EXCLUSIVE: Ramaphosa 'misled' Parliament over Bosasa donation, says Public Protector
South Africa / 9 June 2019, 12:45pm / Mzilikazi wa Afrika & Piet Rampedi
Johannesburg - Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found President Cyril Ramaphosa guilty of “inadvertently misleading” Parliament and failing to declare a R500 000 donation from Bosasa boss Gavin Watson to his ANC presidential campaign in 2017.
In her preliminary report submitted to Ramaphosa last Thursday - seen by Sunday Independent courtesy of one of the president’s confidants - Mkhwebane said the president violated the constitution and the executive code of ethics.
Mkhwebane added that Ramaphosa may have been involved in money-laundering since Watson’s donation had been made through several intermediaries.
The complaint of money laundering and violation of the ethics code was lodged by DA leader Mmusi Maimane. EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu later filed further complaints.
The public protector’s findings indicate that the donation was transferred from Watson’s personal account into the account of Miotto Trading, a company owned by Margaret Longworth, a sister of Bosasa’s former auditor Peet Venter, and then into the CR17 Attorneys Trust Account, managed by Edelsten, Faber and Grobbler (EFG) Attorneys.
Mkhwebane says Ramaphosa may have breached the executive code of ethics by exposing himself to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between his official responsibilities and private interests and that he acted in a way inconsistent with his position.
Mkhwebane’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe said: “We cannot comment on leaked documents purported to be the public protector’s report.”
On Saturday, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko said: “The Presidency respects the office of the protector and remains committed to co-operating fully with the investigation. The Presidency would not wish to comment on any matter relating to the PP’s investigation.”
The report comes amid fights in the ANC over the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank, as well as news that the GDP contracted by 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019.
Mkhwebane gave Ramaphosa 10 working days to comment on the draft report at a meeting held at Mahlambandlopfu, the president’s official residence, in Pretoria on Thursday last week. Sunday Independent understands that the president responded on Friday.
Sources said when Mkhwebane met Ramaphosa, he was flanked by Diko, political advisor Steyn Speed, his legal advisor Khanya Jele and chief of staff Roshene Singh.
If Mkhwebane’s preliminary findings are made final, Ramaphosa would be the first South African president found to have lied to Parliament by the public protector.
Ramaphosa’s problem started when he responded to DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s parliamentary question late last year and said Watson’s R500 000 had been paid to his son, Andile Ramaphosa, for consultancy fees rendered to African Global Operations, formerly known as Bosasa.
However, 10 days later, Ramaphosa made an about-turn and said in a letter sent to then-speaker Baleka Mbete that the money had indeed been a donation to his ANC presidential campaign.
Bosasa was implicated at the state capture commission headed by Justice Raymond Zondo for allegedly bribing ANC politicians and other government officials in exchange for billions of rands worth of state contracts.
The public protector probed the following complaints from Maimane and Shivambu:
Whether on November 6, 2018, during questions in Parliament, Ramaphosa deliberately misled the National Assembly and thereby acted in violation of the Executive Ethics Code and Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests for the National Assembly and Permanent Council Members;
Whether there is an improper relationship between President Ramaphosa and his family on the one side, and the company African Global Operations on the other side due to the nature of the R500 000 payment passing through several intermediaries, instead of a straight-forward donation to the CR17 campaign and thus raising suspicion of money laundering;
Whether President Ramaphosa improperly and in violation of the provisions of the Executive Ethics Code and Disclosure of Members’ Interests for the National Assembly and Permanent Council Members exposed himself to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between official duties and his private interest or used his position to enrich himself and his son through businesses owned by AGO.
On the first count, Mkhwebane found that although Maimane’s follow-up question did not meet parliamentary rules since it was not submitted to the speaker beforehand, Ramaphosa “inadvertently deliberately misled Parliament, in that he should (have) allowed himself sufficient time to research on a well-informed response”.
She said even though Ramaphosa’s conduct was in good faith, it was “inconsistent with his office as a member of cabinet and in violation of the constitution”.
Ramaphosa had told Mkhwebane that he had felt the need to respond to what he believed was “an attack on his integrity” by Maimane which appeared “in the heat of the moment”.
Mkhwebane also found that Ramaphosa, as the deputy president, was duty-bound to declare the financial benefit that accrued to him during the ANC presidential campaign.
In his submission, Ramaphosa had contended that there was a distinction between donations made towards a campaign fund for a political party’s elective conference and gifts and benefits received by “members” in their official capacity or in an attempt to influence members in the performance of their official duties.
“I submit that the donation was not in return for any benefit received by myself in my official capacity, nor was it in order to influence me in the performance of my duties. Instead the donation was received to support an internal party election,” Ramaphosa told the public protector.
However, Mkhwebane found that the campaign pledges were some form of direct financial sponsorship and therefore benefits of a material nature.
She claims in her report that she has evidence which indicates that some of the R200 million collected for the president’s campaign was transferred into the Ramaphosa Trust Foundation bank account.