#StateCaptureInquiry: The hunt for Gupta ‘friends’ is on
Johannesburg - A senior National Treasury official was due to be the first to take the stand in the state capture inquiry to give evidence on whether civil servants had enabled looting of state companies by the Guptas or the rulers in place.
Tuesday’s testimony by the Treasury’s chief procurement officer, Willie Mathebula, - a long-serving senior staff member - was expected to examine the forensic report by the Treasury on alleged irregularities in the awarding by Eskom of a substantial coal contract to Gupta-linked Tegeta.
And Transnet’s controversial procurement of locomotives from China South Rail, which is among some of the reasons the company intends to suspend three of its executives, will also come under scrutiny.
The commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, commenced its hearings on Monday. It is tasked with probing alleged massive corruption at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and government departments.
Former president Jacob Zuma’s controversial relationship with the Guptas, which is said to have allowed the family to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts, will also be investigated, putting him at the heart of the probe.
The proceedings started with Justice Zondo expressing his unhappiness with the State Security Agency's failure to issue security clearance certificates to some of his staff members, which threatened to derail the commission's work.
Justice Zondo has since sought President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intervention on the matter to enable his staff to obtain and access top-secret information, among others.
The head of the commission’s legal team, advocate Paul Pretorius, SC, said Mathebula was ready to take the hot seat on Tuesday.
“The purpose of this evidence will be to place before the commission matters relating to procurement prescripts and policy. Procurement prescripts and policy are, it is submitted, central to the commission’s terms of reference,” Pretorius said.
“Some of the questions which the legal team will seek to ventilate include:
Is the procurement framework comprehensive and adequate?
Is it possible to manage the existing system in such a way as to prevent abuse?
Has state capture been enabled or permitted by weaknesses in the procurement framework?
"Simply put it, is it the people or the policies - or both?” Pretorius said.
The evidence by Mathebula, who was appointed to head the procurement division under then finance minister Malusi Gigaba following the removal of Schalk Human, was to be led by advocates Leah Gcabashe and Thandi Norman.
Other witnesses lined up to give evidence include Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, former head of government communications Themba Maseko, and acting director-general of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), Phumla Williams.
Pretorius said the legal team would recommend a thorough analysis of the nature and extent of corruption in public entities and at all levels of government, including the use of expert analysis and launching of new investigations.
“The legal team will also, where necessary, suggest to the commission that it initiate its own investigations into public entities and government entities in order to better understand what made some organisations or parts of organisations more vulnerable to corruption than others,” he said.
Lawyers for those implicated, including Zuma and one of the Gupta brothers, complained that the notices were sent at short notice by the commission.
Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, for Zuma, said the former president wanted all the documents implicating him so that he could prepare properly.
“The issue that made this difficult for us is that we have raised questions to obtain certain documents, because we want to make a meaningful participation in this very important process.
"What we have asked for are documents which we believe will make it easy for us to know what case we have to meet
"If we make the election that the implications that the commission makes on these statements (And if) there are elements which we think or the client thinks we should come here (to the commission),” Sikhakhane said.
Advocate Mike Hellens, for Ajay Gupta, said he would not defend the eldest Gupta brother on allegations made by Jonas, but those made by Maseko, Mentor and other allegations.
“I do not appear in respect of the evidence or implication of the evidence of Mr Mcebisi Jonas. I also represent with the same team in respect of any other allegations that may be made," he added.