NEWS

State Capture: Brown, Martins, Koko and Molefe Could Testify This Week

Explosive allegations have been made against the four at a parliamentary inquiry.

21/11/2017 06:29 SAST | Updated 21/11/2017 06:29 SAST
Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Brian Molefe.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, her deputy Ben Martins, suspended Eskom executive Matshela Koko and the utility's former CEO Brian Molefe may appear before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture this week.

This is according to sources close to inquiry. If they are correct, it will give the four an opportunity to defend themselves against some of the explosive allegations made by those -- including both current and former Eskom employees -- who have testified over the past month.

The inquiry is set to resume on Tuesday morning, with further sittings on Wednesday and Thursday.

For security reasons the committee does not announce the names of those scheduled to appear. The inquiry first sat on October 17. Tuesday's sitting will be its eleventh session.

Brown, Martins, Koko and Molefe will no doubt face intense questioning from MPs who serve on the National Assembly's public enterprises portfolio committee -- which is conducting the probe -- and are keen to establish the truth about, and the extent of, state capture at the power utility.

The inquiry is taking place against a backdrop of mounting political pressure on its evidence leader, advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara.

According to a report in the Sunday Times at the weekend, State Security Minister Bongani Bongo has allegedly tried to bribe Vanara, in an apparent effort to frustrate or halt the probe.

The newspaper said Vanara had submitted an affidavit to Parliament in which he accuses Bongo of offering him an "open cheque" to resign as evidence leader.

It is understood Vanara's affidavit is to be tabled at a sitting of Parliament's joint ethics committee.

Pressure on Vanara has also come from the office of the state law adviser, which has said he has a conflict of interest by being evidence leader in a parliamentary inquiry while at the same time being a full-time employee of Parliament. It has threatened to report him to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.

Last week, both Brown and Martins lashed out at Vanara,

Martins accused him of acting unfairly in his handling of the inquiry, while Brown labelled it a "kangaroo court", saying Vanara had allowed testimony implicating people without first advising them they would be implicated.

Both the minister and her deputy have been implicated in alleged state capture.

On November 8, suspended Eskom legal services head Suzanne Daniels told the inquiry that Martins was present at a meeting, on July 29 this year, involving, among others, Ajay Gupta and President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma.

In her explosive testimony, delivered under oath, Daniels claimed Gupta has said he could get the court case over Molefe's controversial R30-million pension pay-out shifted to next year, by having a "talk to someone" in the deputy judge president's office.

Both Martins and Gupta have refuted Daniels' claims and offered evidence to the contrary.

On Tuesday last week, Eskom board spokesperson Khulani Qoma testified that he was told earlier this year -- by the utility's acting board chairman Zethembe Khoza -- that Brown had been "captured" by the Guptas.

He told MPs the conversation had occurred after he recommended to Khoza that Koko (who was acting Eskom CEO at the time) and the utility's financial director Anoj Singh be suspended.

"Then he shocks me. He says this will be lucky if it succeeds. I asked him why and he said because Minister Brown is captured. He then explained that 'Minister Brown reports to the Guptas'."

Qoma labelled Brown a liar.

"She's in the water, she's completely submersed, and yet she says she's not wet," he said.

Reacting, Brown said in a statement last week: "Unless the parliamentary inquiry into allegations of malfeasance at state-owned companies gives those who have been accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to explain their actions, it will serve no higher function than advancing political agendas and further undermining the economy."

If the sources are correct about her appearance this week, she will now get this opportunity.

The inquiry was set up to probe allegations of coordinated state capture at Eskom, including that governance structures at the utility have been systematically altered to serve corrupt interests.

It is alleged that this has involved, among other things, the awarding of overpriced coal contracts, the squeezing out of some coal suppliers, and the questionable acquisition of coal mines by the Gupta family.

The inquiry's broader mandate is to probe other state-owned enterprises (SOEs) besides Eskom, including Transnet and Denel, but it has focused its initial efforts on the utility, by far South Africa's largest SOE.

Eskom has an annual revenues three times that of Transnet, and six times that of SAA. It provides more than 90 percent of the country's electricity, has assets valued at R710-billion, and a capital spending programme of about R350-billion over the next five years.

It is currently in financial trouble, including a severe liquidity problem, and is expected to run at a loss of R3.5-billion by the end of March next year.

In a statement on Sunday, DA MP Natasha Mazzone summed up its predicament.

"With a sluggish economy, falling sales and a surplus in electricity generation, it's safe to say that Eskom is facing financial ruin... Currently, Eskom is being treated like a leper by investors given the lack of credible governance, deeply entrenched corruption and gross financial mismanagement. Potential financers are understandably reluctant to back Eskom," she said.

Mazzone noted that Brown was expected to soon announce a new Eskom board.

"[But] with recent testimonies at the Eskom [parliamentary] inquiry implicating the minister in state capture, it will do little to quell the unease of investors and South Africa."