COMMENT AND ANALYSIS
The first official inquiry into state capture will start at 09:00 on Tuesday morning in the Old Assembly chamber in parliament when the portfolio committee on public enterprises will meet to start its probe into Eskom, Transnet and Denel.
All three state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been at the heart of the vast and intricate network of patronage, rent-seeking and grand corruption with the Gupta family as one of the major beneficiaries, enabled by a weakening state and President Jacob Zuma.
And this could be Pravin Gordhan's moment, who over the last 18 months has emerged as the face of resistance against the capture of the state and its institutions by the corrupt and connected.
And this could be Pravin Gordhan's moment, who over the last 18 months has emerged as the face of resistance against the capture of the state and its institutions by the corrupt and connected. As the former minister of finance he knows exactly what battles National Treasury had to fight to combat graft and to ensure that SOEs comply with the law and regulatory prescripts. Gordhan -- like his predecessor Nhlanhla Nene -- was, however, fired when he ostensibly became too much of a stumbling block in the ramped up efforts to extract as much from the state as possible.
His insights and insider knowledge can be the committee's ace.
The inquiry commences against the background of Zuma still resisting calls to establish a judicial commission of inquiry, as instructed by the findings of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report. He has challenged the findings of the report and his lawyers will argue his case later this month in the Pretoria High Court. Neither the Hawks nor the National Prosecuting Authority, Sars, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) or the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) has acted on the slew of revelations about the depth and range of state capture over the last year.
Parliamentary committees such as this one has vast powers to subpoena and interrogate witnesses and documentation.
The challenge for the committee will be to get to the bottom of the rot at the three SOEs. Parliamentary committees such as this one have vast powers to subpoena and interrogate witnesses and documentation. It can literally call anybody -- including the head of state -- to appear in front of it and testify under oath. It can also hold those unwilling in contempt of Parliament and those lying to the legislature can be charged with perjury. In theory, at least, the committee can, with the necessary political will and commitment, strike a serious blow for accountability, transparency and the rule of law.
ANC MPs will be walking a tightrope between running the full gamut and exposing wrongdoing right down to the bone and managing political sensitivities. The opposition will have to box cleverly –-- if they can enable Gordhan to ask the right questions of the right people, the committee's impact will be enormous.
Key questions we want answers to and without which the exercise will be pointless:
- Why did Brian Molefe and Eskom refuse to renegotiate the coal-supply contract with Optimum in terms of their existing deal?
- Why did Eskom help Oakbay's Tegeta Resources and Exploration in effect finance the purchase of Optimum from Glencore?
- Why did Eskom authorise the prepayment of coal to Tegeta before it even owned Optimum?
- Why did Tegeta suddenly score new coal supply deals from Eskom shortly after the utility helped finance the Optimum deal?
- Why did Eskom pay much inflated prices for Optimum coal after its purchase by Tegeta after it refused to renegotiate with the previous owners?
- What was the motivation for the appointment of the board in 2014 by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown when almost all members had some or other link with the Guptas?
- How did Matshela Koko, the suspended senior Eskom executive, facilitate the agreements between the utility and the Guptas' entities? And why did he lie about the prepayment on national television, only to retract it later?
- What was former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe's exact role in enabling the awarding of lucrative contracts to the Gupta family's companies?
- What were the exact circumstances around his huge golden handshake and his subsequent return to Eskom after he left Parliament?
- Why did Brown, given all the information in the public domain about abuses at Eskom, not act sooner?
- What exactly did Brown do after the release of the State of Capture report to investigate the irregularities identified by the Public Protector?
- How was the agreement with McKinsey to provide consulting services structured and how was Trillian Capital Partners introduced into the equation?
- What were the exact terms of the agreement with McKinsey and what services did they provide for payment to be effected?
- Why was a significant part of the tender to supply Transnet with 1,064 locomotives awarded to China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation?
- China South has been paying large sums of money to Hong Kong-based Gupta entities. Were the Guptas -- or consultancies linked to them -- responsible for brokering the deal with Transnet?
- What was the role of Homix, the Gupta-linked firm that brokered a deal with Transnet on behalf of communications company Neotel?
- Was Transnet -- and its chief financial officer Anoj Singh -- aware of the links between a Chinese company that supplied cranes (at an inflated price) to it after the deal was brokered by a Gupta-linked company, JJ Trading?
- Was Transnet aware of the links between SAP and another Gupta-linked company CAD House when it awared a multimillion-rand contract to the software company?
- Why did Denel insist on entering a joint venture with VR Laser, owned by Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa?
- Why did Denel defy National Treasury and go ahead in establishing the joint venture?
- Were monies ever paid to Denel Asia or VR Laser?
Without these witnesses, MPs might as well close up shop:
- Ajay, Atul and Tony Gupta: for obvious reasons.
- President Jacob Zuma: the head of state refused to answer questions about his relationship with the Guptas when he was asked to do so by the Public Protector. He needs to account.
- Malusi Gigaba: he was public enterprises minister when the boards of the three SOEs were reconfigured as friendly to the Guptas. He is now minister of finance.
- Lynne Brown: she is the current minister of finance. Her inaction and reticence to act on public information has been of great help to the state capture project.
- Barbara Hogan: she was minister of public enterprises before Gigaba and was fired after she refused to bend to the Guptas. She knows the modus operandi at SOEs.
- Brian Molefe: one of the central figures in the state capture project. A known friend of the Guptas and enabler at both Transnet and Eskom.
- Anoj Singh: Molefe's sidekick and a good friend of the Saxonwold moguls. He was CFO at both Transnet and Eskom.
- Mcebisi Jonas: part of the Gordhan-Jonas double act. With Gordhan leading his interrogation a number of smallanyana skeletons can be unearthed.
- Kenneth Brown: the former chief procurement officer at Treasury. He was leading the fight against industrial-scale graft.
- Schalk Human: the former acting chief procurement officer at Treasury. He was removed by Gigaba and led investigations into a number of SOEs, including Eskom.
- Thuli Madonsela: the former public protector will be able to clearly and lucidly make out a case against all those indentified in her report. And she deserves a hearing.
- Salim Essa: he is considered "the fourth Gupta brother" and plays a central role in all their major operations.
- Mosebenzi Zwane: the Guptas' "own minister" helped the family score Optimum by flying to Switzerland to negotiate with Glencore. Why, Mr Minister?
- All the CEOs and board chairmen of all three SOEs over the last five years.
Major issues for the committee:
1. Will Gordhan be let loose on the witnesses?
The former minister of finance's depth of knowledge and insight into the SOEs' finances and the manner in which state capture operates in practice is unparalleled. Gordhan unleashed could open the floodgates.
2. Will Gordhan cut loose if he is allowed to?
Gordhan is a political animal who is as strategic as the next ANC cadre. The party is in a state of flux ahead of its elective conference and he'd like to keep some powder dry for the factional fights ahead. By going balls-to-the-wall, will Gordhan not risk exposing colleagues and allies who may be implicated? Is he willing to risk exposing the extent of the rot to the detriment of his party?
3. How firm will the chairperson be?
The recent inquiry into the SABC was successful because it suited certain factions in the ANC politically. And then only up to a point, because the ultimate recommendations stopped short of censuring the political heads of the broadcaster who clearly exacerbated the situation at the broadcaster. Chairperson Zukiswa Ranto will play a key role.
4. Will the key witnesses be called?
Nevermind Zuma (we know it's a long-shot), but Gigaba, Brown and the Guptas and their lieutenants must account to Parliament. That's besides all the bent civil servants who are part and parcel of this sordid tale of looting and largesse.
5. WWTHATNPAD (What will the Hawks and the NPA do?)
Our law-enforcement agencies have sunk without trace, unless you take the "minister of police" Fikile Mbalula's "squeeze their balls" comments seriously. The Hawks (actual name: the directorate of priority crime investigations) and Shaun Abrahams' National Prosecuting Authority have not lifted a finger in the year since Madonsela's report was released. What are they going to do if a parliamentary inquiry confirms what is patently obvious to the rest of South Africa?
** HuffPost will be reporting live from Parliament, with comment and analysis throughout.
** The state capacity research project -- a group of academics who compiled "Betrayal of the Promise: How SA is Being Stolen", a report into state capture -- will be the first witnesses.