#StateCaptureInquiry: Van Rooyen advisor issued instructions to staff before swearing in

Des van Rooyen. (Jan Gerber, News24)
Des van Rooyen. (Jan Gerber, News24)

So-called "weekend special" finance minister Des van Rooyen had not even been sworn in yet when his new advisor, Mohammed Bobat, started issuing instructions to Treasury staff, the state capture commission of inquiry has heard.

Bobat seemed to have been given authority which surpassed his role as ministerial advisor. In breaking a number of protocols and interfering in due processes at Treasury, Van Rooyen and his advisors shocked and angered senior officials.

Unknown authority

Phumza Macanda, former head of communications at National Treasury told the commission that, within minutes of meeting him, "he made it very clear that he had authority". She said she did not know where this authority came from.

Macanda was asked to give evidence relating to one of the issues to be covered by the commission's terms of reference: whether ministers appointed to the Ministry of Finance were appointed without proper procedures being followed.

Macanda said she could not comment on the legality of the issue, but that she could give evidence relating the behaviour of the advisors which she had witnessed, and her interactions with them.

She testified on Monday that, at the new minister's swearing-in ceremony at the Union Buildings in December 2015, she was waiting to meet Van Rooyen when a "tall gentleman", Bobat, introduced himself to her as the minister's advisor.

READ: How Gupta-linked adviser went over van Rooyen's head - ex-Treasury DG

This "puzzled" her, she said, because the minister had appointed an advisor before being sworn in.

Almost immediately, Bobat told Macanda that, from now on, all media statements were to go through him. This also puzzled her, she said, as it had always been Treasury policy that statements were approved by the minister or director general.

Aggressive manner

"I was also quite taken aback by his manner and tone of speaking. I found him to be very aggressive. It seemed to me that Mr Bobat was intent on asserting his authority with me very quickly… his manner was not just formal but forceful," she said.

At some point during this meeting, Bobat berated Van Rooyen for not returning one of his phone calls. The new minister explained that he did not have his advisor's number.

"I was flabbergasted," Macanda told the commission.

"I thought, do these people know each other? And if not, how did he become the minister's advisor?"

Macanda described the first, and last, meeting that Van Rooyen had with Treasury staff. He was joined by Bobat and his other advisor, Ian Whitley, who was introduced to the staff as the new chief of staff. Macanda said she attended the meeting despite being so ill that she could not drive. With a pen and paper in hand, she expected to be briefed on economic policy and other important Treasury business.

Instead, the meeting's only purpose seemed to be to introduce the new advisors, she said. Lungisa Fuzile, despite being an even-tempered man, was angry.

'By the book'

"Ok, let us just hold on…" Fuzile began, and he introduced all the Treasury staff in the room to the new minister, one by one. According to Macanda, Fuzile pointed to the ministerial handbook, which he held in his hand and said: "Here, we do everything by the book." "If I say to you: 'No, it's not going to be done,' it's not because I don't like your face. It is because it is not right by the regulations."

Macanda said she felt like she was watching Act 2 of a play, although she had not watched Act 1. She sensed that something had happened between Van Rooyen and Fuzile.

READ: StateCaptureInquiry: Former DG claims he was told he would get a Gupta minister

Macanda also recounted an instance where Bobat demanded that she close down a fake Twitter account opened in Van Rooyen's name. He would not listen to her when she said she could not do this without the password, she explained.

In another instance, Bobat told Macanda to stop the recruitment process for the position of Director: Media Relations – a position Macanda occupied before she was promoted. Bobat told Macanda that he would see to the appointment.

Inappropriate involvement

As the position was for the department and not for a spokesperson for the minister, Macanda said she told Bobat that his involvement was inappropriate. She referred him to the director general or his deputy, which were the only people who could stop the recruitment process, she said.

"This meeting was also very unusual. I cannot think of a normal situation in which I would discuss recruitment matters of the unit with an advisor," she said.

'I had a feeling that Bobat wanted his own person for the position," Macanda.

On another occasion where Bobat showed his "authority", Macanda described how the new advisor elbowed chief of staff Marlon Geswint out of his office. Bobat apparently told Geswint that he would have to move as Bobat would now be taking if over.

"It was hard to watch my colleague Geswint being run around so I decided to go downstairs… that was the last I saw the minister," said Macanda.

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