/ 5 September 2018

How Markus Jooste plans to dodge Parliament’s tough questions

Markus Jooste won’t necessarily face incriminating questions when he arrives in Parliament.
Markus Jooste won’t necessarily face incriminating questions when he arrives in Parliament.

After months of continued revelations regarding the intrigue that is Steinhoff, the reclusive mastermind behind the tangled web, Markus Jooste, will finally appear before Parliament on Wednesday.

But while MPs have tried to get the elusive Jooste to answer key questions about the company’s crisis, Jooste has argued his way out of giving a potentially detailed account of the scandal.

When Jooste appears before Parliament, the testimony he gives is set to focus on the vulnerabilities of financial regulators in South Africa, instead of an account of how Steinhoff cooked its books.

It will be the first occasion where Jooste will be openly seen in public since he resigned in December 2017 after it was revealed that Steinhoff was steeped in what Jooste admitted was “accounting irregularities”.

But Jooste won’t necessarily face incriminating questions when he arrives in Parliament. Penelope Twaya, the acting secretary to Parliament, has reached an agreement with Jooste that he will only be asked to identify the cracks in the finance sector regulators that led to the collapse of Steinhoff’s shares.

A court order, dated August 28, sets out the agreement where Jooste will under oath “be questioned to assist the committees to identify any institutional flaws and challenges existing in the relevant financial regulatory framework or any implementation challenges in [that framework] which might have caused or given rise to the collapse of the value of Steinhoff shares”.

He will be asked questions by MPs in a joint meeting of the standing committees on finance and public accounts (Scopa), and the public service and administration portfolio committee, as per the order, on Wednesday.

Initially, Twaya had summoned Jooste to appear before the standing committee on finance — at the request of committee chairperson Yunus Carrim — to “give an overview of the circumstances that led to the collapse in value of the share price [of Steinhoff] and answer any related questions”.

But Jooste challenged the summons in court in an application to have it declared invalid and set aside on August 28. His affidavit, filed in the Western Cape high court, referred to the summons as “unfair, oppressive and an abuse”.

The summons had been issued on August 22 for Jooste to appear in Parliament on August 29, which he said in his affidavit was too little time. He also said that the purpose of him being summoned was not clearly detailed.

“I certainly cannot be expected to prepare myself on 6 days’ notice given the overbroad description of the subject matter of the enquiry,” Jooste said in his affidavit.

He added that because there appeared to be no rules that speak to the protection of witnesses, the “right not to be compelled to give self-incriminating evidence” would be contradicted in the meeting and he would suffer prejudice as his right to a fair trial may also be affected.

Parliament had invited Jooste to answer questions on the collapse of Steinhoff at the end of January, but Jooste declined on the “basis that I am no longer an employee at Steinhoff”. At the time, Carrim responded to Jooste’s lawyers — who had provided the reason — calling it “very lame”.

Scopa chairperson Themba Godi was unavailable for comment on Tuesday, and Carrim said that he would have “nothing more to add” until the meeting with Jooste concluded.

Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, who sits in the finance committee, has been vocal on the agreement calling it “bizarre” in an interview with Business Day.

Jooste is set to appear in Parliament at 10am.