The first week of the Zondo Commission has already produced some explosive testimony. On Friday former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas testified that the Gupta brother he met with in October 2015, believed to be Ajay, boasted that “we are in control of everything…” – including the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the National Intelligence Agency.
Gupta told Jonas that the family had made Duduzane Zuma rich and they could do the same for him.
Earlier in the week, the commission welcomed its first witness. National Treasury’s acting chief procurement officer, Ndleleni Mathebula, unpacked the inner workings of government’s massive procurement system.
Under cross-examination by Leah Gcabashe SC of the commission’s evidence leader team, Mathebula said that the state spends on average R800-billion per annum on procurement – but the degree to which processes are flouted, is worrying.
Although state procurement is governed by an impressive legislative framework, the challenges are big. Even the Treasury’s special directorate that deals specifically with irregularities, is experiencing difficulties in curbing the occurrence of tender corruption.
Another challenge for Treasury is the enforcement of consequences for transgressors who violate clear prescripts determined for procurement. Although the Public Finance Management Act provides for this process, Mathebula noted, often it is not applied. Furthermore, even if Treasury does pick up breaches of the regulations, it can only make recommendations to the relevant accounting officers, with the expectation that they will act. Treasury is also unable to track if recommendations are complied with.
Treasury does cancel contracts that have been granted under irregular circumstances, and the supplier involved is barred from doing business with government, for a period of up to 10 years.
Mathebula also noted an increasing tendency by government departments to apply the process of deviations, even where this is not relevant. Deviations should be used only in an emergency or in cases where there is only one supplier.
Threatened with his life
Mcebisi Jonas revealed on Friday 24 August that Ajay Gupta, the brother he believes he met with, threatened to have him killed should he ever tell anyone about a meeting held between them at the Gupta home in Johannesburg in October 2015. Download Jonas’ testimony.
Also present at the meeting were former president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane as well as former defence advisor Fana Hlongwane.
Gupta began the meeting, which took place at the Guptas’ Saxonwold home, by saying that Zuma had suggested that they speak to Jonas to see ‘whether you can work with us’, and that they had investigated Jonas and found out what they thought they needed to know about him.
Gupta offered Jonas an amount of R600-million to take over as finance minister from the incumbent Nhlanhla Nene, and from then on do the Guptas’ bidding. When Gupta saw that Jonas was not interested in the offer, the former became “emotional” and appeared to be motioning to punch Jonas.
Gupta also revealed that his family had ensured that the career paths of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe and former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown were safe.
The meeting ended abruptly, but not before Gupta further tried to persuade Jonas with an amount of R600 000 in cash, as a token of how serious he was about his offer.
Jonas was driven to the venue by Duduzane, who for some time had shown interest in meeting with him. They met Hlongwane outside before entering the house.
Nene was fired in December 2015 and replaced by little-known ANC back-bencher Des van Rooyen, less than two months after Jonas met with Gupta. The resulting outcry forced Zuma to remove Van Rooyen and bring former finance minister Pravin Gordhan back after just four days. Jonas and Gordhan were simultaneously removed from their positions in a late-night Cabinet reshuffle in March 2017.
• Image of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas taken in 2016. Flickr / GovernmentZA