In an unprecedented move Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has announced that she has issued a Section 7 (9) notice against Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
In a nearly 5-minute YouTube video, Mkhwebane detailed at least four investigations against Gordhan, saying she issued the notice to him over a complaint that he lied to Parliament about whether or not he had visited the Guptas — thus allegedly breaching the Executive Members’ Ethics Code and issues around the “rogue unit”.
That section of the Public Protector’s Act states: “If it appears to the Public Protector during an investigation that any person is implicated, and that such implication may be to the detriment of that person or that an adverse finding may result, the Public Protector shall afford such a person an opportunity to respond.”
The minister has 10 days to respond.
The notices are confidential, with those who break the confidentiality clause opening themselves up to a fine or imprisonment.
In the video, Mkhwebane said she has not solicited complaints about Gordhan nor is he being harassed or targeted. “It needs to be clear to South Africans that I receive complaints. I don’t go around and ask people to complain. When I receive the complaints, I would have to approach the person complained against and receive their side of the story,” she said.
Last year, it emerged that Gordhan did not disclose in a 2016 parliamentary response to the Democratic Alliance that he had attended a meeting with Indian businessperson Anil Ambani in 2010. The meeting may or may not have been attended by a Gupta brother.
In November 2018, Gordhan testified before the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — telling the commission that he intended to write to then Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete to clarify that he had no recollection of Gupta patriarch, Ajay, attending the meeting with Ambani.
At the time, Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) leader Julius Malema reportedly said the controversial Gupta family was central to Gordhan’s appointment as finance minister for the first time back in 2009. The party has been vocal in its criticism of Gordhan, particularly about his alleged connections to the controversial family. The Red Berets have previously lambasted Gordhan for allegedly lying in Parliament about meeting with the Guptas, saying Gordhan should “fall on his sword for lying”.
The party connected this alleged lie to the fate of Nhlanhla Nene, who resigned as finance minister in October 2018 after it emerged during the course of his testimony before the Zondo commission that he had met with the Guptas at their Saxonwold home four times between 2010 and 2013.
In a statement at the time of Gordhan’s testimony before the Zondo commission, the EFF decried the fact that Gordhan has been painted as an anti-graft champion, while according to the party, “he is part of the problem”.
In May, Mkwebane released a report related to the approval by Gordhan — who was finance minister at the time — of an early retirement for former South African Revenue Services (Sars) deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay on full benefits and for Sars to cover the cost of the resulting actuarial shortfall. Gordhan further approved a request to then keep Pillay on at Sars, but on a fixed-term contract.
Mkhwebane directed President Cyril Ramaphosa to take disciplinary action against Gordhan and for Sars to recover the shortfall money that was paid on Pillay’s behalf. On Wednesday last week, Gordhan challenged Mkhwebane’s findings in court filing papers on Wednesday saying her report, finding that he had acted unconstitutionally, was politically motivated and “riddled” with errors.
Pulling no punches, Gordhan said under oath: “I believe they show an emerging and consistent pattern of disregard for the constitutional mandate of the office of the public protector… and a stunning incompetence, irrationality and negligence on her part in the performance of her duties.”