POLITICS

Defiant Martins Could Elicit Eskom Inquiry's First Subpoena

MPs reacted furiously to the deputy public enterprises minister's refusal to appear, saying Martins was undermining the inquiry and Parliament.

06/12/2017 13:32 SAST | Updated 06/12/2017 13:42 SAST
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Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Ben Martins being sworn in at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria, South Africa on November 01, 2010.

Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Ben Martins, who last month delivered a fierce attack on the parliamentary inquiry into state capture, now looks set to become the first person to be served a subpoena to appear before it.

"It is clear that there is a motion in this house that the deputy minister must be subpoenaed. Can somebody move for this, and someone second it?" inquiry chair ANC MP Zukiswa Rantho asked MPs in the old assembly chamber on Wednesday.

Earlier, she had told members of the public enterprises portfolio committee, which is conducting the probe into allegations of corruption and maladministration at state-owned companies, that a letter had been received from Martins saying he would not be appearing before them.

The letter was addressed to committee chair Lungi Mnganga-Gcabashe. In it, Martins claims he only received an invitation to appear before the inquiry on Tuesday, a day before he was expected to appear.

But Rantho said he had been sent the invitation on November 20, in an e-mail sent to his office.

"Yesterday, his [office] said the deputy minister did not receive anything. But when we looked on our side, the e-mails went through. We don't know what happened. We don't want to assume there was foul play," she said.

Rantho then read out the letter "so that the nation understands the pressure we are working under, and the conditions that we are facing".

She said she wanted the inquiry to run smoothly, and those implicated to be given an opportunity to appear before it and give their side of the story.

Martins' letter stated:

"Given the fact that I only received the invitation letter a day before I am expected to appear before the committee, I have not had an opportunity to seek legal advice on the legal opinion you provided.

"I also have not had an opportunity to go through the statement and transcripts of Ms Suzanne Daniel's testimony. Furthermore, you indicated in your letter that any person implicated in evidence will be afforded an opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them.

"I am making this return submission to respond to the allegations. It cannot be assumed that a response is only legal or valid if it is only made in person... The written submission adequately addresses the issue I am required to attest to.

"As a result, it is not necessary for me to appear before the committee, as I am responding to the committee in writing. Please find attached my submissions.

"Finally, I note that the committee reserves its right in terms of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (2004). I also reserve my right to seek legal recourse in this regard."

MPs reacted furiously, saying Martins was undermining the inquiry and parliament.

DA MP Natasha Mazzone said Martins had blundered.

"The deputy minister has certainly made a very unfortunate blunder here, and I would suggest he immediately seek legal advice... this is a constitutionally mandated committee, and one doesn't have the privilege of deciding whether or not you appear before us.

"We [first] offer you the opportunity [to appear] in a polite way by invitation... but you are constitutionally obligated [to do so]... The time for niceties is now over.

"The deputy minister is the one who jumped up and down screaming foul, and saying he must appear before it... I would like to move... that this committee immediately issues [a] subpoena," she said.

Her committee colleague, Economic Freedom Fighters MP Marshall Dlamini, was more forthright.

"He must come to this committee. He behaves like a drama queen, calling media briefings and everything. So we must subpoena the drama queen, and he must come here and answer questions," he said.

The motion was moved, and seconded unanimously.

Rantho then instructed the inquiry evidence leader, advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara, to "do what is necessary to be done".

On November 8, in testimony delivered under oath before the inquiry, suspended Eskom legal services head Suzanne Daniels described how Martins was present at a meeting in Johannesburg earlier this year, together with Ajay Gupta and President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane, among others.

"The purpose of the discussion was around the process of the [Brian] Molefe court proceedings. Mr Gupta wanted to know how far they were.

"He [Gupta] then said... he will have to talk to someone in the DJP's [Deputy Judge President's] office, and to make sure that the hearing takes place after December 2017, so that it could be dealt with then," she said.

Last month, following Daniels' testimony, Martins issued a statement in which he accused evidence leader Vanara of failing to hear his side of the story.

"Those implicated are not able to rebut and/or controvert and/or deny and/or correct the onesided, untested version(s) elicited by [the] evidence leader," he said.

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