Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan's eleventh-hour excuse not to attend a session with the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises to explain himself on allegations raised by fired director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi for his dismissal got Parliamentarians hot under the collar as they said he was not prioritising his appearance to the oversight committee.
Parliamentarians questioned the minister's reason for not appearing before the committee – a medical emergency – when he had been able to attend a lengthy cabinet meeting earlier on Wednesday and had previously excused himself from accounting to the committee on several occasions, citing various reasons.
On Wednesday night, Gordhan sent a letter to committee chairperson Khaya Magaxa indicating he wouldn't be available for the session scheduled for 10am yesterday as a doctor had advised him that he could not fly from Durban to Cape Town in his condition.
“The minister is playing hide and seek with us. I do not agree – we must go find him to account to us. If he is so frail, why does he not resign so somebody who is fit can take over the work,” submitted EFF MP Nqobile Mhlongo.
In his letter to the committee, Gordhan asked to be provided with an alternative date to enable him to respond to the allegations by Tlhakudi.
“I wish to inform the committee that I will not be able to attend the meeting because of ill-health. I have been advised this evening not to travel by air by a specialist doctor. My office will liaise with the chairperson and committee secretary on setting a new date for the meeting,” Gordhan said.
Tlhakudi, in a presentation to the committee in June, said he had been railroaded out of his job as DG of the Department of Public Enterprises because he questioned Gordhan's handling and interests in the 51% acquisition of SAA by the Takatso Consortium, in which he felt the minister was taking excessive authority and disregarding ethical business processes.
He said his report to the minister on the state of Public Enterprises in which he pointed out missed targets, high vacancy rates, political intimidation, poor audit outcomes noted by the Auditor General, and the aggression in securing Takatso as a preferred partner for SAA, had drawn the minister’s ire.
“I have been hamstrung for quite some time in performing the job of the DG with a depleted executive team. The structure has made provision for seven deputy director-generals (DDG) and I had one post with a permanent DDG while having to rely on chief directors and directors in acting roles. I would like you to prioritise their filling as some of these positions have been vacant for more than five years,” Tlhakudi said.
He alleged unwarranted disciplinary action against officials, resignations, ransacking of officials’ houses and planting of electronic listening devices on Public Enterprises officials.
He told the committee in June that the restructuring of the SAA had unnecessarily cost the government more than R34.7 billion with flouted processes, including inept business rescue practitioners (BRPs) and quicksand board changes over the years due to Gordhan's overbearing stratagem.
“When an organ of state in the national, provincial or local sphere of government or any institution identified in national legislation contracts for goods and services, it must do so in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective,” Tlhakudi said in his June submission.
Parliamentarians said yesterday that not only were they under pressure from the Speaker to conclude the matter, there were more pressing issues, including oversight over Eskom and SAA, among other entities, and they could not tolerate delays from Gordhan on this matter.
“We are under pressure from the Speaker to conclude this investigation of of our minister as it is minor compared to national issues like load shedding, which we have to attend to,” chairperson Khaya Magaxa said.
The committee deliberated on whether to give Gordhan one more opportunity or summons him.