Former communications minister Faith Muthambi intentionally tried to destabilise government communication and information systems (GCIS). This is according to the acting head of the department Phumla Williams, who concluded her testimony before the state capture inquiry on Monday.
Williams told the commission — headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — that she believed that Muthambi had attempted to create the conditions at GCIS in which procurement processes could be flouted.
“She wanted that procurement at all costs. She wanted to steal at all costs. That removing of all those functions was a ploy to remove the finance and procurement away from me,” Williams said.
Much of Williams’ testimony was dedicated to recounting the alleged bullying she experienced under the leadership of Muthambi. She detailed how Muthambi had pushed her to the brink of early retirement after the minister had first demoted and then had effectively made Williams’ new position redundant.
In the process, Muthambi had rendered GCIS nearly dysfunctional, Williams told the commission. She called Muthambi’s attempts to undermine her position a strategy to co-opt GCIS finances and the department’s supply chain.
Muthambi had demoted Williams as acting head of GCIS. Williams was replaced by Donald Liphoko, who had been brought into GCIS by Mzwanele Manyi, the self-proclaimed Zuma loyalist who replaced Themba Maseko as head of the department in early 2011.
Liphoko had been parachuted from his position in the media buying division into the office of director-general, Williams recounted.
Williams was reinstated as the deputy director-general of GCIS, the position she had held prior to Muthambi’s tenure. But in August 2016 she received an internal memorandum which withdrew the vast majority of the functions of the deputy director-general of GCIS. These parts of her portfolio had been transferred to Liphoko, Williams said.
Part of the portfolio stripped from her was oversight of procurement. Williams had also been tasked with overseeing the role of the chief financial officer. Zweli Momeka was the CFO at the time. Williams had already told the commission that Momeka had “bullied” the media buying division into participating in the infamous The New Age business breakfasts.
According to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the CFO is accountable to the director general.
“My understanding of the PFMA is that the minister does not get involved in the running of the department. That in itself was odd to me,” Williams told the commission on Monday.
As Advocate Kate Hofmeyr, who led Williams’ testimony put it, Williams had been “excommunicated from the reporting line between the CFO and the then acting DG at the time”.
Her position had effectively been rendered redundant. “I was being paid as a deputy director general for doing all these functions, that [I was not doing],” she said.
Williams said that she believed that Muthambi and Liphoko did not make the effort to understand the structure of GCIS. “The whole thing, you could see that it is just an attempt to get a hold of the supply chain and the finances in the hands of someone they could manipulate,” Williams said.
Williams compared her treatment by Muthambi to her 1988 arrest and torture at the hands of the apartheid government. “I had to accept that this is not a minister, this is an enemy,” she said of Muthambi.
Williams recounted how she had in 2016 opted to take early retirement after consistent tensions with Muthambi had started to affect her health. She subsequently withdrew her notice of retirement.
“I don’t think that woman was interested in preserving the resources of the country. And that is why I then said that I would be failing the people of South Africa if I allow the thief to get away with it,” Williams said.
When Muthambi was eventually transferred to the department of public services and replaced as communications minister by Ayanda Dlodlo, she asked that both Liphoko and Momeka also be transferred. Dlodlo also reinstated Williams as acting head of GCIS. She has been in that position on and off for 58 months.
Williams’ testimony followed that of Maseko, who said he was approached in 2010 by Gupta patriarch, Ajay, who allegedly attempted to strong-arm him into spending the department’s R600-million media buying budget on advertising in Gupta-owned newspaper, The New Age.
Maseko’s testimony last Wednesday and Thursday also detailed how he allegedly received a phone call from former president Jacob Zuma, asking him to aid the Gupta brothers with placing the government advertisements.
Maseko was unceremoniously fired from his position at the helm of GCIS. Williams’ testimony picked up from the day of Maseko’s termination.
She said that during the period covered in her testimony, GCIS was hollowed out — losing many of its senior officials. Williams said that Muthambi was “working against the state”, suggesting that the minister wanted to create cracks within GCIS to allow new people to take over.
Muthambi could not be reached for comment at the time of writing. But at the beginning of Williams’ testimony on Friday, Hofmeyr indicated that Muthambi had not applied to cross-examine the witness.