President Jacob Zuma delivers his state of the nation address in Parliament.  Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma delivers his state of the nation address in Parliament. Picture: GCIS

It is an obscenity that Parliament has not provided an experienced advocate as evidence leader for the inquiry into the capture of state-owned enterprises by the portfolio committee on public enterprises. In terms of the Constitution, Parliament must be granted the resources to conduct its oversight role, and the case for oversight of the state-owned companies has never been stronger, not least because there is overwhelming prima facie evidence of their capture.

Parliament does employ an experienced evidence leader, one Ntuthuzelo Vanara, who famously fulfilled that role in the ad hoc inquiry into the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). That bit of oversight was what led to the ultimate dissolution of the public broadcaster’s board and the removal of the intractable Hlaudi Motsoeneng as chief operating officer.

Given what is at stake and the importance of the characters involved it is no wonder there is a concerted push-back against the inquiry before it has even begun

Vanara, however, is not available for the public enterprises committee’s inquiry and Parliament’s chief legal adviser, Zuraya Adhikarie, counsels against hiring outside experts.

Agreed, silks do not come cheap, so perhaps MPs should ask again for Parliament’s resident senior legal adviser to come and do his job. His performance on the SABC inquiry was impressive even though in the past he has been rather limp-wristed, advising, for instance, that the state would not be able to build a claim that President Jacob Zuma had benefited unduly from the improvements at Nkandla.

There are important reasons as to why such an expert is required. This inquiry will be far more complicated and lengthier than the SABC inquiry, involving many more witnesses and much more evidence. The large volume of documents required will need to be gathered in a systematic way. Among the witnesses called would be the Gupta brothers, Zuma’s son Duduzane and, if a good job is to be done, the president himself. Many of them will no doubt have their submissions prepared by lawyers.

Like the inquiry into the public broadcaster, it is sure to provide a gripping public spectacle, with the details of state capture unpacked in front of national and international cameras on a daily basis.

Without an evidence leader to procure the documents and plan the questioning of the witnesses by MPs — who tend to behave in a chaotic and uncalculated manner in committees — the inquiry will not achieve anything close to its objectives.

Given what is at stake and the importance of the characters involved it is no wonder there is a concerted push-back against the inquiry before it has even begun.

Parliament resolved nearly three months ago to hold the inquiry and little has been achieved so far.

It is inconceivable that Parliament has either run out of money to perform a core function or that a committee of MPs specifically charged to inquire into a matter of the highest public interest — the very sovereignty of the state — cannot raise the wherewithal to do the job given to them by the voting public. Perhaps parliamentary officials and Speaker Baleka Mbete are also captured?

An ordinary democratic society would not find itself in this situation. Then again, SA is no longer an ordinary democracy. Extraordinary measures are now required. Even if taxpayers have already paid for parliamentary oversight, which they have, civil society should heed the call by Business Leadership SA and other civil society organisations to create an integrity fund that can be used in instances such as this to protect the country against state capture.

If that is what it takes to hire an expert to help Parliament stop the looting, it is what we must do. The inquiries into state capture are too serious and too urgent to permit budget constraints to subvert them. Everyone will benefit from the return on such an investment.

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