Former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba on Wednesday insisted in testimony to the Zondo commission that if the looting of parastatals by allies of the Gutpa family reached its apogee during his tenure, it was a coincidence.
“In as far as I was involved, during the time, I have said that really, it is purely coincidental; it is an unfortunate coincidence, because I have lived for a long time with vilification, with innuendos, with my name being tarnished and associated with these incidents,” he said.
Gigaba was pressed by evidence leader Anton Myburgh as to how he could have been ignorant of the scale of capture. On Tuesday, the commission heard in testimony from Shadow World investigator Paul Holden that R57-billion flowed to the now-fugitive family.
Myburgh asked if he would describe himself as “in any way being complicit, having some knowledge, being aware, being directly or indirectly involved?”
Gigaba took umbrage at the question, prompting Deputy Chief Justice Zondo to say that it was an invitation to consider his responsibilities as a cabinet minister and the extent to which his role would have allowed him to hear alarm bells ring.
“We are bound to ask ourselves the questions: If so much money could be siphoned off to the benefit of one family and their friends and entities, what is it that did not work the way it should have worked?” Zondo asked.
“How is it possible that the whole cabinet would not be aware of this? If it is not aware, how is it possible that the minister for public enterprises was not aware of this?”
Zondo asked in particular whether the minister, or the executives of state-owned entities (SOEs) like Eskom and Transnet were not given reports that would have alerted them that something was amiss.
Gigaba replied that monthly, quarterly and annual reports did not contain information of the nature that had emerged in the state capture inquiry and that, more broadly, ministers were at a deliberate remove from tenders and state contracts.
“By their nature, they are not going to point you to issues which have been the subject of this commission, to the extent that you are looking at these, you are looking at regulated reports,” Gigaba said.
“To the extent that this happened, which is being referred to as a looting exercise of this magnitude, the reports that were coming to me, would not have indicated this … It would not bring out the issues that relate to this alleged R57-billion.”
Similarly, the boards of SOEs did not report to the minister on specific contracts, he said, adding that he believed this was for the best.
“I would argue that we need to keep it that way, to insulate the executive authority from even having to be tempted to direct the outcome of tenders in SOEs,” he said.
“The information that comes to the minister is limited; you rely on the people who are running the institution, the entities, doing what they have to do and doing it in the correct manner. You don’t get yourself involved in these contracts and, therefore, you would not know or be briefed, unless you are really lucky to be briefed about money which is being laundered,” Gigaba said.
He said the same applied to ministers in other portfolios and to the cabinet as a whole.
“Even cabinet would not have received this; all different ministers responsible for entities do not get these types of briefings.They happen really far away from you.”
Myburgh was not convinced.
“It is improbable that you did not know Mr Gigaba, because this looting was not being conducted by some unknown entity. It was being conducted by the Gupta brothers, one of whom was your friend. You were part of this Gupta environment.”
Gigaba said he had admitted that he knew Ajay Gupta, but knowing someone did not make you complicit in their wrongdoing.
“I separated and I did it deliberately — not only in relation to Mr Ajay Gupta, but in relation to any other businessperson I know — I separate myself from their business activities; I don’t know what they are doing,” he said.
Gigaba defied Myburgh to show him the facts that proved that “in this slaughtering of this money, this is where you come in; this is what you did; this is what you benefited”.
The evidence leader said Gigaba’s championing of Iqbal Sharma at Transnet could be one example.
“You appointed Mr Sharma as a director, and you then tried to make him the chairperson of the board, Mr Sharma went on to become the chairperson of the BADC [board acquisitions and disposals committee] and we know what happened from there.
“That is how you come in Mr Gigaba — you were the gatekeeper to the appointment of directors.”
Gigaba said in that case, those who had allowed Sharma to rise to the position of deputy director general of the department of trade and industry were also to blame.
Sharma was arrested earlier this month on corruption charges flowing from a Free State tender on which he allegedly funnelled millions of rands to the Guptas’ Gateway Investments.
Gigaba was minister of public enterprises from 2010 to 2014. He also denied on Wednesday that he abused his earlier, one-year stint as finance minister to stall the adoption of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill for the benefit of the Gupta family.