May 22, 2018

What's up with the state capture inquiry(ies)?

Parliament’s state capture inquiry resumed on the first day of the 2018 session, but it all seemed rather pointless. Even though an official Commission of Inquiry has been appointed at last, events seem to have overtaken the investigation and Ramaphosa's ANC appears ready for action.

The first day back at Parliament after the end-of-year vacation saw the inquiry into state capture taking up where it left off in December.

The only difference being that at last plans were in place to establish an official Commission of Inquiry. But how much difference does that really make?

What exactly is the status of Parliament’s inquiry into state capture, now that an official Commission of Inquiry appears to be on the cards?

Moving onwards and upwards, said Committee of State Enterprises Chairperson, Ms Zukiswa Rantho. She didn’t use those words exactly, but indicated that Parliament intended to push on regardless.

The first day of the 2018 parliamentary term started with suspended Eskom CFO, Mr Anoj Singh, giving evidence to the Committee on Public Enterprises until after midnight. Similar marathon sessions followed, in which only one thing was made clear: someone, or many people, are lying.

The parliamentary inquiry, which began after similar hiccups and delays in October 2017, is not to be confused with the pending Commission of Inquiry. Rantho explained the crucial difference is that a parliamentary inquiry, whatever it turns up, can only make recommendations to Parliament for further action.

Committee of State Enterprises Chairperson, Zukiswa Rantho, indicated that Parliament intended to push on regardless.

A legal Commission of Inquiry has the authority to decide if prosecutions should follow and take their findings to the National Prosecuting Authority.

The Committee’s inquiry into shenanigans at Eskom had the public transfixed last year and probably waiting for the resumption of the live broadcast with the next exciting instalment.

The last season ended with Eskom interim chairman, Zethembe Khoza, giving the Eskom Board a humiliating score of three out of ten, while debate continued over whether Brian Molefe’s five-year contract made him a contract employee or a “permanent employee with a fixed term of five years” and therefore entitled to a pension.

Singh, who had tried by all means possible to keep away from the witness stand, surprised all by his last minute resignation. This after his attempts on the final day of last year’s hearing to slip the net by sending his 400 pages of evidence close to midnight the night before he was due to give evidence, even though it had been requested six months before.

He had been sent packing, but was not let off the hook. “See you in January,” he was told, and expect to pay your own flight Rantho had added, because “We are not like Eskom where if we feel it necessary to give our friends a certain amount‚ we just give that amount. We account to the public of South Africa,” she had said in her closing remarks.

While the parliamentary inquiry and the pending official Commission of Inquiry will carry on determinedly, in tandem, events seem to have overtaken them, with growing consensus across the ANC that state capture must end, and those responsible held accountable, even if that is to be done “without humiliating” Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa said. How that will work out remains to be seen.

South Africans can be forgiven if they have lost track of the overall investigation into state capture. The ANC under Ramaphosa seems to not need much more convincing, and repercussion, even prosecutions, now appear unavoidable, whatever either of the inquiries turn up.

But confusion is to be expected after president Zuma’s legal about-turn in which he declared that South Africa was to have a Commission of Inquiry into State Capture after all, leaving the South African public wondering how it had arrived back where it had started 18 months ago when the then Public Protector first came up with the idea. And this while Zuma was at the same time appealing against the December court order that found the original State of Capture Report binding.

Was President Zuma listening when the Chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services called on Public Protector Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane to stop confusing everyone about the State Capture inquiry?

Committee Chairperson, Dr Mathole Motshekga, called on the current Public Protector, Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane, to respect the remedial action of her predecessor regarding the state capture inquiry after Mkhwebane’s alarming offer to help draw up the ToRs of the official inquiry.

She had “perused” some of the information available, she said, and advised the president to make the ToRs “broad enough to include the capture of all state institutions and SOEs, so that the ability of the Commission to uncover the full extent of State Capture in South Africa is not constrained in any manner”.   

The Committee expressed concern about “conflicting and confusing” messages being relayed by the Office of the Public Protector.

She was sternly told to not “interfere” with the remedial action or scope of the inquiry. “The integrity of the remedial action should not be questioned and as the courts have previously ruled, the remedial action of the Public Protector is binding,” chairperson Motshekga reminded her.

Motshekga also demanded that Zuma release the terms of reference of the official Commission as a matter of urgency. “This matter cannot be delayed any further and a debate around the issue about who is responsible for issuing the terms of reference of the commission cannot be entertained. It must be brought to finality. Surely we cannot be pleading for it. The terms of reference are urgent.”

It is hoped that president Zuma has been listening to this advice. If anyone can be blamed for causing public confusion over the on-off-and-on again state capture Commission of Inquiry it’s got to be Zuma himself. Meanwhile South Africa is waiting for the long overdue Commission of Inquiry to begin.

Moira Levy

Last modified on Monday, 29 January 2018 16:25

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