Des van Rooyen. Picture: SUPPLIED
Des van Rooyen. Picture: SUPPLIED

Former short-lived finance minister Des van Rooyen had an “excessive preoccupation with authority” when he was appointed, former Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile said on Thursday.

Fuzile was testifying at the state-capture inquiry about the time Nhlanhla Nene was fired from the same position by then president Jacob Zuma. Nene was fired on December 9 2015 and replaced by Van Rooyen, who was an ANC backbencher in parliament. The move sent the rand and the economy into turmoil.

Fuzile said that the day after Van Rooyen’s appointment he called the new minister requesting that he come to the Treasury department early to meet with Nene, who was leaving. He also suggested to Van Rooyen that he consider putting a media statement out.

In response to the suggestion that Van Rooyen come in early, the new minister said he would come in his own time, Fuzile said.

Van Rooyen also turned down the suggestion of sending out a statement, telling Fuzile that Treasury officials had a tendency to send out statements, which must come to an end. “In this context, it conveys an excessive preoccupation with authority, as if we, the officials, were behaving in a manner which needed to be put to an end ... It struck me as being prejudicial.” 

Fuzile said he could not understand Van Rooyen’s reaction, because, given the process the Treasury went through with media releases, the minister would have approved it before it was sent out. He said it also would have been good for Van Rooyen to be seen with Nene and address staff together, and gauge the mood in the department.

Van Rooyen, Fuzile noted, could have used both opportunities to let staff, the country and the rest of the world know where he stood. “It just seemed at that time he hadn’t come to terms with what his role was about. He just seemed to me from his reaction that he was oblivious to the fact that the currency was depreciating in the manner that it was.” 

Van Rooyen was removed as finance minister four days after his appointment after much outcry. Zuma was then forced to place Pravin Gordhan back in the finance ministry. Even after this, in February 2016, Zuma told journalists, that Van Rooyen was the most qualified person to be appointed finance minister.

During his testimony at the state-capture inquiry on Wednesday, Fuzile said the night Nene was removed he received a phone call from the ANC’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, who told him that the Treasury would be getting a “Gupta minister” with advisers picked for him by the controversial family.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za