'Advisor' acted like he was in charge of everything - even the minister, says Fuzile
Politics / 22 November 2018, 5:03pm / Getrude Makhafola
Johannesburg - Gupta-linked Mohamed Bobat, appointed adviser to ex-minister Des Van Rooyen, was a law unto himself and tried to exert authority over everyone at National Treasury, the former director general of the department, Lungisa Fuzile told the commission of inquiry into the state capture scandal on Thursday.
Fuzile's second day of testimony centred on the brazen attempt by the controversial Gupta family and their associates to "capture" National Treasury.
He told the inquiry that he was informed by ANC National Executive Committee member Enoch Godongwana that a ''Gupta minister'' would take over from Nhlanhla Nene, and would arrive at the treasury with two more Gupta appointees. Nene was fired by former president Jacob Zuma in December 2015 and replaced with lesser-known ANC MP Van Rooyen.
The former director-general said he first met Bobat as he walked to Van Rooyen's swearing-in ceremony at the Union Buildings. Bobat did not waste any time and introduced himself as Van Rooyen's new advisor at Treasury.
''I was taken aback because all the advisers at the department had during my tenure signed contracts with me. I was surprised because...suddenly you meet a person you're supposed to have appointed. Theoretically, a minister can bring anyone to be an advisor, they have that discretion. But I was the only one with the authority [to sign contracts]... I hadn't heard of him or signed anything, but there he was, telling me he is the adviser,'' he said.
Fuzile said he knew Van Rooyen very well, as they worked together in Parliament and had spoken about finance committee work over the phone.
After Van Rooyen was sworn as finance minister, Fuzile said he tried to shake his hand and congratulate him, but was ignored by Van Rooyen. The former minister had also turned down Fuzile's suggestion the previous day that the department issue a media statement to allay market fears as the rand had taken a knock after Nene's dismissal.
Van Rooyen told Fuzile that Treasury officials had a tendency to issue too many media statements, and that would come to an end.
It became clear that a difficult work relationship lay ahead, said Fuzile. Bobat proceeded to instruct Fuzile to issue a media statement on behalf of Van Rooyen, even though the latter turned down Fuzile's suggestion. He realised that Bobat acted like a boss over his political principal.
''It became clear to he [Bobat] did not care about protocol and civilities. He wasn't bothered that he was not an employee yet at that time and his role was not discussed with me. Bobat felt such a sense of authority and empowerment... he gave me an impression of being a law unto himself. He issued an instruction to me without checking with the minister, who had turned me down the previous day.''
Fuzile went on to mention an exchange between Bobat and Van Rooyen at the Union Buildings. The minister and his adviser appeared to have not known each other for long, he said.
''Bobat was irritated that Mr Van Rooyen didn't answer his call. Mr Van Rooyen replied that he did not recognise his number.... to be true, Mr Van Rooyen looked a bit sheepish. Bobat was talking as if he was boss to the minister, it wasn't a nice thing to see. It appeared the two did not know each other, as if they just gotten to know each other that time.''
The next day, Fuzile was requested to ''facilitate'' the formal appointments of Bobat as an adviser, Ian Whitley as chief of staff and Malcolm Mabaso. None of them had been appointed according to the Public Service Act, and none had any security clearance. When he asked what position Mabaso would hold, Van Rooyen told Fuzile: ''No need to worry about him, he is just going be around.''
Said Fuzile:''I understood him to be saying we should not have a contract for Mabaso... I wouldn't have agreed to not capture Mabaso in the system. I objected to that firmly.''
At that moment Van Rooyen rubbished Fuzile, and told him he was going to do as he was told as he is ''just a director-general''. Fuzile said he proceeded to remind Van Rooyen that the work of a director general carried more weight than what he thought, as he was the accounting officer of the department.
''The whole notion that the law says director-general is accounting officer, and here I have a minister who in the first conversation will diminish the role of director-general when it suited him. I foresaw a situation that we were going to disagree all the time. at that moment, I told them to familiarise themselves with the ministerial handbook, I even urged the minister to think about Mabaso's role before we get to meet with the rest of the colleagues,'' he said.
The technocrat told the inquiry that he was concerned that at the next meeting with the rest of the top officials, he would be painted as having been ''bought'' should Van Rooyen announce that the director-general had agreed that Mabaso would have no specific role but just hang around at National Treasury.
Commission chairman Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced earlier that anyone who has been implicated through evidence before the inquiry was required to come forward and testify ''whether they choose to come forward or not".