MPs tasked with investigating the so-called “capture of the state” are worried that the controversial Gupta family may be planning to leave the country before they answer to the allegations of state capture.
The panic was fuelled by the news this morning that the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments was selling its mining business, Tegeta, to a Swiss-based company called Charles King SA. The news broke only 48 hours after the company announced the sale of its media titles – the ANN7 news channel and The New Age newspaper – to former government spindoctor Mzwanele Manyi.
MPs want an urgent start to the parliamentary inquiry – which has been delayed for weeks due to ongoing discussions on terms of reference – and, most crucially, support from Parliament to facilitate the inquiry.
The parliamentary committee that oversees public enterprises sat this morning to hear whether Parliament would provide adequate resources for the inquiry to proceed. As they met the news broke that Oakbay was selling its mining business.
MPs suggested that Parliament staff move within the next 48 hours to secure the witnesses they wanted to appear before the inquiry into governance issues, procurement and financial sustainability of Eskom, Denel and Transnet. If the witnesses indicated any resistance to appear before the committee, then a subpoena process would be initiated and law enforcement agencies would be brought into the picture.
The committee acceded to a suggestion by ANC MP Mondli Gungubele to investigate whether Parliament could not take some precautionary interventions to undermine any clandestine objectives by those who are implicated in state capture.
“If there is a move to have an inquiry of this nature and there are those developments, what rights does Parliament have with regards to precautionary interventions if that exists?” he asked, suggesting that a legal opinion be sought in this regard.
“We should have our urgency fuelled by the successive disposals within 48 hours of South African assets. I am getting SMSes which say the person or entity which has bought the coal assets is active in trade with fashion products, clothing articles and shoes. What are they doing buying coal mines?” asked ANC MP Pravin Gordhan.
“There is something strange that seems to be going on. There is greater urgency required … looking into this matter of disposal of assets,” said Gordhan.
The former finance minister added that the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse report on state capture indicated that special favours were done by the management of Eskom in particular the chief financial officer and possibly the board as well, in order for that particular mine or set of mines to be purchased by Oakbay.
“If it’s proven that state resources were utilised to facilitate the purchase of these mines by Oakbay, then as Parliament we have to ask questions about the disposal of these assets. These are all entities and transactions implicated in state capture,” he added.
“In a context where there are suspicions of racketeering and money-laundering, I think as the public enterprises committee, we should be very concerned about the implications for the finances of Eskom and of coal suppliers that might or might not be disrupted as well.
“Is all of this sleight of hand to actually confuse the public and continue with this narrative that this particular company is a benefactor for workers in South Africa when in fact it isn’t? We should be raising some serious questions here and with some great urgency,” said Gordhan as he questioned why Tegeta was sold to a Swiss entity and not to be a black South African business.
Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone said it was incredibly worrying that there was a mass disposal of assets by the Gupta family, and added that this indicated an intention to perhaps leave the country.
“It has become absolutely empirical that we must now make sure the Gupta witnesses are called in as one of the first witnesses,” she said.
Mazzone also proposed that the committee meet with the public enterprises department to look at the roll-on effect the disposal of these assets was having on state-owned entities.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Floyd Shivambu urged his colleagues not to panic. In the end, he said, South Africans would reclaim what is due to them.
“I don’t think we should panic as there is adequate paper trail to track them. Whatever it takes, we are going to get them. I am not worried at all and I am sure at the end of this process we are going to reclaim all that money, including the half a billion paid to Trillian by Eskom,” he said.
Shivambu said the Guptas were not selling their assets, but were merely “restructuring”.
“They are just hiding them. They are restructuring so that they can have bank accounts because all financial associations have disassociated from them,” he added.
But in the light of South Africa allowing Sudan president Omar al-Bashir to leave the country although there was an international warrant of arrest for him, and the recent escape of Zimbabwe’s first lady through a diplomatic immunity, Mazzone warned that the Guptas might as well be allowed to leave and South Africa had no extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates.
“How are we going to bring them back if they leave?”
The committee planned to sit outside normal business hours, including during the December recess, when the inquiry eventually began its work.