Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. File Image: IOL
DURBAN - Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba yesterday pleaded ignorance to allegations about the rot that supposedly took root at state-owned companies (SOEs) during his three-and-a-half-year tenure as Public Enterprises Minister.

Gigaba moved to distance himself from the push to capture SOEs, telling parliamentarians that, as a minister, he had stayed out of operational and procurement matters. “I do not get involved in tenders. It is wrong to say that ministers must involve themselves in tenders. Ministers must not get involved in tenders. They must stay away,” he said.

In his opening statement, Gigaba said the decisions he took were in the interest of good governance. “I appointed people who I viewed as competent to fulfil some very important roles in the (state-owned companies) that were under the (Department of Public Enterprises) portfolio,” he said. “I am severely disappointed that those roles appear to have, in certain instances, been abused.”

Gigaba’s role in Eskom, Denel and Transnet came under the spotlight at the portfolio committee on public enterprises’ inquiry into the mismanagement of state funds in state-owned enterprises. Parliamentarians pinned Gigaba against the wall over questionable decisions he took at public enterprises.

Gigaba said he regretted any role that he inadvertently played in the appointment of any director who subsequently failed to prioritise the interests of the concerned parastatal and South Africa. “At the time, I acted on the facts available to me, and made what I thought at the time were meritorious appointments,” he said.

Gigaba conceded that there were decisions that were inappropriate “in hindsight”. He said he was not happy with the Gupta’s New Age newspaper breakfasts, which were largely bankrolled mainly by Transnet and Eskom. “I felt it was inappropriate that such large sums of money were being spent on breakfast sponsorships, especially in the midst of such large-scale build projects that were being undertaken.”

Gigaba said he supported Transnet board’s recommendation of Anoj Singh as chief financial officer in 2012 as he was convinced that Singh was the best man for the job. But he said, following new information which strongly linked Singh with the Gupta family, Gigaba appointing Singh was not the best decision “in hindsight”.

DA MP Natasha Mazzone quizzed Gigaba about his relationship with Salim Essa, a businessperson with close ties with the Gupta family. Gigaba appointed Essa to state-owned Broadband Infraco’s board in 2011. Essa became the chairperson of the entity’s tender committee. Gigaba denied that he had a hand in Essa’s appointment to that role. “That was the internal functioning of the board,” he said.

He also responded to allegations made by former Eskom chief executive Brian Dames last year that his adviser, Siyabonga Mahlangu, arranged a meeting with people he assumed were members of the Gupta family, and where official Eskom business, including coal contracts for the power utility’s Lethabo power station in the Free State, was discussed.

-BUSINESS REPORT