TOBY SHAPSHAK: Ramaphosa under pressure over his ministers’ smallanyana skeletons
Can we expect parliament to act in the best interests of SA’s citizens and against the compromised ministers rather than putting the interests of the ANC deployees first?
If the two greatest crises facing SA right now are Covid and Eskom, it’s particularly damaging that both ministers in charge of these issues are seeing their “smallanyana skeletons” come out in public. The question is: will President Cyril Ramaphosa ever call them to account?
First, as the country ramps up towards its third wave of Covid infections, health minister Zweli Mkhize is bogged down in allegations — and journalists are required to call such things “allegations” until they are proven in court, but the public knows what’s what — that a company called Digital Vibes, set up by his former PA and friend, scored a R150m contract from the health ministry. It wasn’t just “irregular”; much of the spending was “fruitless and wasteful” too: consider how ludicrous it was that Digital Vibes charged the state R3.6m to “set up” an interview at the SABC for Mkhize.
The Daily Maverick’s Pieter-Louis Myburgh has uncovered numerous other examples of “alleged” wrongdoing too, and it’s only getting worse for Mkhize.
Yet, amazingly, a cabinet minister who claimed not to know about all this, which took place in his own department under his nose, is still in his position. What will it ever take for an ANC minister to be fired?
At this point, it’s not so much about Mkhize (annual salary: R2m) as it is about the message this sends to those looting state coffers: why should anyone caught with their hands in the PPE cookie jar fear prosecution, when the cabinet minister in charge of the health department is so patently exposed and yet nothing happens to him?
It’s a question you could well ask about the energy ministry too.
There, we have mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe, who seems to have been “fanciful” with the truth when he told the Zondo commission that he had no idea who paid for security upgrades to his home in Boksburg – when it was really the corrupted prisons company Bosasa signing the cheques.
There may be plausible reasons for believing someone when they say that; but in security-mad SA? What cabinet minister claims he wasn’t aware of who installed his security? And if this were at all true, how would that not be a potential crisis in itself?
Let’s not forget that Mantashe waited two years to release the names of the bidders for the emergency power providers. And then, it turns out that 60% of this project — which was meant to be newly built, creating jobs — went to a Turkish company that generates power on its very old ships, which it parks offshore.
This process appears to have been so entirely compromised that two senior energy officials, department director-general Thabo Mokoena and a deputy director-general, Tseliso Maqubela, have now admitted in court papers that they met one of the potential bidders, DNG Energy, at an upmarket Pretoria restaurant named Kream last November before the tender closed.
DNG Energy CEO Aldworth Mbalati has claimed in an affidavit that the officials offered to “help” him win the tender and got angry when he rejected this help. “There is a system in this country, and if you don’t work in accordance with that system you will fail even if your project is the best,” Mbalati says they told him.
(Mokoena and Maqubela have now filed their own court papers, admitting they met Mbalati, but denying this offer and claiming the tender wasn’t even discussed at all.)
What is crucial, however, is that Mbalati claims one of the people at the meeting was a “familial relation” to Mantashe — implying that there was pressure to cut in Mantashe’s family on the energy tender.
In court papers filed last week Mantashe denies this. He says: “No close family member approached me in relation to the extension of the bid notification date” and “as far as I am aware there was no undue influence” in that tender.
It mirrors what he said about the security equipment, paid for by Bosasa. “I am not amenable to bribes,” he told the Zondo commission in March. Instead, he spun it as a situation where someone can accept a gift if it is given as part of “a social arrangement at a family level”.
But then Mantashe doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to disclosure.
Neither, it seems, does Mkhize, who failed to declare any benefit from Digital Vibes — something that parliament requires under its ethics code — even though it now turns out that the company paid for maintenance at a family property and gave his son a bakkie. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this is that at least we’ve moved on from Hansie Cronje’s patchwork leather jacket.
So, the question comes down to this: can we expect the defanged ANC-led parliament to act in the best interests of the country’s citizens and against the compromised ministers rather than putting the interests of the overpaid ANC deployees first?
I wouldn’t hold your breath. This is the same ANC that allowed Bongani Bongo, despite facing two corruption cases, to assume the chairmanship of parliament’s home affairs committee.
Though Bongo has been suspended by the ANC, he’ll continue to earn his parliamentary salary while the court process unfolds. Imagine how many boreholes the Gift of the Givers could drill in the car parks of state-owned hospitals for the R1.4m he is paid every year.
Oh, and don’t expect the ministers to “do the right thing” unless the pressure becomes utterly unbearable. It’s worth remembering that the only ANC politician to do the honourable thing and resign when he was found to have been fibbing (in this case, lying about meeting the Guptas) is Nhlanhla Nene, the far more honourable former finance minister.
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