Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has blamed the governance frameworks under which public enterprises ministers have to operate for his inability to raise a red flag on what, in hindsight, he now recognises as state capture.
Giving his testimony before the Eskom inquiry in Parliament on Tuesday, Gigaba said his duties as public enterprises minister from 2010 to 2014, were “constrained” to being the shareholder representative of government with oversight responsibility for state owned enterprises.
This meant that he could not “meddle in procurement processes” or concern himself with the “nitty-gritty administrative duties of who gets or does not get government tenders”.
“I could not take stock of who received what tenders or did not get them or interfere with the day to day operations of the enterprises. As a minister my duty was only to provide the broad parameters of how the state-owned companies were to operate using legislation or policies that exist to assist government to function decisively,” said Gigaba.
This struck a sour note with most MPs present, particularly the Democratic Alliance’s Natasha Mazzone.
She accused him of “passing the buck” in saying his subordinates were the ones better placed to raising concerns.
Mazzone went on to remind Gigaba that under his ministerial leadership Eskom and Transnet spent a combined R24.7 million on breakfasts with the Gupta-owned The New Age publication between November 2011 and the financial year end of 2012.
“When did you take action, and what excuse was given to you for the ridiculously large amounts of money being spent from state owned entities?” questioned Mazzone.
“I was upset at the huge amounts of money and I took the decision to write to the boards of all the state-owned companies that, even though this was below the materiality threshold and was strictly within the operational operational purview of the board, it was going to be necessary that in matters of this nature the department should be consulted so that we are able to take a view,” explained Gigaba.
He took this opportunity to demonstrate that this particular incident was a good example in highlighting the limitations of his role as public enterprises minister.
He said as much as he was angered by the issue, could not tell the companies to stop immediately since the matter was below the materiality threshold.
His only course of action, he said, was to place the matter in the hands of the boards of the very state-owned companies accused of being captured to make a decision on the issue.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Floyd Shivambu – after unsettling Gigaba through questioning his nationality and place of birth – went on to accuse him of not fully understanding the role of a minister.
Referring to section 54 of the Public Finance Management Act – which sets out the rights of cabinet members and deputy ministers – Shivambu said: “It’s you (as a minister) who must give approval for the transactions within your department.”
Gigaba maintained that Shivambu was deliberately misreading what section 54 prescribes, stating that it does not imply that the ministers should be involved in the nitty-gritties, such as the approving of tenders, but that the minister provides the broader parameters of how the state-owned companies should operate.
Gigaba maintained his innocence and said that questionable contracts at Eskom that have been linked to state capture – such as Tegeta’s acquisition of Optimum Coal Mine – happened outside his tenure.
He also maintained that he was not at the centre of the naturalisation of the Gupta family members, saying that only four of the 13 Gupta family members were naturalised during his tenure as home affairs minister.
Gigaba, however, acknowledged that “in hindsight, The New Age breakfasts were inappropriate”.
Meanwhile, the portfolio committee on public enterprises said it would launch a process to subpoena former South African Airways chief executive Dudu Myeni, the Gupta brothers and Duduzane Zuma to appear before the inquiry.