Justice Raymond Zondo at the start of The Zondo Commission yesterday. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA)
THE Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture, which kicked off yesterday, wants to know whether tender rules or public servants helped the Guptas to get their hands on state-owned companies.

Today a senior National Treasury official will be the first to take the stand in the state capture inquiry to give evidence on whether it was public servants who enabled looting of state companies by the Guptas or the rules in place.

The testimony by Treasury’s chief procurement officer Willie Mathebula - a long-serving senior staffer - is expected to touch on the forensic report by Treasury on alleged irregularities in the awarding by Eskom of a coal contract to Gupta-linked Tegeta.

Transnet’s controversial procurement of locomotives from China South Rail, which is among the reasons why the company intends suspending three executives, will also come under the spotlight.

The commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, started its hearings yesterday.

It is tasked with probing alleged corruption at SOEs and government departments. Former president Jacob Zuma’s controversial relationship with the Guptas, said to have allowed the family to influence Cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts will also be investigated, thrusting the former president to the heart of the probe.

Yesterday proceedings started with Judge Zondo expressing his unhappiness with the State Security Department’s failure to issue security clearance certificates to some of his staff members.

This threatened to derail the work of the commission, he said.

Judge Zondo has since sought President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intervention on the matter to enable his staff to obtain and handle top secret information, among others.

Head of the commission’s legal team, Paul Pretorius, said Mathebula was ready to take the hot seat and that was set for today.

“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 the legal team will seek to deal with are: 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 added.

The evidence by Mathebula - appointed to head the procurement division under then finance minister Malusi Gigaba following the removal of Schalk Human - will 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 for Government Communication and Information Services (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 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 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 documents implicating him to be able to 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 are documents that 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 the statements there are elements about which we think or the client thinks we should come here,” Sikhakhane said.

Advocate Mike Hellens, for Ajay Gupta, said he would not defend the eldest Gupta brother on allegations made by Jonas, but of 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.

“We have heard a very wide range in a very able introduction by Mr Pretorius on the length and breadth of that which will be engaged and dealt with in the commission,” Helens said.