For all its noise, Chancellor House might have to go

The time might have come for the ANC to reconsider its investment arm Chancellor House as a commercial venture considering all the allegations of corruption and media attention it gets.

ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize told the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday that despite no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing at Chancellor House he "would have felt … that just for the noise it creates … [he doesn't] know if it’s helpful as a commercial venture."

Mkhize was responding to a question about whether he thought it was appropriate for the company to do business and also participate in state projects like Medupi and Kusile power stations.

"Is it appropriate and shouldn’t the financial statements, shareholding and other interests in that organisation be public knowledge and if not why not?" he was asked.

"I’ve never been comfortable answering issues on Chancellor House," he answered.

Mkhize said he had not come across any evidence of allegations and suggestions of corruption and underhand dealings.

"I may not be the right authority but from what I’ve heard I have not quite heard that," he said.

Conflict of interests
"What we might then be discussing is the link of Chancellor House with the ANC … let’s deal with the issue in principle, that is when there is a link with any company with particular individuals, I think what we need to be concerned about is a question of conflict of interest," he said.

Mkhize explained conflict of interest as relating to someone on the one side having an interest and then going to the other side to influence things and make them happen in a particular direction to favour a particular entity that they are dealing with.

"I'm not sure whether there is a concrete evidence of that one [a conflict of interests]; but I think the point which one wants to deal with is ordinarily [that] members of the ANC should be able to participate in business and taking into account that they cannot use their positions to get favours for themselves.

"If any member of the ANC can use the office of the ANC to get specific favours that becomes a problem … and therefore it’s not something that I would support."

Mkhize said he believed that if there was anything wrong [that Chancellor House was involved in], it would have come out by now, considering the attention the company gets from the media.

He said he wasn’t convinced that Chancellor House’s level of participation was actually the controlling stake that determined "all sorts of different relationships".

He said there were also cases of "extremity" whereby if there are two contending parties that want to get a contract, "it is possible for someone to pick up all sorts of allegations, throw them and end up creating an impression that there is something wrong because you’ve thrown the name of the ANC".

"I believe that anyone associated with the ANC cannot be stopped from doing business, but what we need to emphasise is that there shouldn’t be a conflict of interest – there shouldn’t be a situation where you use one office to favour a company over another or a government institution. That for me is the complexity of the matter," he said.

Mkhize also voiced unhappiness about the drawing-in of the ANC’s name into issues that did not involve the party but involved its members who do business with the state.

"I also don’t believe that if a member of the ANC is doing business, whatever business, as long as that business does not have … a contract from a government department, that the ANC should then be drawn into that particular issue. I hope that one of the days we can get rid of this kind of problem."

The Mail and Guardian reported in April 2010 that Chancellor House will receive R50-million over eight years in profits from Eskom's Medupi and Kusile Power Stations.

"Chancellor House will only share in the profits of the local scope and it will not be billions … We are looking at about R50-million over a period of eight years. That’s the magnitude," said Hitachi Power Africa chief executive Johannes Musel at the time.

That money would not go to any political party, said Musel, because the beneficiaries of the Chancellor House Trust were “natural persons”.

The ANC owns 25% in Hitachi through Chancellor House and Hitachi has been awarded the contract to build boilers for the two power stations.

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