'Why did you not do anything about corruption?' ANC MP asks Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa in the National Assembly (Adrian de Kock, Netwerk24)
Cyril Ramaphosa in the National Assembly (Adrian de Kock, Netwerk24)

Cape Town - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was put on the spot on Thursday over his alleged failure to tackle corruption at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), by an MP in his own caucus.

During a lively question session in Parliament on SOEs, ANC MP Zukiswa Rantho asked Ramaphosa a supplementary question the House was seemingly not expecting.

Rantho is currently chairing the inquiry into Eskom and other SOEs in the portfolio committee on public enterprises.

"Deputy President, yesterday [Wednesday] we had a witness in the Eskom inquiry who said we have taken too long to deal with corruption in SOEs," Rantho said.

"As the chairperson of the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) on state-owned enterprises, why did you not do anything about the corruption in SOEs?"

Opposition MPs even seemed taken aback, breaking into applause that caused a delay in proceedings.

"These incidents of corruption are only now spewing out, that all of us have become aware of it," Ramaphosa said to groans from the opposition.

"To this end, the various Parliamentary committees have been set up to deal with all of these. We have delayed and taken too long, to act against those who have been involved in these acts.

"The IMC that I chair looks at policy parameters on, for instance, share ownership and architecture, and appointment to boards."

Also read: If I am fired, it will be at the president's pleasure - Ramaphosa

Ramaphosa said they had relied on criminal justice agencies, and Parliamentarians to hold the entities accountable.

"And in some cases, there have been lapses. In some instances, the NPA had to be taken to court to ask: ‘Why aren't you investigating these cases?'"

The Public Protector and the Auditor General has also investigated and made recommendations, he said.

He would not let his fellow Parliamentarians off the hook either, saying they have also had a duty to hold public officials and SOEs to account.

"If I were to bunk or not even appear here, that would be nobody else's responsiblity [to hold me to account] but yours."

'Only realising now'

It was not going to be an easy day for Ramaphosa, following media reports that he also faces the axe in President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet on Friday.

Ramaphosa started answering the original question on SOEs in a heated atmosphere.

"Corruption is one of the most serious challenges in effecting governance in our country today. We are only now becoming aware of the devastating effect...through the emails and so forth."

But, at that point, MPs started making so much noise, some expressing outrage and others laughing, that Ramaphosa's answer was drowned out.

What a joke!" DA chief whip John Steenhuisen could be heard shouting.

Also read: Ramaphosa: SARS 'rogue unit' report was 'grossly unfair' to Gordhan

But Ramaphosa continued that members of the board or elected political officer bearers should just focus on oversight and strategy, he continued, and never get involved in management and procurement issues.

There were several lessons that government must learn from the SOE inquiry, namely hiring skilled professionals, revamping election processes for board members, building a credible law enforcement agency, and instituting lifestyle audits for all public officials.

Cabinet has therefore adopted a guide on the appointment of SOE boards, he said.

'We have always known'

"There is always a temptation for people who are not officials of SOEs [to intervene]. Some even go further and also meddle in procurement processes," he said.

"We know!" DA MPs shouted back.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkuleko Hlwengwa told Ramaphosa his silence has aided and abetted the corruption that now prevails in the country's SOEs for eight years.

The opposition has known for years and he remained quiet, Hlengwa charged.

But Ramaphosa continued his response above the groans from the opposition.

"This is not the time for finger-pointing. This is time for action. I welcome robust enthusiasm to this matter."

He said they wanted to root out corruption, hold those responsible to book, and restore good governance.

"Do you want some cream with that waffle?" Steenhuisen chirped as he finished.

"This is the time we should act together," Ramaphosa concluded, taking his seat to a smattering of applause from the ANC caucus.

The question session continued.

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