Public Protector finds Brown 'inadvertently' misled Parliament about Eskom-Trillian

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)

Cape Town - The Public Protector has found that Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown misled the National Assembly when she denied there were engagements between power utility Eskom and the Gupta-linked company Trillian Capital Partners.

This is according to a report issued by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to the Democratic Alliance on Thursday.

“Minister Brown inadvertently misled Parliament in her assertion that there were no other contracts of engagement concluded between Eskom and Trillian," states the report. 

The report relates to the minister’s written reply to a parliamentary question from December 2016 about whether Eskom had paid money to Trillian.

The DA alleged that Brown had failed to disclose that there were in fact “contracts of engagement” between Eskom and Trillian. 

The party subsequently laid a complaint with the Public Protector that the minister violated the executive ethics code.

In her findings, the Public Protector stated the allegation was substantiated. She also found that the complaint that Brown breached the executive ethics code is substantiated.

Mkhwebane’s remedial action calls for the president to take “appropriate action” against Brown for violating the ethics code and the Constitution. The president has 14 days to submit comments on the Public Protector’s report and provide a report to the National Assembly on action to be taken.

Brown misled by senior Eskom officials

Late on Thursday evening the Ministry of Public Enterprises issued a statement on the report. 

“According to the information the minister received from Eskom in response to the question, signed off by the chief financial officer on behalf of the chief executive officer, no payments were made.

“The minister relayed this information to Parliament, but it subsequently emerged that Eskom had indeed made payments to Trillian,” the statement read.

Having received the Public Protector's report, Brown said that she had informed Parliament’s ethics committee and the Public Protector about which “senior Eskom officials” had misled her.

“I instructed Eskom’s Board to take disciplinary action against those who conspired to mislead me, Parliament and the country,” she said.

Brown explained that parliamentary questions on matters dealing with state-owned companies are signed off by the chief executive officer. This particular question was signed off by former chief financial officer Anoj Singh, who has been linked to the Gupta family according to revelations contained in the #GuptaLeaks

Brown added that she instructed her department to strengthen oversight mechanisms to avoid a repeat of the situation.

The DA in turn has called on Ramaphosa to fire Brown. 

“If the President is truly committed to building a government that is beyond reproach, he must immediately remove anyone who is found guilty of unethical behaviour from his Cabinet," MP Natasha Mazzone said in a statement.

“Minister Brown has acted for far too long with utter impunity. It was under her watch that Eskom and our other parastatals were virtually financially ruined and ethically ruined,” said Mazzone.

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