Herbst: The offer still stands, Mr Fransman

By Ed Herbst*

Ed Herbst, former television journalist
Ed Herbst, former television journalist

“Carlisle, calling Fransman ‘gutless’, challenged him to clear his name.” Quinton Mtyala, Cape Times 24/2/2011

The news that Marius Fransman had been reinstated as Western Cape leader of the ANC despite the still unresolved charge of sexual harassment against him took me back to a letter which was published in the Cape Argus on 9 November 2009.

The letter was from the then MEC for Transport and Public Works in the Western Cape legislature, Robin Carlisle of the Democratic Alliance and, at the time, I found it quite extraordinary and, I believe, absolutely without precedent in our political history.

It was addressed to his predecessor in that position, the ANC’s Marius Fransman and the heading was: Carlise challenges Fransman to an audit.

In “Carlisle’s dirty politics” (Cape Points, November 3), Marius Fransman accuses me of spreading lies about him and defends his record as Minister, claiming he acted meticulously and in good faith.

            I disagree and suggest we open our finances to a full forensic audit in which each of our records is made available. We also reveal what all of our assets – personal and immediate family – are and how they were financed.

            This includes any business or companies in which our families have interests.

            He would decide on the auditor for my investigation and I would decide on the auditor for his. I will pay the costs for both audits.

            I have no doubt that the voting public will have the keenest interest in the outcome of the audits.

            If the audit results find Mr Fransman clean, I will publish full-page advertisements in all five of the provincial newspapers apologising for ever doubting his record.

            It is surely an offer he would not want to refuse.

Robin Carlisle

Minister of Transport and Public Works

Western Cape

The important sentence in Carlisle’s letter was: “I will pay for the cost of both audits”.

To a politician of impeccable ethical probity this would have been a moment to savour.

Not only would Carlisle have been neutralised, he would also have been left with egg on his face and a substantially reduced bank balance because those audits and full page newspaper advertisements would have cost in excess of R100 000.

To those who have followed Fransman’s subsequent career it came as no surprise that he did not respond to this extraordinarily generous proposal. Carlisle knew all along, however, that Fransman could not countenance his offer. To cite a single example – when Fransman vacated his office after the 2009 election, the incoming Democratic Alliance staff found no less than 7000 untaxed Cuban cigars…

The debate relating to Calisle’s letter was centred on the period after Marthinus van Schalkwyk, in return for a ministerial post, gave political control of the Western Cape and the Cape Town municipality during the 2003 floor- crossing period to the ANC when he took his National Party into the ANC fold.

It was a period of untrammelled snouting which saw the billions being siphoned out of provincial and municipal coffers by the ANC’s deployed cadres.

Toxic discord

It was also a period which did the ANC untold damage, harming its reputation, driving out some of its best talents and creating toxic internal discord which festers until this day.

At the heart of this discord was the lowest of the long-hanging fruit in Cape Town’s property portfolio, the Somerset Hospital site overlooking the V&A Waterfront.

Initially, as the new Premier of the province, Ebrahim Rasool after the 2004 election put Mcebisi Skwatsha in charge of the Public Works portfolio and thus in control of the destiny of the Somerset Hospital site.

Then Rasool’s cronies indicated that they wanted to get their hands on the site, so he removed Skwatsha, appointed Fransman and the two of them flew to Dubai and, allegedly sold the site to a consortium there – something they both deny.

In a reference to what was, at the time, referred to as a “BEE war”, Brown said that whoever benefited from the sale of the site would probably become dollar billionaires.

“This money has made monsters of good people,” Brown said. Just how good the “good people” were can be gleaned from this remark by her.

“Something very odd is happening here, Cabinet took a decision to lease out the Somerset Hospital precinct for 99 years last year. For the next seven months Treasury was not involved at all and then I saw the advertisement in the newspaper in September.”

The thwarted Fransman predictably attributed the failure of this nefarious enterprise to “institutional racism”.

This “BEE war” provoked open warfare between the Skwatsha faction and the Rasool/Fransman faction, the antagonism being exacerbated once it became known that Rasool and Fransman were using taxpayers’ money to bribe journalists to promote them and attack their ANC opponents.

When the dust settled Rasool had been hurriedly made ambassador to the USA and his successor, Lynn Brown, had cancelled the sale of the Somerset Hospital site. The already-toxic atmosphere within the ANC in the Western Cape had become so foetid, so noxious, that hard-working, talented and committed ANC politicians who contributed positively to the governance of the province like Yousuf Gabru and Garth Strachan sought new career paths.

The enmity got so bad that Max Ozinsky, a Skwatsha confidante, openly admitted leaking damaging information about the Rasool faction to newspapers.

Excoriating attack

What Carlisle hinted at in his letter to the Cape Argus, he turned into an excoriating attack from the floor of the provincial legislature less than two years later – just after Fransman had been appointed as ANC leader in the province.

Carlisle provided extensive details of systemic corruption, epic mismanagement and pervasive wasteful expenditure during Fransman’s period in office:

The plundering of the Department of Transport and Works portfolio of which Fransman was the Minister for almost four years was on a massive scale. Treasury investigated over R500m of consultancy procurement, much of it highly irregular. 

In a much more detailed investigation, the Auditor General highlighted 18 consultancies and companies procured by Fransman`s Department. The AG noted that these consultancies had been paid R197m in the financial year 2008/09, an increase of 81% on the previous year. All appointments were either seriously flawed and/or badly managed or both. Inter alia, the following serious breaches of supply chain management were noted:

  • formal needs assessment was not conducted;
  • competitive appointment processes were not followed;
  • reasonableness of fees proposed by consultants were not evaluated;
  • contracts were awarded without a maximum contract value being specified;
  • non-compliance with appointed conditions to compete on a quotation basis;
  • declaration of financial and related party interests were not completed;
  • consultants did not complete all the deliverables;
  • consultants were used for events that did not relate to the functions of the department;
  • contract values were exceeded;
  • consultancy contracts were extended regularly (and irregularly); and
  • the use of limited bidding was not reported to, or approved by, the accounting officer, the Provincial Treasury or the Auditor General.

The Department did not utilise or implement the completed deliverables of 10 consultants to a value R72m. Thus, every rule in the procurement book was broken, and the way was open for corruption on a grand scale.

The plundering of the department that now ensued touched every branch.

Tracking and ticketing systems were installed at a cost of over R60m and never functionally used. I have now closed this department down.

American consultants were hired for 2010 at a cost of R90m despite the department having a very small role to play, and in the end it only spent some R2m on 2010.

About 1500 learners were recruited and offered training in chaotic circumstances. At the end of two years, not one learner had been certified. The cost to the department was R60m.

Properties were sold for over R200m under very favourable circumstances to the buyer. Despite every effort, only one has been paid, and the rest are protected by sweetheart clauses negotiated directly with Fransman and inserted despite the objections of his staff.

Allegations of corruption

Carlisle, quoting approvingly from the allegations of corruption against Fransman and Rasool from within their own party by the likes of Swatsha and Ozinsky, asked Fransman to answer eight questions – which the new ANC leader in the province, for reasons best known to himself, declined to do:

  • Why did you not do anything about the irregular and exorbitant consultancies during your watch, which you admit you knew about?
  • Were you aware of corruption in your department?
  • Did you benefit personally as a result of this corruption?
  • If not, why will you not subject yourself to a family lifestyle audit?
  • Where is the evidence that you say clears your name? Why have you not made it available to the public?
  • Seeing you admit to knowing the truth about “the bribes to journalists”, when are you going to share it with the rest of us?
  • Do you answer to the people of the Western Cape or to Luthuli House?
  • Why are you silent on the proposed ANC labour law amendments that will disproportionately affect coloured South Africans in the Western Cape, as well as millions of people of all races across the country?

Fransman was given a second chance to explain the ubiquitous graft, the politics of the trough, that characterised his period in office when, on 14 February 2014, he was ordered to appear before the provincial public accounts committee (Scopa) hearing on his mismanagement of public funds. He simply boycotted the meeting. A second SCOPA meeting was arranged a month later. This time Fransman attended but walked out shortly after the meeting started.

Clearly desperate not to have to answer questions or to have to testify under oath, Fransman sought the intervention of the courts in July 2014.

The case will probably be heard in the next few months. Fransman will use the state law adviser to assist him in avoiding the accountability which the ANC promised the country when it gained political control in 1994 with the promise that, in a break from the past, there would be transparent governance.

2016 election

Fransman has relentlessly brought the ANC into disrepute in the Western Cape – last year he emphatically denied allegations that he had bribed minstrel troupes in return for ANC votes and then reneged on the deal. But, given his lack of credibility, how will such scandals impact on the party’s fortunes in the province in the 2016 municipal election, now little more than a month away?

What is particularly relevant is that when the majority voting bloc on the Cape Flats needed him most, he shone in his absence and deafened with his silence.

He is, in the eyes of Cape Town’s small media community, indelibly tainted by his role in the notorious “Brown Envelope” scandal.

Furthermore, the people on the Cape Flats, only too familiar with discrimination on ethnic grounds, will have found Fransman’s open antipathy towards the Jewish community – for which he was rebuked by Ben Turok – inexcusable and they have expressed that antipathy in previous elections.

More recently there has been the accusation of sexual harassment.

In clear reference to this Derek Hanekom, Tourism Minister and ANC national executive committee member, said: “We cannot have sexual harassment (in our movement), we must deal with it.” He was speaking at a Cosatu Workers Day rally two months ago. This was a prescient remark because the “kewl” SMS messages that Marius Fransman sent to Luisa Wynand will have been disturbing to voters on the Cape Flats as well as voters elsewhere in the country.

If the ANC wants to return the Western Cape to the their fold it will need to follow up on such remarks.

Sooner, rather than later.

In researching this article, I interviewed Robin Carlisle, who has retired from politics.

He nevertheless assures me that his offer, made in his letter to the Cape Argus in 2009, still stands.

  • Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.