/ 9 November 2018

Gama lobby guns for Maria Ramos

Minister Pravin Gordhan meets former minister Barbara Hogan at the memorial service for her partner
Minister Pravin Gordhan meets former minister Barbara Hogan at the memorial service for her partner, struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada, in Johannesburg last year. (Deon Raath/Gallo Images/Rapport)

The supporters of those implicated in the damning evidence that former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan will present to the Zondo commission have been mobilising and painting Pravin Gordhan, Maria Ramos and Trevor Manuel as part of a group that rides roughshod over legitimate ANC structures.

On Wednesday, Hogan will give evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture chaired by Constitutional Court Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. She will detail how former president Jacob Zuma, soon after his election in 2009, started meddling in the appointment of board members and executives of state-owned enterprises, which led to her removal as minister.

Her affidavit also links fired Transnet chief executive officer (CEO) Siyabonga Gama to the state capture machinery.

In her affidavit detailing her 17 months in the Cabinet, Hogan says Zuma went as far as circumventing Cabinet processes in the appointment and dismissals of the chief executives of Transnet and Eskom.

“The conduct of president Zuma and certain members of his Cabinet in relation to Transnet and Eskom was not only negligent, it was reckless and designed to frustrate the sincere attempts of the boards of those state-owned entities to exercise their fiduciary duties as directors and the exercise of sound corporate governance in their respective state-owned entities,” she says.

She also details how she and former SAA board chairperson Cheryl Carolus resisted efforts by the chief executive of Jet Airways, Naresh Goyal, to convince them that SAA should withdraw from its lucrative Mumbai route, even doorstepping Hogan at a fashion show in India during Zuma’s state visit there.

After Hogan was removed from Cabinet in October 2010, SAA dropped the route.

State capture corruption at Transnet, including the contract for 1 064 locomotives, which netted Gupta-linked individuals billions in unearned fees, are at the heart of Gama’s dismissal last month by Transnet’s new board. The utility also announced it would sue Gama for R166-million paid to Regiments Capital, an advisory firm linked to state capture at Transnet and Eskom.

Gama described the move as an “unlawful smokescreen” and attempted to return to work, before approaching the labour court and asking it to overturn his dismissal.

This week, he said only that he was waiting for the court’s decision.

But Gama’s backers claim his troubles relate to 10 years of enmity between him and Absa chief executive Maria Ramos about his decision to apply for her job as Transnet chief executive CEO when Absa recruited her in 2009.

“She is at the centre of it all … She has a deep dislike for Siya and his only sin is that he applied to be CEO [in 2009] when he left, when they wanted Pravin to be CEO. That’s why Trevor Manuel wrote a reference letter for him,” said one Gama backer.

The lobby, which includes people linked to Deputy President David Mabuza, is also championing the cause of former Eskom executives Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko.

Part of their attack is the narrative that Gordhan, now the public enterprises minister, has been allowed to do as he pleases.

The Mail & Guardian has reliably learnt that their efforts include lobbying black professional bodies such as the Black Management Forum and the Association for Black Securities and Investment Professionals (Absip) for support, so far without apparent success.

Absa spokesperson Songezo Zibi described Ramos’s inclusion in a mooted conspiracy as utter nonsense. “People are now creating things out of thin air; there is nothing here … Maria has not been at Transnet for nine years … They are just flying a kite. I really do not have time for their allegations.”

Hogan’s 30-page affidavit details the recruitment process for a new chief executive when she arrived, and mentions the 2009 internal investigation and dismissal of Gama for procurement irregularities.

These relate to a R847-million tender in 2007 to supply 50 “like new” diesel locomotives, which was overseen by Gama, who was Transnet’s freight rail chief executive. There was also a R20-million security tender to a company owned by former Cabinet minister Siphiwe Nyanda. Gama allegedly had no authority to sign the security contract.

Regarding the locomotives tender, he was found not to have fully complied with the board resolution on the contract and was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing in June 2010. But he was rehired two years later after he appealed his dismissal and also complained to the office of the public protector that he was treated unfairly.

Transnet’s review of the dismissal, done by auditors Nkonki and KPMG, found that, although Transnet was within its right to discipline and dismiss Gama, it had acted inconsistently because there had been no sanctions for other similar transgressions, also involving hundreds of millions of rands.

Referring to this report, the lobby argues that Ramos had initially dismissed whistleblower complaints about Gama in 2007, and that an investigation only got underway when he applied for the position of chief executive.

“The first time any investigation surfaced against him was when the board was discussing her replacement. And Popo Molefe now chairs Lereko, a company in which Absa owns shares. So you decide,” said a lobbyist, who did not want to be named.

Hogan’s version before the commission is that what should have been a simple matter of appointing Ramos’s successor at the end of February 2009 “became the site of an ugly protracted battle between President Zuma and I, in which he thwarted all the legal and legitimate procedures that I took to obtain Cabinet approval for any appointments whatsoever to Transnet, including the appointment of a CEO”.

She said she was shocked when Zuma, during a meeting with him a month after her May 2009 appointment as minister, was adamant he wanted Gama hired as Transnet chief executive, even though she told him about an inquiry potentially implicating Gama in transgressions.

She said Zuma’s repeated attempts to frustrate appointment processes between June 2009 and October  31 2010 when Hogan resigned, included:

  • Ignoring a comprehensive report, which included two legal opinions, on the process followed to hire a chief executive for Transnet in July 2009;
  • Instructing Hogan to withdraw a Cabinet memo to appoint a new board for Transnet in August 2009 and ignoring another that was submitted in September 2010; and
  • Dismissing Hogan on October  31 2010 after she asked that he expedite the placing of the September memo before the Cabinet.

The Cabinet eventually approved a list that was submitted by the new public enterprises minister, Malusi Gigaba, for a new Transnet board in December 2010. The board included Iqbal Sharma, a key enabler of the capture of Transnet.

Two months later, the Cabinet approved the appointment of Molefe as the new chief executive of Transnet. When Molefe was seconded to and then appointed chief executive of Eskom in 2015, Gama became the new chief executive of Transnet.