President Jacob Zuma has sidestepped public protector Thuli Madonsela’s questions on allegations of state capture by the controversial Gupta family, arguing there was no need to prioritise the high-level probe.
For four hours during his meeting with Madonsela at an undisclosed venue in Pretoria yesterday, Zuma’s lawyers insisted that the investigation be “deferred to the incoming Busisiwe Mkhwebane”, whom he appointed as the new public protector yesterday morning.
But Mkhwebane said yesterday the “state capture” probe was one of many cases that would need to be prioritised and was not the only priority.
“I would be prioritising old cases, especially the backlog,” she said.
Zuma met Madonsela from noon to 4pm yesterday, but would not answer her questions on the grounds that there was not enough time for Madonsela to conclude the matter properly.
Madonsela is hoping to wrap up her investigation into the alleged involvement of the Gupta family in the dismissal and appointment of cabinet ministers and members of boards of directors of state-owned enterprises, and improper and possibly corrupt influence in the awarding of state contracts and licences to companies linked to the family.
Zuma has admitted to being a friend of the Guptas.
Madonsela said Zuma claimed to have had no time to prepare answers with legal advisers, despite her notifying him of the allegations against him – including his suspected breach of the Executive Ethics Code – more than six months ago.
She said after lengthy deliberations it had been agreed that Zuma would be given a set of questions to answer through an affidavit and meet with her again to provide answers on matters needing clarity.
The probe stems from claims by Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor that they had been offered ministerial positions by the Guptas.
Earlier this week, Madonsela quizzed one of the Gupta brothers, Ajay, as well as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and former communications minister Sphiwe Nyanda.
Mkhwebane, who is still to meet Madonsela for an official handover, said Madonsela was busy finalising the state capture investigation and she [Mkhwebane] would “see what needs to be done in that particular case”. She said it was “not a question of saying no I am not prioritising it”.
But the “humbled and thankful” Mkhwebane said she would focus her energy on prioritising the backlog of old cases.
On operational matters, like the budget, she said her office would have to think more creatively.
In April, Madonsela said she would work within the allocated R263-million budget, but she ideally needed an extra R115-million to help deal with backlogs.
EFF spokesman Fana Mokoena said Mkhwebane’s focus had to be on rooting out corruption.
“Her first case [should] be the investigation into state capture,” he said.
“This will be the litmus test through which she must strut her stuff and prove herself as a worthy candidate for this all-important post,” he said.
Corruption Watch’s David Lewis said Mkhwebane was “charged with investigating whatever is put before her office”.
This included large numbers of petty corruption cases as well as “grand corruption” cases such the Nkandla, SABC and state capture investigations, which also seriously affected the lives of South Africans.