A com­edy of er­rors

For­mer Trea­sury direc­tor-gen­eral gives his im­pres­sion of fi­asco that was Des van Rooyen

The Sunday Independent - - METRO - DON MAKATILE

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.

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