CAPE TOWN — Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is suddenly recommending presidential sanctions against Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown for alleged breaches of the executive ethics code – after a loud initial silence during Zuma’s reign. Conceding that Brown was led by the nose by former Eskom Chief Financial Officer, Anoj Singh, who denied any payments to Gupta-linked Trillian Capital, she admits that Brown was misled by Eskom in answering a parliamentary question. Nevertheless, in Mkhwebane’s eyes, it’s technically a breach of the Executive Code and President Ramaphosa must act within 14 days. Forgive me for recalling Mkhwebane’s bid to change the Constitution in order to amend the Reserve banks mandate. Sure, here, she’s at least safely within her rights but it looks very much like more of the same. I see a sail straining to catch prevailing political winds. She’s in elevated company; a brief glance at cabinet reveals a whole fleet of adaptive helms men and women, not least of them our nattily dressed Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, another erstwhile Defender of the Zuptoid Realm. – Chris Bateman
By Renee Bonorchis, Colleen Goko and Thembisile Dzonzi
(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s anti-graft ombudsman has found Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown inadvertently misled parliament about contracts that existed between the state-owned power utility and a company linked to the Gupta family, and has given President Cyril Ramaphosa 14 days to take action.
“By inadvertently misleading parliament, Minister Brown violated” the executive ethics code, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in a report posted online.
In June last year, the anti-graft ombudsman started a probe into Brown after website amaBhungane reported power producer Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. paid Trillian Capital Partners Pty Ltd. 266 million rand ($22 million) in fees even though the existence of a contract had been denied. Trillian, a financial-services firm, is linked to the Gupta family through business associate Salim Essa, who was its principal shareholder until he sold out in July.
According to the information the minister received from Eskom, no payments were made, “but it subsequently emerged that Eskom had indeed made payments to Trillian,” the Department of Public Enterprises said in a statement on Thursday. “When I became aware that senior Eskom officials deliberately misled me, I immediately informed parliament’s ethics committee and the Public Protector of the false information,” Brown said in the statement.
“I instructed Eskom’s board to take disciplinary action against those who conspired to mislead me, parliament and the country,” she said. “After the Eskom, Trillian incident I instructed the department to strengthen oversight mechanisms to avoid a repeat,” said Brown.
Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta have been accused of using a friendship with former President Jacob Zuma and a business relationship with his son Duduzane to try and influence cabinet appointments and secure lucrative state contracts. None of the siblings appear to be in South Africa and while the state has moved to prosecute Gupta associates in the days since Zuma was ousted, it’s unclear how the country will recover the billions of rand that are allegedly missing. Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.
Statement from Department of Public Enterprises
Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown has noted the finding of the Public Protector that she inadvertently violated the Executive Code of Ethics after being misled by Eskom.
The matter related to a Parliamentary Question in December 2016 on whether Eskom had paid any monies to Trillian Capital Partners.
According to the information the Minister received from Eskom in response to the question, signed off by the Chief Financial Officer on behalf of the Chief Executive Officer, no payments were made. The Minister relayed this information to Parliament, but it subsequently emerged that Eskom had indeed made payments to Trillian.
The matter was reported to the Public Protector who found that Minister Brown had inadvertently misled Parliament.
No evidence or information could be found or was submitted during the investigation that Minister Brown deliberately intended to mislead Parliament and the public with her written reply,” the Public Protector said.
But by inadvertently conveying misleading information to Parliament, the Minister had violated the provisions of paragraph (2.3(a) of the Executive Ethics Code, and should be sanctioned by the President, the Public Protector said.
“When I became aware that senior Eskom officials deliberately misled me, I immediately informed Parliament’s Ethics Committee and the Public Protector of the false information,” Minister Brown said after receiving the Public Protector’s report.
“l instructed Eskom’s Board to take disciplinary action against those who conspired to mislead me, Parliament and the country.
The standard practise of responding to Parliamentary Questions relating to operational matters at State-Owned Companies involves obtaining answers directly from the companies are signed off by the Chief Executive Officer and in this instance it was signed off by Anoj Singh on behalf of the CEO. This practise was introduced after previous Parliaments questioned the credibility of some answers to Parliamentary Questions.
“After the Eskom/Trillian incident I instructed the Department to strengthen oversight mechanisms to avoid a repeat,” said Minister Brown.