23/11/2017 13:27 SAST | Updated 23/11/2017 13:30 SAST

Gordhan Grills Brown Over Portfolio Committee Testimony

Heated late-night exchanges as Gordhan asks for evidence, rather than bald denials.

South African former finance minister Pravin Gordhan (L) at the opening night of documentary film Promises And Lies on May 4, 2017 in Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN
South African former finance minister Pravin Gordhan (L) at the opening night of documentary film Promises And Lies on May 4, 2017 in Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was in fine fettle late on Wednesday night as he grilled public enterprises minister Lynne Brown over her knowledge, or not, of state capture at Eskom.

Interrogating Brown during the public enterprises portfolio committee-led probe, which ended after midnight, he alternated between admonishing the civil servants sitting behind the minister for "smirking", and firing sharp-tipped questions at their boss.

At the end, he also delivered an incisive summation of the public's perception of the testimony heard by the inquiry, which has sat two to three times a week over the past month, and is being streamed live from parliament.

Gordhan serves on the committee as an ordinary ANC MP.

He opened his questioning by wanting to know from Brown how often she consulted President Jacob Zuma. She told him she had recently had conversations with Zuma about Eskom, IPPs (independent power producers), a "number of issues in my portfolio", and on the current structure of the power utility.

But Gordhan was more interested in whether Brown had any discussion with Zuma over a remarkable meeting former Eskom board chairman Zola Tsotsi, in testimony before the inquiry earlier in the day, had claimed he had with the president.

Tsotsi shocked MPs when he revealed that in March 2015, then-SAA head Dudu Myeni had phoned him and asked him to "avail himself" for an audience with Zuma.

"On or about March 7, 2015, I arrived at the Durban presidential residence, and was met by Dudu Myeni, her son Talent, and a certain Mr Nick Lennell, who was introduced to me as a lawyer."

Tsotsi said Myeni had told him that financial stress and poor technical performance warranted an inquiry at Eskom. Further, that three executives –– acting chief executive Tsediso Matona, group executive for group capital Dan Marokane, and group executive for commercial Matshela Koko –– had to be suspended.

Zuma had then entered the room.

"He requested to know what was up for discussion, whereupon Ms Myeni repeated what she had previously stated. The president then enquired if I knew who the executives are who were to be suspended."

Myeni had then said that Lennell had helped her with a similar situation at SAA.

Brown, in a statement tabled before the inquiry on Wednesday, said she was astonished "that Mr Tsotsi found it appropriate to attend a meeting with the president without conferring with me before the meeting".

Responding to a question from Gordhan, she said this had upset her.

Gordhan wanted to know why, if she was so upset, she had not raised the matter with Zuma on the several occasions she had spoken with him.

"But the meeting... I mean, I think Mr Tsotsi told you that story today; I haven't seen the president today," she retorted.

Gordhan then asked her if this was the first time she'd heard about the meeting. Brown, who brought an attorney with her to the inquiry, appeared to hesitate.

The officials sitting behind her did not, and were admonished by committee chair Zukisawa Rantho.

"When questions are asked of the minister, I expect... the minister to respond, not everybody behind the minister to say yes, when the minister has to say yes, and everybody else says yes. We expect the minister to speak for herself," she told them.

It was then discovered that Brown's attorney was passing her notes, an act that, according to evidence leader Vanara, was permissible if it was on a legal point, but not a factual one. Brown is testifying under oath.

Brown then revealed the content of the notes.

"Chair, these are the notes, and they say "excellent". Is that good or bad?" she asked.

Gordhan leapt in immediately.

"It's bad in the sense that the preparation your counsel did for you is working, but we'll leave that for now. Well done! Well done! Well performed!"

He then told officials sitting behind Brown to stop "smirking" and "grimacing".

"I think it is important officials remain neutral. Tomorrow you can have another minister –– ask me!" he told them, to laughter from his committee colleagues.

"Your job is to serve the public and the state, not a particular purpose. And you might not be too proud when the truth comes out as to what you have been serving. And the public is watching very keenly what is going on here. Just a bit of advice."

Later, Rantho had to intervene again, when Brown appeared not to answer a question directly, and her exchanges with Gordhan became heated.

"Honourable Gordhan, give the minister a chance to respond to your question; Honourable Minister, please answer the question directly," Rantho told them.

After further questions and responses about Eskom's downgrade following the suspension of the executives, Rantho had to intervene once more.

"Honourable Members, can both of you be more patient with each other. Give each other a chance to respond."

At the end of his allotted question time, Gordhan said he wanted to "bring the public" into the picture on state capture.

"On the one side of the scale, we have all the coal-purchase controversies; the IT systems controversies; boards that are dominated by Gupta-linked people; [and] suspensions of officials who are actually innocent, and... the one who is actually implicated, gets redeemed and comes back into Eskom.

"[We have] your [Brown's] problems with [board] chairs, particularly Mr Tsotsi; [and] we have the articulation of Section 217 of the Constitution on procurement as an important value system... that we need to subscribe to, but everything that we do seems to be violating that systematically.

"We say that we want more black companies to actually benefit from deals that Eskom makes, and yet a prominent and fairly large black company, Exxaro... is being victimised at the moment, according to the information that I have; [and] you have the Denton Report, [which] was firstly locked up, [and] Mr Molefe doesn't read it, although he's the chief executive who should actually implement it.

"You have the R1.6-billion illegal guarantee given by the CFO of Eskom, Mr Singh; you have the Denel chair, who actually attacked the National Treasury... publically... though there was no reprimand, [which] is not surprising, because he's listed in the Gupta e-mails as well; you have the prepayment that Mr Singh agreed to, which eventually was used to buy these Optimum Holdings for some R600-million; and you have the fine of R2.1-billion, as we've heard on that mine, reduced to R600-million, once Tegeta takes over those mines.

"And you have the locomotives deal. All that is evidence on one side. And on the other side, as far as the public is concerned, all we have is denials. I end my case."