Public Enterprises Deputy Minister Ben Martins has made a 180 degree turnaround by declining an invitation to appear before the parliamentary committee that is investigating governance failures at Eskom.
He will now become the first person to be subpoenaed to appear before the inquiry and before any committee of the post-1994 Parliament. Only last month, Martins was at pains to get an audience with the inquiry, stating that it “is not permitted to allow others to be implicated without being heard including their version being put before the inquiry”.
Martins was implicated during the testimony of former Eskom legal adviser Suzanne Daniels.
Read: Ben Martins rejects Eskom lawyer’s allegations
“A classical example of the failure of the parliamentary inquiry process to uphold the standards of fairness and a lawful, just administrative hearing as envisaged by Promotion of Administrative Justice Act is demonstrated by the failure to accord Deputy Minister Dikobe Ben Martins an opportunity to controvert and or answer to Ms Daniels testimony including the evidence leader’s failure to elicit Deputy Minister Martins’ testimony,” he wrote at the time.
This morning the inquiry heard that Martins had made a written submission and stated that he was not prepared to appear before the inquiry in person, because his written submission should be sufficient.
The Gupta family also broke its silence about the ongoing parliamentary inquiry. It emerged this morning that the family’s lawyers had also written to Parliament to voice their anxiety over the process, especially around Daniels’ testimony, which implicated both Martins and Ajay Gupta.
In a drama-packed first hour of today’s meeting, the inquiry heard that Ajay Gupta’s lawyer, Goitse Pilane, had sent a copy of Ajay’s passport, a copy of the relevant immigration-stamped page from the passport, and a copy of the official record showing that the aircraft ZS-0AK flew from Lanseria, South Africa, to Bhubaneswar, India, on July 22 and arrived in India the following day. He allegedly returned on July 31. Pilane also annexed in his letter a screenshot from a YouTube video taken on July 29 at a religious festival in India.
“Clearly visible on the video, if you care to view it by accessing the relevant YouTube address, is Mr Ajay Gupta, who indeed attended that festival,” he wrote.
Daniels had told the inquiry last month about how Ajay Gupta and Gupta-associate Salim Essa, on separate occasions, tried to influence decisions related to executives at the power utility, including Brian Molefe’s court matter relating to his controversial pension payout.
She spoke about a meeting on July 29 this year where she was going to meet Essa in Melrose Arch in Johannesburg. When she arrived at the meeting venue, Essa suggested they walk to a block of nearby flats.
“We went into one of those apartments. As we walked into the lounge area there were four people, of which I was introduced to Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma, Deputy Minister Ben Martins and a Chinese lady whose name I could not remember,” she said. Daniels said Ajay Gupta was wearing a grey tracksuit, a T-shirt and no shoes. She said the purpose of the discussion was around Molefe’s court process.
In his letter to the inquiry, in which he also copied National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, acting head of the Hawks Yolisa Matabata and the National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams, Pilane argued that the documents and evidence they had supplied demonstrated that Ajay Gupta was in India from July 23 to July 31 and that, specifically on July 29, he attended the religious celebrations in India. “The claims made by Ms Suzanne Daniels are clearly false as, quite obviously, Mr Ajay Gupta could not have been in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg on July 29 when he was in India on that day and had been there for some while by then, and only returned to this country on July 31,” wrote Pilane.
He complained that his client suffered “untold harm” as consequence of such wild allegations being made against him – which were reported in the media and broadcast nationwide. He said they were planning to report Daniels’ conduct to relevant authorities, including the police and Mbete, so that the necessary investigation and criminal charges be instituted against Daniels.
In a similar letter sent by a different law firm, on behalf of the Gupta family, their lawyer Ahmed Gani writes that the public record of the inquiry indicates, beyond doubt, that the Guptas are potentially subject to adverse findings.
“Witnesses and members of the inquiry routinely deploy terms such as ‘Gupta-linked’, ‘Gupta-connected’ and ‘Gupta-related’ when referring to alleged corrupt practices,” wrote Gani.
“Surprisingly, despite a lapse of nearly six months, during which adverse but false evidence concerning his conduct has mounted before the inquiry, no invitation has been forthcoming from the inquiry for the production of information and to clarify or refute the allegations,” he complained.
He proceeded to request that Ajay Gupta and his family be given an opportunity to provide written input to the inquiry, that they be provided a detailed list of questions at least two weeks before the hearing and that they receive at least 10 business days’ notice of the hearing. Gani warned the committee that the Guptas would not be available in the period between December 8 and January 15.
In his letter, Martins had also complained that he only received his invitation yesterday ahead of today’s hearing, arguing that he had not had the opportunity to go through the statement and transcript of Suzanne Daniels’ testimony.
“Given the circumstances and background of my invitation to appear before the portfolio committee, the written submission adequately addresses the issues I am required to attest to. As a result, it is not necessary for me to appear before the committee because I am responding to the committee in writing,” he wrote.
“I am making this written submission to respond to the allegations. It cannot be assumed that the response can only be valid or legal if it made in person,” said Martins, who has also previously rejected Daniels’ allegations as lies.
MPs were incensed by both the Guptas and Martins’ letters. They resolved to subpoena Martins and to invite Ajay Gupta to appear on January 16.
MPs spoke about how Martins was not on the radar of possible witnesses but that he was included after he attacked the parliamentary process for not inviting him.
The inquiry adjourned for the year and will sit again in January.