After many weeks of several witnesses at the Eskom parliamentary inquiry implicating Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown in malfeasance currently dominating headlines from Megawatt Park, Brown finally got an opportunity to ventilate allegations levelled against her by three different former board members and a former reputation management specialist at the power utility.
It was a tough day in the office for Brown.
After making her oral submission, evidence leader Adv Ntuthuzelo Vanara cross-examined Brown on whether she was “obstructionist”, judging by a letter she addressed to inquiry chairperson Zukiswa Rantho, and Vanara questioning the constitutional validity, credibility, fairness and her perceived bias of the committee.
Brown remained in the hot seat between 5.30pm and 11.30pm, and asked Rantho to excuse her several times, as she sought “comfort breaks” during heated debates with MPs.
DA shadow MP for public enterprises Natasha Mazzone kicked off the question session with bombshell revelations of her own. She accused Brown of lying to the committee about a private meeting the two had at Brown’s office earlier this year where she asked the minister to come clean or else risk becoming a scapegoat.
“I put it to you that 52 million South Africans expect us to do what we are doing. Let us look at your tenure as a minister. SAA has gone into complete collapse which resulted in Nenegate. We have Denel Laser deal fight with Treasury, and another minister lose their position.
“I expect you as the minister to say, hold on, we have a problem in our SOEs, basic corporate governance is not adhered to, and is causing economic collapse,” she told Brown.
“Board and chairpersons are being changed left right and centre, and the only person who is left standing is you. Why was Salim Essa and Tony Gupta at your house when Zola Tsotsi arrived?” Mazzone continued, and told MPs she was surprised Brown had never seen the #GuptaEmails as she handed her a brown envelope and handed another set to the speaker of the House.
Brown denied this version of events, and said she had not received any envelope.
The Salim Essa question was raised again by EFF’s Floyd Shivambu, who wanted to know if it was Brown’s considered submission that she has never met Essa or the Guptas. Brown confirmed knowing of Ingrid Tufvesson, her alleged partner. Shivambu then alleged that the Guptas purchased a Range Rover from Dubai for Brown and registered it in Tufvesson’s name.
Brown denied this accusation, and said she drove a modest X1, not the Range Rover.
Dissatisfied with this response, Shivambu wanted to know if the minister asked where the car was purchased and who paid for it.
Brown had earlier said she had not mentioned the “person’s name”, as she was not in the house to defend herself. She dismissed Shivambu’s statement that she was bought the car. “That is an assumption you are making here that she is my partner, I don’t have to say here yes. I don’t ask you who your partner is.”
Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan asked Brown if she consulted President Jacob Zuma on her executive decision making. She mentioned that she had discussed the IPP (Independent Power Producers) and the structure of Eskom with Zuma. Gordhan wondered if she conveyed her unhappiness about Zuma meeting former chair Zola Tsotsi and SAA former chairperson Dudu Myeni without her knowledge. She said she didn’t, as the information was new.
Unsettled by the active participation of an official assumed to be a lawyer and Brown’s spin-doctor, Colin Cruywagen, during the proceedings, Rantho asked Vanara to clarify whether legal advisers were allowed to assist witnesses. Vanara explained that it was the witness alone who took the oath and therefore they could only be assisted on legal matters.
He said on factual questions, the minister had to respond to questions on her own.
Brown showed the notes she had received, written “excellent”, and wanted to know if that was bad. Gordhan said it only showed the preparation with her legal team was good, but not necessarily helping with the process.
He then turned to Brown’s spokesperson: “[Colin] Cruywagen has a perpetual smile and grimace on his face. Officials are required to remain neutral. Tomorrow, you can have another minister, ask me. Your job is to serve the public and the state.”
A screaming match ensued when Brown insisted on responding to Gordhan’s statement that he found it “fascinating and intriguing” that Eskom board members who are business associates with Essa and the Guptas were the common thread.
“It wasn’t a question! I told you, no! Chair your guidance please. That wasn’t a question to the minister,” Gordhan pleaded with Rantho, who instructed the minister to “answer the questions directly”.
Gordhan questioned whether the policy of rotating acting CEOs was a sound business practice and informed MPs that Brown’s own department had during a meeting on 27 January 2017 “mentioned that the business case of Denel is weak”.
Brown said that was hearsay before Gordhan offered to make the affidavit signed by former Treasury DG Lungile Fuzile available to her. He wanted to know why she was not a respondent during the court case that followed.
Former Ekurhuleni executive mayor Mondli Gungubele, who came on just before midnight, pressed Brown on why she allowed a CEO appointed by her in terms of the 2014 MoI (memorandum of incorporation) to be suspended by the Eskom board without consulting her.
The minister had earlier told the committee it was not her “business” and maintained she never attended any meeting to discuss suspensions with the Eskom board.
You can follow the author @Gosebo_Mathope or email firstname.lastname@example.org