Sunday Times


Cyril’s state clean-up at risk as min­is­ter ad­mits to ‘gross over­sight’ in not speak­ing up ear­lier about his se­cret trysts with the Gup­tas

- By RANJENI MUNUSAMY and CAIPHUS KGOSANA South Africa Politics · South Africa News · Corruption · Politics · African Politics · Crime · Cyril Ramaphosa · Nhlanhla Nene · Gupta family · Pravin Gordhan · The Sunday Times · Johannesburg · Jacob Zuma · Voluntary Sector · African National Congress · Public Investment Corporation · Mcebisi Jonas

● Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s am­bi­tious plans to res­cue SA’s econ­omy from the rav­ages of state cap­ture are in the bal­ance to­day, af­ter a gulf in trust opened up be­tween him and fi­nance min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene this week over the lat­ter’s pri­vate meet­ings with the Gup­tas and his fail­ure to dis­close them.

Un­til Nene’s shock dis­clo­sures at the Zondo com­mis­sion this week, he and pub­lic en­ter­prises min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han had been the aces up Ramaphosa’s sleeve in his clean-up cam­paign.

Now the fi­nance min­istry is again in the bal­ance, and there are se­ri­ous ques­tions about Nene’s cred­i­bil­ity, par­tic­u­larly over whether the Gup­tas had any role in his pre­vi­ous de­ploy­ments as min­is­ter and deputy min­is­ter of fi­nance, and whether he ever acted un­der their in­struc­tion.

The Sun­day Times has learnt that when he was reap­pointed to the cabi­net in Fe­bru­ary, Nene did not dis­close to Ramaphosa that he had seven meet­ings with the Gup­tas dur­ing his pre­vi­ous stints in the fi­nance min­istry.

In a re­sponse to ques­tions from the Sun­day Times, Nene said he did not think that the meet­ings he had with the Gup­tas were rel­e­vant for the pur­pose his ap­point­ment, but “look­ing back I should have in­formed the pres­i­dent then, or sub­se­quently”.

“The ques­tion never arose and I am not aware that pres­i­dents ask peo­ple they are about to ap­point to re­veal who they have met as part of the ap­point­ment process.”

Nene this week dis­closed to the Zondo com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing state cap­ture that he held meet­ings with Ajay Gupta af­ter be­ing in­vited to Sa­hara Com­put­ers of­fices and later to the fam­ily’s Sax­on­wold, Jo­han­nes­burg, com­pound.

“I re­garded the vis­its as one of my tasks as deputy min­is­ter to en­gage with dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers in the econ­omy,” said Nene.

He said he had also been to the Gupta house twice af­ter first be­ing ap­pointed min­is­ter, in Au­gust and Novem­ber 2014.

“I was not re­quested to do any­thing to ben­e­fit the Gupta fam­ily or Mr Ajay Gupta, nor was I of­fered any in­duce­ment,” said Nene.

He told the Sun­day Times that he had no meet­ings with the Gup­tas prior to his ap­point­ment as deputy min­is­ter, and de­nied they were in­volved in his min­is­te­rial ap­point­ment. “The Gup­tas did not dis­cuss with me the pos­si­bil­ity of me be­ing ap­pointed min­is­ter of fi­nance.”

He said he shared his com­mis­sion sub­mis­sion with Ramaphosa be­fore ap­pear­ing be­fore deputy chief jus­tice Ray­mond Zondo on Wed­nes­day.

Nene is now fac­ing an on­slaught of pub­lic crit­i­cism for only own­ing up to the in­ter­ac­tions with the fam­ily af­ter the cir­cu­la­tion of a text mes­sage al­leg­ing he was “linked to the Gup­tas” and “in­stru­men­tal in fund­ing many of their busi­ness deals”.

“The dis­clo­sure of my meet­ings with the Gup­tas was in­cluded in the state­ment long be­fore the cir­cu­la­tion of the text mes­sages,” Nene said.

“I had not kept a record of these meet­ings. It didn’t help also that when I was fired in De­cem­ber 2015, staff who had been in my of­fice shred­ded some of the records, in­clud­ing my driver’s log book where he had recorded all the trips we had to meet­ings, in­clud­ing those with the Gup­tas. I had to rely mostly on my me­mory as well as the rec­ol­lec­tions of my driver.”

Ramaphosa was ap­par­ently un­aware that Nene was to make an apol­ogy to the na­tion on Fri­day for meet­ing the Gup­tas at their Sax­on­wold home rather than at his of­fice, and not dis­clos­ing the de­tails ear­lier. He is said to be “very shocked” at the rev­e­la­tions of Nene’s re­la­tion­ship with the Gup­tas but is un­der­stood to have not yet dis­cussed the mat­ter and the fu­ture of the fi­nance min­istry with him.

High-pro­file in­sid­ers in the pres­i­dency say Ramaphosa is in a quandary about what to do as the storm around Nene un­der­mines at­tempts to clean up the gov­ern­ment and sta­bilise the Na­tional Trea­sury af­ter years of volatil­ity dur­ing the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Why did he not ear­lier dis­close that he had met them, un­der what cir­cum­stances?” said a pres­i­dency of­fi­cial. “Did these meet­ings lead to him do­ing any­thing il­le­gal or un­eth­i­cal? Did he do the Gup­tas any favours?”

Nene’s col­leagues and of­fi­cials in the Trea-

sury be­came aware of his meet­ings with the Gup­tas only as his le­gal team was fi­nal­is­ing his af­fi­davit last week. Gord­han, who was min­is­ter of fi­nance at the time most of the meet­ings were held, and Nene’s for­mer deputy, Mce­bisi Jonas, said they had “no knowl­edge” of his con­tact with the Gup­tas.

Nene said he met with “many peo­ple in busi­ness, pol­i­tics and the so­cial sec­tor, the de­tails of which I never dis­cussed with the min­is­ter or Trea­sury of­fi­cials”.

He said in his meet­ings with the Gup­tas, “there was noth­ing spe­cific to Na­tional Trea­sury or the min­istry of fi­nance dis­cussed”.

“In ret­ro­spect, this was gross over­sight on my part, par­tic­u­lar af­ter Mce­bisi had in­formed me of his of­fer by the Gup­tas. At the time these meet­ings were tak­ing place, I did not think the meet­ings were of any sig­nif­i­cance as there was noth­ing that Na­tional Trea­sury or the min­istry of fi­nance needed to do with re­gards to the dis­cus­sions I had had with the Gup­tas.”

Com­ment­ing to the Sun­day Times about his re­ac­tion to calls for his res­ig­na­tion and con­cerns about the cred­i­bil­ity of the fi­nance min­istry, Nene said: “In the ANC, in cabi­net and in gov­ern­ment as a whole, the pe­riod dur­ing which all these events took place was a very un­usual and dif­fi­cult time. I ap­pre­ci­ate the re­ac­tion of fel­low South Africans, which has ranged from those who call for me to fall on my sword to those who thanked me for com­ing out and apol­o­gis­ing. Be­yond that, I have noth­ing more to say on this point.”

Ramaphosa also faces a dilemma over the ap­point­ment of a com­mis­sion of in­quiry into al­leged im­pro­pri­ety at the Pub­lic In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion as it is likely to in­clude al­le­ga­tions against Nene. The Mail & Guardian re­ported on Fri­day that Nene’s son was in­volved in se­cur­ing fund­ing from the sta­te­owned fund man­ager while Nene chaired it.

As fi­nance min­is­ter, Nene has to rec­om­mend to the pres­i­dent the names of the chair of the com­mis­sion and the sup­port­ing team, as well as the terms of ref­er­ence. Nene said yes­ter­day that the in­quiry de­tails would be an­nounced by the pres­i­dency.

“The terms are broad enough, in my view, to in­clude the al­le­ga­tions pub­lished by the Mail & Guardian,” he said.

Nene tes­ti­fied be­fore Zondo that he re­fused to bow to pres­sure from for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and his cabi­net col­leagues to sign off on the nu­clear deal. He also told the in­quiry he was fired on the day the cabi­net ap­proved the deal af­ter he and for­mer Trea­sury direc­tor-gen­eral Lungisa Fuzile ar­gued against the “un­af­ford­able” deal.

But ques­tions are now be­ing raised about whether the Gup­tas in­ter­fered in the min­istry of fi­nance dur­ing Nene’s pre­vi­ous term as min­is­ter — par­tic­u­larly over his fail­ure to act to pro­tect the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice (Sars) when it was plunged into cri­sis.

For­mer em­ploy­ees of Sars say they made nu­mer­ous pleas to Nene for help when al­le­ga­tions arose of a “rogue unit”. For­mer Sars deputy com­mis­sioner Ivan Pil­lay asked for a com­mis­sion of in­quiry to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged rogue ac­tiv­ity at the rev­enue au­thor­ity.

“My ini­tial re­ac­tion was to leave these mat­ters to the in­sti­tu­tion to deal with,” Nene said yes­ter­day.

“How­ever, it soon be­came clear — this is now to­wards the end of 2014 — that [Sars com­mis­sioner Tom] Moy­ane was in­ter­ested in the mat­ter of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit more than rev­enue col­lec­tion. It was at this point that a de­ci­sion was made to ap­point an ad­vi­sory panel headed by Judge Frank Kroon, to which all mat­ters re­lat­ing to the in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit would be re­ferred.”

Pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Khusela Diko de­clined to com­ment on whether Ramaphosa dis­cussed Nene’s tes­ti­mony with him.

 ??  ?? Min­is­ter of fi­nance Nh­lanhla Nene and Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa
Min­is­ter of fi­nance Nh­lanhla Nene and Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa

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