Delegation appeals to Luthuli House, saying it is a factional exercise by supporters of Ramaphosa.
Parliament finally began its inquiry into claims of state capture this week, but behind the scenes a grouping in the ANC was fiercely lobbying to get the plug pulled on the investigation.
A delegation of ANC MPs went as far as appealing to Luthuli House to stop the inquiry from going ahead, saying it was a factional exercise by ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu and those who support Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid to be the next ANC president.
This was confirmed by one MP on the record and two others who spoke off the record. The MPs then took their fight to the ANC caucus meeting on Thursday, forcing the matter on to the agenda of the meeting two days after the inquiry officially started on Tuesday.
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and the Gupta-linked political party Black First Land First (BLF) wrote to the public enterprises committee questioning the legal standing of the inquiry but, in an odd twist, chunks of the two letters read exactly the same.
The BLF has also threatened to approach the courts if Parliament continues with the inquiry.
City Press has also learnt that the inquiry’s evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara, who is an advocate and acting registrar of MPs interests, has received threats that if he doesn’t withdraw from the inquiry he will be reported to the bar. Both Brown and BLF question his involvement in the inquiry suggesting there may be a conflict of interest as he is also working with Parliament’s ethics committee, which is investigating matters relating to Trillian.
ANC MP Sibusiso Radebe confirmed that he was among the MPs that went to Luthuli House on Monday to request that the party’s top officials stop the parliamentary inquiry from going ahead. “We said you see this thing that is happening is wrong because people are pursuing their own agendas just to shine in the public.”
Radebe claimed that National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, who is also the national chairperson of the ANC, phoned ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu and asked about the inquiry’s terms of reference. Mthembu insisted on going ahead with the inquiry before dropping the call, according to Radebe. “This thing has nothing to do with sincerity, it’s got everything to do with December, with everybody campaigning for himself to achieve whatever they want to achieve,” said Radebe.
The anti-inquiry group claim that Parliament is acting on a DA-EFF proposal which was not approved by the ANC.
But the pro-inquiry grouping claim that the ANC only rejected the establishment of an ad hoc committee in favour of individual portfolio committees investigating the matters themselves.
Another MP who is opposed to the parliamentary inquiry told City Press that their opposition was about “political management of the process”. The MP, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, confirmed speaking out in the caucus meeting and argued that it was factional to push ahead with a parliamentary inquiry when the party’s national executive committee had resolved that a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by the president should be established.
“It is wrong for Parliament to conduct the investigation as MPs don’t have the legal expertise, skills and resources to conduct such a complex investigation,” argued the MP.
The group appears to be targeting Mthembu – who has repeatedly and publicly endorsed Ramaphosa for ANC presidency – accusing him of factionalism and bypassing the ANC caucus in taking decisions including the one on the establishment of the inquiry into state-owned entities.
The composition of the public enterprises committee, which has among its members former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former Ekurhuleni mayor Mondli Gungubele, also doesn’t sit well with those opposed to the inquiry. “They are conflicted and have an axe to grind with the president,” said the MP.
Five ANC sources, including MPs who spoke at the meeting, described Thursday’s caucus meeting as heated with pro-Zuma and pro-Ramaphosa MPs openly attacking each other in the two and a half hours spent on discussing the inquiry.
The meeting was scheduled to receive a report on the National Health Insurance scheme from Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and a chief whip’s report, a standing item on the agenda.
But a group of MPs including Radebe, Mervyn Dirks and Tandi Mahambehlala allegedly forced the discussion of the inquiry into the agenda. They voiced concerns about the inquiry putting the ANC in a bad light adding that they were worried about public perception and the narrative that this would be viewed as ANC corruption and also questioned the logic of having a parliamentary inquiry instead of waiting for a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture appointed by the president.
“It was an orchestrated attempt to stop the inquiry but it failed as the reasonable comrades wouldn’t take the bullshit,” said an ANC insider.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor is said to be among those who defended the parliamentary process. “She asked them ‘do you want the inquiry to stop, because it is not going to stop’.” But Pandor has allegedly raised concerns about parliamentary inquiries and how it appeared as if MPs were putting people on trial instead of seeking information.
Another MP who defended the inquiry was Richard Mdakane, who explained that parliamentary inquiries had nothing to do with former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report, but that Parliament was looking into matters that have been happening in entities and government departments for years.
Yunus Carrim and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services John Jeffery are among those who defended Parliament’s constitutional right to investigate the state-owned entities, according to sources.
In an interesting twist, the “concerns” raised by ANC MPs are repeated in letters by Brown and BLF to the public enterprises committee in which they question the nature of the inquiry, its terms of reference, whether legal representation would be allowed, the interface between the inquiry and other investigations and Parliament’s powers to subpoena witnesses.
The National Assembly chairperson responsible for committees, Cedric Frolick, “advised” four portfolio committees – home affairs, mineral resources, public enterprises and transport – in June to, within the parameters of the National Assembly rules, ensure immediate engagement with the concerned ministers to ensure that Parliament gets to the bottom of state capture allegations.
“In the light of the recent accusations of state capture linked to alleged emails involving a number of ministers, parliamentary committees have been directed to urgently probe the allegations and report back to the National Assembly,” read a parliamentary statement issued at the time.
Acting chairperson of the committee Zukiswa Rantho confirmed that Vanara had received a letter from the state attorney saying that he was not conducting himself well in the inquiry.
“Apparently someone laid a complaint with the state attorney about Advocate Vanara’s conduct in the inquiry,” said Rantho.
She said Vanara was going to address the issues raised in the complaint.
Mthembu did not respond to several calls and SMSes requesting his comment.
Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the legislature was not aware of any intention to stop the inquiry.
Spokesperson for the ANC caucus Nonceba Mhlauli said the inquiry into Eskom was currently under way and the chief whip had given his full support to the inquiry and encouraged comrades in the public enterprises committee to leave no stone unturned in unearthing any wrong at Eskom. Mhlauli wouldn’t be drawn into the discussions at the ANC caucus meeting, saying they were confidential.