A comedy of errors
Former Treasury director-general gives his impression of fiasco that was Des van Rooyen
IF YOU thought Des van Rooyen’s record four-day stint as finance minister was uneventful, you have another think coming.
In his attempt to stamp his authority, the man known as Weekend Special unleashed a comedy of errors at the National Treasury.
Testifying at the Zondo commission into state capture that sat in Parktown, north of Joburg last week, former director-general of the Treasury Lungisa Fuzile was dignified enough not to roll about in mirth.
The closest he came to dismissing the curious appointment as a joke was when Fuzile said something about it annoyed him.
Van Rooyen was sworn in on December 10, 2015 and, before he could sign any deal or exact damage on the country’s coffers, he was no longer the man in charge. But not before he could ruffle a few feathers with his un-ministerial behaviour.
Fuzile was asked by evidence leader advocate Vincent Maleka: “By the time you sent the SMS and by the time you called him on the morning of the 10th December, he was known to you, he was no stranger to you, he was someone that you knew?”
To which he responded: “No, he was no stranger to me. I had his telephone number which is why I could send him an SMS. I did not have to look for it and he had my telephone number, because we had had exchanges previously on matters that he himself needed which related to his work.”
After he was sworn in, van Rooyen did something not even a Hollywood script could better.
The commission heard that a Mr Bobat was just in front of Fuzile at the Union Buildings and shook Van Rooyen’s hand to congratulate him.
When it was Fuzile’s turn to congratulate his new boss, he was snubbed.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission, then asked Fuzile: “You followed and put out your hand to congratulate him, but you were surprised he ignored you and walked away instead, that is the point?”
Before the surprise appointment, Fuzile told the commission he got a heads-up from Enoch Godongwana to say they were going to get a new finance minister, a Gupta appointee.
True to form, Van Rooyen was apponted, but he was not alone. He had a group of advisers in tow – Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat.
A strange thing then happened, one of many Van Rooyen faux pas in the few hours since his appointment.
“The minister mistakenly referred to Bobat as his chief of staff and Whitley as adviser, but was soon corrected by Bobat, who said it was he who would occupy the adviser role,” said Fuzile.
But one gaffe was not enough, Fuzile soon learnt.
According to Fuzile, he immediately picked up that Bobat and the new minister did not know each other from Adam.
This is the same Bobat who had earlier uncharacteristically introduced himself to Fuzile as the minister’s adviser.
“Of course ,I did not know the person so as I got quite close with him, he looks towards me and he greets me… good morning or good day, Mr Fuzile. I responded and then he told me immediately that – as part of introducing himself, that he is the adviser to Mr van Rooyen and I was taken aback. I was taken aback because all the advisers the department had had during my tenure, which were not many, had signed contracts with me.”
Fuzile was asked: “You make the point that you were surprised that by that stage you had met Mr Bobat, being minister designate, Mr van Rooyen had just been announced about 15 to 17 hours before and yet he had an adviser already. And you say you had never seen something like this in two decades that you have been in the public service is that correct?
Fuzile said: “Yes, nearly two decades. I had not seen it.”
When the handover had to take place and Nene was to meet his successor for a briefing, Van Rooyen did not arrive. Fuzile said: “When I asked Mr van Rooyen to come, he said he would come at his own time.”
Bobat threw his weight around immediately. He demanded Fuzile draft a statement on behalf of the new minister.
But van Rooyen had already chided Fuzile: “And I state this as a matter of fact, because the minister designate had indicated to me earlier that he did not want a statement from me or us as the officials of the department.”
Those were just some the highlights of the interesting four days in December, when the Weekend Special almost took control of the national purse.
The comic relief ended abruptly on Friday when Director-General Dondo Mogajane told the commission how much the country lost as a result of Nene’s axing.