Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has denied any responsibility for the appointment of Gupta allies at state-owned companies during his tenure as public enterprises minister, saying he had no knowledge at the time that these candidates were linked to the family.
Gigaba is presenting evidence to Parliament’s public enterprises committee at its inquiry into the mismanagement of state-owned enterprises.
His tenure as public enterprises minister began in 2010 and ended in 2014. Gigaba has been accused of appointing board members to Eskom, Denel and Transnet who would open the door for interference from the Gupta family during that time.
But testifying under oath on Monday, the minister said that he regrets “any role I inadvertently played” in appointing board members who “abused” their position, but that he could not be held accountable.
“At no time did I interfere with board appointments,” he said.
At the beginning of his testimony, Gigaba laid out procurement procedures and the process to appoint board members. He said that the public enterprises minister is handed a list of candidates by the public enterprises department.
He said that the minister decides who is right for the job, but that the final buck lies with Cabinet.
“Once the Minister has applied his mind to these candidates, and given his approval, the preferred candidate’s profile then serves before the relevant Cabinet committee, and only then does it serve before Cabinet. Cabinet approves all Board appointments, including executive directors who are ex-officio,” Gigaba said.
Gigaba defended his appointment of Gupta lieutenants Anoj Singh and Iqbal Sharma to the Transnet board, saying that at the time both were qualified to do the job.
Sharma was reportedly the Guptas’ inside man in Transnet, where at one point he was alleged to have sent an internal meeting agenda in 2014 to an email address that then forwarded it to Tony Gupta.
A resolution taken at that meeting, in May 2014, would lead Gupta associate Salim Essa in a profitable position to make billions from tender bidders who were vying for a locomotive tender.
But Gigaba said that he did not know Sharma was a “Gupta ally” and that it was Cabinet who approved his promotion to the board.
“Cabinet rejected Sharma’s appointment as chair, but approved his appointment as non-exec director,” Gigaba said.
In 2012, Gigaba also appointed Anoj Singh, made infamous in the #GuptaLeaks for his role in allegedly siphoning public money to the Guptas’ pockets in return for kickbacks, as Transent’s chief financial officer. Together with the then chief executive, Brian Molefe, Singh would sign off on Gupta-linked contracts that reportedly stood to rob the state company of billions.
“It was obvious Mr Singh possessed the skills needed for the role,” Gigaba said of Singh’s appointment.
The minister repeated that he did not know of any Gupta associations.
“There was no complaints about him or his personal business associates,” Gigaba said.
“At the time, any Gupta connections that he had were unknown to me. On the facts as they were before me at that time, I would have had no justification for rejecting the appointment of Mr. Singh, even if I was empowered to do so,” he continued.
In October last year, former Eskom chief executive Brian Dames said that Gigaba’s legal advisor, Siyabonga Mahlangu, had set up a meeting between him and the Guptas. The allegation has followed Gigaba, but the minister said that he did know the meeting occurred, and he was not involved in organising the meeting.
Gigaba has now said that he is disappointed that appointments made under his tenure have come under scrutiny for looting in state companies.
“It has been disheartening and shocking for me to witness some of the appointments that I made years ago, and which were hailed publicly as positive appointments for Government, now being impugned,” he said.