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Brown dodges Gupta query

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Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

Cape Town - Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown is neither confirming nor denying if she, or her deputy minister, met with members or business associates of the Gupta family.

In response to a parliamentary question by the DA’s Natasha Mazzone about whether such a meeting had taken place, Brown responded: “The duties of ministers and deputy ministers are outlined in the ministerial handbook.”

Mazzone, who acts as her party’s spokesperson on public enterprises, said Brown’s response was a “deliberate non-answer”.

“If Minister Brown did not at all meet with the Guptas, then why not just say so? This response is unacceptable and is not answered truthfully and in full,” Mazzone said.

The DA has been on the offensive since deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas announced earlier this year that the Gupta family had offered him the position of finance minister.

The official opposition has subsequently posed written parliamentary questions and verbal questions during parliamentary committee meetings and plenary sessions, asking ministers and high ranking state officials if they had meetings with the Guptas, or their business associates.

There are allegations that the Gupta family, who are close to President Jacob Zuma and his family, are involved in changes that the president makes to his cabinet and that they have influence over the affairs of some South African state-owned companies.

The sudden replacement of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene with little-known Des van Rooyen was allegedly driven by the Guptas. In addition, it is widely speculated that the suspension of three Denel high-ranking officials, including former CEO Riaz Saloojee, was to clear the way for a controversial deal with the Gupta family.

Since a new board took over at Denel in September last year, Denel registered as a partner an Asian subsidiary, Denel Asia, in Hong Kong in January with VR Laser, a company with strong Gupta ties. Gupta business partner Salim Essa owns the company, and one of the Gupta brothers’ sons sits on its board.

Following Brown’s evasive answer, the DA’s Mazzone said in a statement she would write to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity as leader of government business, demanding that Brown answers the question “fully and truthfully”.

“It is shameful that the minister is avoiding questions regarding the Guptas, despite very serious allegations of several SOEs under her purview being seized and interfered with by the Guptas. In so doing she lends credence to these allegations.

“If Minister Brown has confidence that everything was above board, she would have said so because she has been quite outspoken in the past about dispelling allegations about her department,” Mazzone said.

Last week, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe announced that the ANC decided to abandon their investigation into the allegations of state capture by the Guptas, despite utterances to the contrary by people, such as former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor and Themba Maseko, former government spokesperson.

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