‘Oblivious’ Des watched rand tank
The tragi-comedy of Des van Rooyen’s brief stint as finance minister in December 2015 was on full display on Thursday as former National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile recounted the department’s close encounter with state capture.
Fuzile told the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture of Van Rooyen’s bizarre instructions to him, his confusion about his advisers appointed by the Guptas, and the attempt to “decimate” the Treasury, whose excellence had been recognised worldwide.
Fuzile said that on the morning after Nhlanhla Nene was axed as finance minister, he had advised Van Rooyen that they should issue a media statement to counter the economic turmoil and sharp decline of the rand.
He said Van Rooyen had refused to do so and said “the tendency of Treasury officials issuing statements must come to a stop”.
Asked by advocate Vincent Maleka how he interpreted this, Fuzile said Van Rooyen had an “excessive preoccupation with authority”.
“It just seemed at that time he hadn’t come to terms with what his role was about.
“He just seemed to me from his reaction that he was oblivious to the fact that the currency was depreciating in the manner that it was and that he had a role to stave that off.”
He said Van Rooyen had declined a handover meeting with Nene, which was a break in tradition.
Fuzile said that at Van Rooyen’s swearing-in ceremony at the Union Buildings, Mohamed Bobat had introduced himself to him as the minister-designate’s adviser.
“I was taken aback because all the advisers that the department had in my tenure had signed contracts with me.”
He said Van Rooyen and Bobat had seemed not to know each other.
Fuzile said the call he had received from ANC national executive committee member Enoch Godongwana warning him that he was going to get a “Gupta” minister with advisers given to him by the Guptas had then made sense.
He had understood Godongwana to be serious “but it was like a fairytale”.
“This person was almost disdainfully telling me as the accounting officer he was working for the government.”
Bobat instructed Fuzile to issue a media statement even though Van Rooyen had said he did not want to.
He said it was abnormal and illegal for an adviser to issue a director-general with instructions.
“It appeared to me that Bobat did not care about protocol or civilities.
“He appeared determined to assert his authority over me.
“He was not an employee of the department at that time and his role had never been explained to me by anyone other than himself.
“He gave me an impression of being a law unto himself,” Fuzile said.
At a meeting, Van Rooyen had pointed to Bobat, saying he would be his chief of staff.
Bobat had corrected him, saying he was to be his adviser.
Judge Raymond Zondo commented that if Van Rooyen was appointing his own advisers he could not have made such a mistake.
Fuzile said Bobat had told him to accelerate the process to find suitable accommodation for Van Rooyen “so that he would not be easily accessible to people”.
Fuzile said what happened during Van Rooyen’s stint confirmed what former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas had told him about the Gupta offer to him and their intention to axe top officials.
As a result, he had wanted to leave the Treasury.
“It was obvious to me that we were to end up with a minister who would be pliable.
“I wasn’t going to be there and be party to decimating an institution that was recognised worldwide,” Fuzile said.