat's voice. Quite importantly, Mr Van Rooyen commented that he did not know Mr Bobat's number."

READ: #StateCaptureInquiry: Former DG claims he was told he would get a 'Gupta minister'

Van Rooyen looked a bit "sheepish" in these interactions, said Fuzile. It later transpired that Bobat worked at Trillian, a financial advisory company owned in part by the Gupta family's lieutenant Salim Essa, who shares numerous business cross-holdings with the family.

Over the two days of Van Rooyen's tenure, Bobat and the other adviser, Ian Whitley, forwarded confidential Treasury documents to Trillian where CEO Eric Wood had already prepared a work plan to take over key aspects of the department's work.

Information in the public domain has shown how the Guptas influenced former president Zuma to assert his control over the Treasury which stood in the way of key deals in which the family had an interest.

This included the deal to buy locomotives for Transnet at an initial cost of R34bn (which ballooned to R54bn); the outsourcing of Denel's intellectual property by a company owned by Essa; and also the nuclear deal which Zuma pushed for with excessive pressure, as Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan revealed in his testimony this week. The Gupta's owned a uranium mine – the feedstock of nuclear energy.

R500bn wiped off markets

Earlier, Fuzile told the commission that Van Rooyen had eschewed standard practices at the National Treasury, including a handover from the previous minister (Nene) and a joint address to the staff to allay any concerns.

"We use handovers (from minister to minister) to illustrate there is no problem, that life continues. We wanted to do a similar thing with the outgoing minister (Nene). People had been unnerved by Nene's firing. I also asked him (Van Rooyen) to consider issuing a media statement in light of a serious and precipitous fall in the value of the currency. It would respond very directly to issues that concerned [the markets and the country]," said Fuzile.

Instead, Van Rooyen said "the tendency" of Treasury staff issuing statements had to stop and he told Fuzile that he would not come in early for the handover, he would come into the office when he wanted to.

"I was disappointed because he was breaking tradition. It would make a good start to hear his predecessor and address staff together. To get the mood of the department he was going to be leading," said Fuzile.

Van Rooyen was axed less than two days later but not before R500bn had been wiped off the markets, while the rand went into free fall. Fuzile's testimony was geared at revealing how the Treasury, as an institution, was under attack.

Bobat's appointment is part of a pattern that is becoming clearer at the Zondo commission of inquiry and shows how alleged state captors used ministerial adviser positions to execute their work.

Last week former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan revealed that her legal adviser Yunus Shaik, in fact, worked for Zuma.

This week, Gordhan revealed that Senti Thobejane, who was employed as an adviser to former minister of energy Ben Martins was, in fact, Zuma's middleman in his push to secure a nuclear deal with Russia.

Read more on:    lungisa fezile  |  jacob zuma  |  gupta family  |  des van rooyen  |  state capture  |  politics
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