Procedural blunder stalls Anoj Singh's evidence at state capture inquiry

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Former Eskom CFO Anoj Singh sought a postponement of his evidence. (Pic: Gallo Images)
Former Eskom CFO Anoj Singh sought a postponement of his evidence. (Pic: Gallo Images)
  • Anoj Singh was expected to give critical evidence relating to his time at Eskom and payments to the Gupta-linked Tegeta firm.
  • Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was initially opposed to granting the postponement, but later awarded the order.
  • Zondo lambasted the legal team for issuing Singh with a summons based on a non-existing affidavit.

One of the most anticipated testimonies at the state capture inquiry failed to get underway on Wednesday, leaving a seasoned advocate red-faced and the country's second most senior judge livid.

At 10:00, the stage was set for the evidence by Anoj Singh, a former chief financial officer at Eskom, whose name has repeatedly been implicated in damning claims of improper conduct and corruption by witnesses who had presented evidence before the inquiry, which began in August 2018.

The allegations made against Singh are linked to his tenure as a high ranking financial officer guarding the financial health of the country's two critical state-owned companies, Eskom and Transnet. 

The entities bore the heaviest brunt of capture by companies and individuals who siphoned billions from them through high-value business contracts which have been said to be awarded with the help of top executives.

Singh's evidence was expected to provide vital pieces to the state capture puzzle at Eskom, as well as the circumstances around the company's controversial contract with McKinsey alongside Gupta-linked company Trillian, which has seen the global consultancy firm forced to pay back nearly R1 billion of some fees it received from the power utility.

However, what appeared to be an amateurish blunder on the part of the commission's legal team, stalled what has undoubtedly been one of the much-anticipated testimonies, 

On Wednesday morning, Advocate Anneline Van den Heever, representing Singh,  hastily presented the Chairperson of the Commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, with a fresh affidavit which set out reasons why Singh was not in a position to give evidence.

Legal blunder

It turned out that the reason for the late filing of the affidavit was because Singh was only in December 2017 issued with summons before being allowed to file his affidavit, in what Zondo said made the summons "fatally defective".

Zondo wanted to know if the summons which was issued made reference to an affidavit, when in actual fact Singh had not submitted and affidavit.

Evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka sheepishly tried in vain to talk himself out of the corner by stating that there had been an undertaking that Singh would file, but his explanation did not land him any favour with Zondo, who was growing increasingly impatient with the excuses presented to him.

"So, how do I insist that he must give evidence when the summons told him to come and testify about a non-existent affidavit,"  Zondo asked Seleka. "You cannot send a summons that is based on a none existing affidavit."

After the exchange with Seleka, Zondo concluded that he was inclined to grant Singh a postponement, and ordered him to present a comprehensive affidavit by the close of business on Monday. A new date for his to present evidence will be set at a later stage.

Singh was seconded to Eskom in August 2015. He had held the position of CFO at Transnet.

As an executive who was in charge of Eskom finances between 2015 and mid-2017, Singh has been accused of being a central player in the looting of the struggling entity by companies linked to the Gupta family. This included a prepayment made in April 2016 to Tegeta Exploration and Resources after it was awarded a coal contract by Eskom.

In August 2020, the accounting watchdog, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, stripped Singh of his membership after an independent disciplinary committee found him guilty on 12 of the 18 charges of improper conduct levelled against him.

Running out of time

Before granting the postponement, Zondo expressed concern that the commission cannot afford a delay in hearing evidence as it was running out of time.

"The commission simply does not have much time left. It is very difficult to allow any time to be lost," he told Singh's lawyer.

Last year, Zondo was granted an extension to complete work by March 2021. A number of high-profile witnesses are still expected to appear, and the commission was set to hear Eskom-related evidence for the rest of this week.

The inquiry is empowered to probe allegations of corruption cases in national, provincial government and all state-owned enterprises, as part of the recommendation of a report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in 2016.

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