/ 30 March 2016

Brown admits receiving congratulatory call from the Guptas

Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown.
Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown.

Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown has admitted receiving a call from a member of the Gupta family congratulating her on her appointment as minister after the 2014 general elections.

But she dismissed suggestions that she was beholden to the politically connected family, which has been accused by some ANC leaders of influencing key government decisions including the appointment of ministers and senior officials within the state owned enterprises. Brown’s department oversees a number of key state entities including Transnet, Eskom and Denel – all of which control multi-billion rand tenders. 

Brown’s decision to appoint board members and senior officials linked to the Gupta family has raised eyebrows within the government and the ANC. Some political observers have accused her of selling her soul to Saxonwold – the site of the Gupta’s compound. 

The ANC’s national executive committee two weekend’s ago mandated the party’s secretary general Gwede Mantashe to further investigate allegations regarding the Gupta’s influence on key government decisions. During the post-NEC briefing, Mantashe told journalists that the party’s investigation would establish whether President Jacob Zuma’s relationship the family has started a process of state capture. 

The ANC urged anyone who has been approached by the family to come forward with information. This was after damaging revelations by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and former ANC Member of Parliament Vytjie Mentor that they were offered ministerial positions by the Gupta family. Former government spin-doctor Themba Maseko also revealed that Zuma instructed him to meet with the Gupta family to discuss business opportunities, particularly the placing of adverts in the family’s media outlets. 

The Mail & Guardian asked Brown whether she had received a call from a Gupta family member on the morning that she was sworn in to congratulate her on being appointed cabinet minister. Her spokesperson, Colin Cruywagen, responded: “Yes, but it is normal for a newly appointed minister to get calls from a wide spectrum of people congratulating them. This included members of the opposition parties.”

Government sources close to Brown have told the Mail & Guardian that soon after she assumed her position as minister, she was pressured by the Gupta family to appoint certain individuals as board members and senior officials at state entities under her control. Cruywagen rejected these claims however.

“The appointment of the board of state-owned companies follows an established process where requests for nominations are published openly and nominees are evaluated and their credentials verified by independent authorities. Against this background, Minister Brown makes a recommendation to cabinet for ratification,” Cruywagen said. 

“As far as my memory serves me, all these processes were followed to the letter.”

He added: “The department does not take kindly to any insinuation which seeks to undermine the government’s established processes and furthermore to rubbish the persona of the individuals who are serving tirelessly and diligently to ensure that the SOCs are sustainable and performing well”.

Asked for comment, the Gupta family said it did not see any point in responding to “further spurious allegations driven by a clearly politically-driven agenda”. 

“Unfortunately, the Mail & Guardian has consistently failed to report stories regarding the Gupta family and its businesses, in anything even vaguely resembling a balanced manner,” the family said in a statement sent through one of its companies, Oakbay Investments.