Out, damned spot!

Selby Baqwa is no protector of the public, as shown by his report on the ”tainted tiara”. Stefaans Brummer ventriloquises

Welcome to Selby Baqwa’s Free* Cleansing Service! Dirty deeds expertly expunged! Judgement errors effortlessly erased! Conflicts of interest ironed out! Reputations laundered! Souls scrubbed! Comprehensive service inclusive of our unique MediaGuard(C) treatment!

* Here at Baqwa’s we pride ourselves on professional service to our valued customers – politicians. The cost is R35-million a year. But don’t despair, that’s why the taxpayer is there!

Independent research confirms we are more effective than the average PR firm in defending our clients’ repu-tations. Satisfied clients include:

– Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, minister of health (in 1996): The so-called Sarafina II Aids play debacle was our first major case. We blamed a couple of departmental officials for the irregular award of a R14-million contract to a contact of the minister. We introduced MinisterShield(C), a unique product that blocks ministerial responsibility. Still a favourite, it is commonly known as ”Baqwa’s the-buck-stops-below trick”.

– Minister of Housing Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele (1999): This involved the so-called Motheo scandal, where the Mpumalanga Housing Board, breaking every rule, awarded a near-R200-million contract to build houses to a company involving a buddy of the minister. This case highlights the advantages of a joint approach with a like-minded ally.

Our client’s problems started with questions in the media about the relationship between the minister and the beneficiary, followed by an auditor general’s report stating that an inquiry was justified into ”whether there were, in view of the allegations that were made in the public media, any family or other close relationships involved in the awarding of the project to Motheo Construction”.

Mpumalanga’s premier appointed a commission of inquiry that, as a provincial inquiry, was precluded from examining the actions of our client, a national minister. That commission laid the groundwork by not examining the minister’s actions, yet declaring it had found no evidence against her.

Using a little-known but proprietary device called ProbeBury(C), we built on that success. Simply stated, we declared that since no evidence had emerged against the minister, it would be an invasion of her privacy to actually look for such evidence. Voila, the auditor general’s demand for an inquiry was neutralised!

– Government (2001): The ”arms scandal” has been one of the most complex problems we have had to solve for a client, and as such we again had to join forces with allies – in this case the auditor general and the national director of public prosecutions. Our success – immortalised through our famous words, ”No evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by the government” – is well known and does not have to be restated here.

But we will let you into a little secret: our use of another effective proprietary product called LogicLose(C). This device allowed us and our partners to prepare a report that exposed numerous abuses and irregularities committed by government officials during the arms procurement process, yet absolves the government!

It has come to our attention that detractors question our track record based on our negative findings against two senior politicians: Mpumalanga Premier Ndaweni ”lies are okay” Mahlangu (1999), and Pennuel Maduna (also 1999) who as minister of minerals and energy had falsely accused the auditor general of covering up the theft of oil worth R170-million. But hey, nobody’s perfect! And besides, after we passed the buck respectively to the Mpumalanga legislature and national Parliament, both institutions ignored our suggested censure! Jobs safe!

Just so there can be absolutely no doubting our expertise, we present you with an analysis of our latest success:

Problem: In February Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new minerals and energy minister, came to us with a sticky little problem: The Mail & Guardian blurted out that the minister had bought, for R6 000, a traditional tiara (isicholo) made of gold and diamonds and allegedly worth at least R80 000. The seller was Macdonald Temane, a diamond dealer close to De Beers and also a member of the ministerially-appointed Diamond Board and its Section 59 Committee, which determines De Beers tax breaks.

The nasty little M&G suggested a ministerial conflict of interest – receiving a gift or substantial discount from a prominent player in the industry she is supposed to regulate. Another important question that arose was whether the minister had declared the benefit to Parliament as required.

Need: Mlambo-Ngcuka approached us wanting a conflict of interest ironed out and her reputation laundered.

Arsenal: We used a solid selection of devices available exclusively to Baqwa’s, including the newly introduced StrawDoll(C), Hear1Side(C) and EyesAvert(C). Standard features like MediaGuard(C) remained a feature.

Solution: First of all, using StrawDoll(C), we misrepresented the central conflict-of-interest allegations raised by the M&G. We simplified these to: ”As a result of the discount received [by the minister], Mr Macdonald Temane secured his selection to the South African Diamond Board.” That of course, had never been suggested by anyone, so it was easy to disprove.

Just in case there was any doubt, we reclassified the term ”conflict-of-interest” itself. No more was it an objective condition to be avoided, but rather a conditional one dependent on whether it had been acted upon. How? We said that ”allegations of conflict of interest are not substantiated” as we found that the minister had not promised anything in return. (Of course there was no chance we could have found the contrary, since we interviewed only the minister, Temane and the head of the Diamond Board. Oh, the beauty of Hear1Side(C)!)

The rest was child’s play:

At the time the minister contracted our services, she publicly called for a valuation of the piece. We judged that not in her interest – you know how easily the public is misled by big figures – and decided no valuation was necessary (EyesAvert(C)). The fact that the minister paid probably less than a tenth of the true value we explained away, on the word of Temane (Hear1Side(C) again), that the ”discount” was offset by the ”advertising value” of having the minister wear his work.

This, of course, allowed us to characterise the entire transaction as a ”normal purchase and sale agreement”, which relieved the minister of her duty to report a gift/benefit to Parliament.

The finishing touches came, of course, with MediaGuard(C): The allegations, we said, bordered on the ”mischievous”. If we here at Baqwa’s Cleansing Service don’t fulfil our watchdog role, we certainly don’t want the M&G doing it in our stead!

We make it make sense

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Stefaans Brummer
Stefaans is an old hand at investigations. A politics and journalism graduate, he cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s; then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years a late-1990s diversion into television and freelancing apart, the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has co-authored exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans and Sam Sole co-founded amaBhungane in 2010. He divides his time between the demands of media bureaucracy which he detests, coaching members of the amaBhungane team, and his first love, digging for dung.

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