Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has thrown down the gauntlet on corruption, state capture and its beneficiaries in state-owned enterprises.
And his aggressive stance is expected to rub some of his comrades in government the wrong way.
Speaking at a joint parliamentary sitting of the portfolio committee on finance and public enterprises, he announced a plan to get a tally of the total amount of money funnelled out of state-owned entities – and he wants names, dates and receipts.
“We need that money back in South Africa, so we want to put in place a process of collaboration, both among our own South African entities but, if needs be, with others as well, to actually recover the stolen funds from these entities,” Gordhan said.
The minister also announced plans to change the way boards are appointed, noting that part of the state capture strategy was to change the political principal in order to influence boards.
The changes to boards had been made to the extent that they would become willing partners in state capture, he added.
“You have the manifestations in people, structures and culture of the state capture phenomenon and, in that context, the president specifically mentioned state-owned enterprises, saying they faced governance, operational and financial challenges.”
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Gordhan’s plans could ruffle feathers with any ANC heavyweights implicated in the several state capture-related investigations already under way.
In his State of the Nation Address this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he would review the business and funding models of all state-owned entities, which could include changing government’s powers to intervene in failing entities.
“It won’t happen overnight, but Ramaphosa is clearly sending a message and wants to gain the people’s confidence, but I’m sure there will be a fightback,” said Mathekga.
“But in the long run, Ramaphosa will have to cement his authority on the matter. He has recently been very concerned with the line of power between the president and ministers.”
The news comes hot on the heels of a court battle between the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane regarding her exclusion of the alleged active involvement of key public officials in her report on the corruption-riddled Vrede Dairy Farm project.
An earlier report on the project by National Treasury implicated senior politicians, former premier Ace Magashule and former MEC for agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane.
Casac’s Lawson Naidoo said they welcomed Gordhan’s announcement and that multiple avenues needed to be explored to deal with state capture.
“State-owned enterprises have been a key vehicle in state capture and the looting of state resources and anything that seeks to turn the tide on that and actually hold people accountable, must be welcomed,” he said.
“We need to use every mechanism at our disposal to fight state capture. We can’t simply rely on a commission of inquiry or a parliamentary inquiry, or even the normal law enforcement agencies and the courts.
“Mechanisms such as holding boards and other professionals directly accountable to the minister can’t wait another year for something to be done.”
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