Editorial: Sit down, Lynne Brown

In her position as the public enterprises minister, Lynne Brown is not an appointee of the people of South Africa. Instead she was selected by and works for President Jacob Zuma. In other words, she is the lackey of a venal and failed president.

To make matters worse, Brown herself is a failure as a minister.
It has not yet been proved that she has had a direct hand in state capture, as we ourselves insisted last week. But whether or not she is complicit in fraud and corruption, once it was brought to her attention she failed miserably to stop it or to act. She constituted boards that were ineffective. She accepted the lies told by organisations under her control. She either did not notice or did not care that those close to her were edging her into dangerous ethical territory in their dealings with the state.

Even by the abysmal standards set for ministers under Zuma’s administration, Brown has failed in many ways.

Which is why it is so astonishing to watch this unelected failed lackey criticise Parliament this week.

Parliament has its problems, to be sure. It could even be said it should bear ultimate responsibility for the state capture saga. After all, as much as Brown is ultimately responsible for Eskom — and its habit of wildly shovelling mountains of money in the direction of the likes of McKinsey and the Gupta family — so Parliament is ultimately responsible for the oversight of Brown. If it had done its job in the first place, then she would simply not have been able to fail so badly, and fewer billions would have disappeared from the public purse.

But there is one key difference between Brown and Parliament: Parliament is trying to do something about it. Brown, on the other hand, is just pouting.

After a parliamentary committee this week heard more jaw-dropping evidence from within Eskom (and a memorable description of Brown claiming to be dry while surrounded by a sea of corruption), she told the world the inquiry was “failing to subscribe to fundamental constitutional principles such as affording people the right to reply”.

It is not clear what she would consider a fair passage of time before she gets her right to reply, considering that her statement came on the same day as the statements made against her. Perhaps she would like to reply pre-emptively, with witnesses in the inquiry required to submit their evidence to her for prior approval, the way managers of state-owned enterprises submitted their work to Gupta lieutenants.

Brown also favoured the world with her opinion that the inquiry in Parliament “takes the form of a kangaroo court intent on reaching predetermined outcomes”.

Or, to put it differently, an implicated person is unhappy with the process that implicated her and wishes to dictate its terms. But whether or not she gets her say, and is heard — and she may even be vindicated — she has already dismissed the outcome by predetermining that it will have a predetermined outcome.

Brown has the right to her opinion. She even has the right to use her platform as a minister, bought and paid for with public money, to object to the process in Parliament.

The insult lies in the hypocrisy of her criticism of those taking action to unearth the truth. For more than a year, Brown has time and again expressed her shock at hearing of inexplicable pension payouts, mysterious deals and flagrant lies. Then, we can only presume, she has gone back to sitting on her hands and whistling a merry tune.

At some point one must assume that her ignorance is self-induced. That point has long passed.

Once it became evident that Brown could not rouse herself, her direct supervisor should have stepped in. But as that is Zuma, the very thought is laughable. He has exploited every possible opportunity to do nothing about state capture other than attempting to dictate the pace and terms of an inquiry. (That Brown now mirrors Zuma’s behaviour is probably not a coincidence.)

The executive having failed comprehensively, Parliament finally stepped in.

A few years ago, before the electrifying effect of the Economic Freedom Fighters and splits in the ANC, this would have seemed a miracle. The Parliament that used to mindlessly rubber-stamp anything the executive put in front of it would never have been so presumptuous. But there it was, the assembly of the representatives of the people using its enormous powers at last, and to good effect too.

Previously anonymous whistle-blowers have become sworn witnesses. Some new facts, and many new allegations, have emerged. Most importantly, we have finally seen official action that cannot be derailed by, say, a president who disregards the instructions of the public protector.

And now Brown wants to piss on the parade.

You have two options here, honourable Minister Brown. You can either co-operate fully with Parliament’s inquiry into state capture — starting with a genuine apology for all the ways in which you were at fault — or you can shut up and let Parliament get on with it.

Either way, please sit the hell down.

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