South Africa: Where Are We Up to With the State Capture Inquiry(ies)?

Parliament's state capture inquiry resumed on the first days of the 2018 session, but it all seems rather pointless. Even though an official Commission of Inquiry has been appointed at last, and will be conducted in tandem with Parliament's own inquiry, events seem to have overtaken the investigation and Ramaphosa's ANC appears ready for action.

The first day back at Parliament after the end-of-year vacation will see its inquiry into state capture taking up where it left off in December. The only difference now is that after President Zuma's extraordinary somersault, conveniently on the eve of the NEC meeting that was expected to discuss his future, it has been announced at last that plans are in place to establish an official Commission of Inquiry.

Where then does this leave Parliament's inquiry into state capture? Moving steadily onwards and upwards, said Committee of State Enterprises Chairperson, Ms Zukiswa Rantho.

She didn't use those words exactly, but indicated that Parliament intended to proceed as before. Today (Tuesday) the Committee can expect to hear evidence from suspended Eskom CFO, Mr Anoj Singh, who timeously gave in his resignation the night before.

Parliamentary inquiry into Eskom starts without delay where it left off last year.

The parliamentary inquiry, which began after similar hiccups and delays in October 2017, is not to be confused with the now pending Commission of Inquiry. Rantho explained the crucial difference was that a parliamentary inquiry, whatever it turned up, could only make recommendations to Parliament for further action.

A legal Commission of Inquiry has the authority to decide if prosecutions should follow and take their findings to the National Prosecuting Authority.

The Committee's inquiry into shenanigans at state-owned enterprise Eskom had the public transfixed and probably waiting in anticipation for today's (Tuesday's) next exciting instalment. The last season ended with Eskom interim chairman, Zethembe Khoza giving the Eskom Board a humiliating score of three out of ten, while debate continued over whether Brian Molefe's five-year contract made him a contract employee or a "permanent employee with a fixed term of five years" which would entitle him to a pension.

Meanwhile, Singh had tried by all means possible to keep away from the witness stand. On the final day of last year's hearing he once again slipped the net by sending his 400 pages of evidence close to midnight the night before he was due to give evidence, even though it had been requested six months before.

He was sent packing, but was not let off the hook. "See you in January," he was told, and expect to pay your own flight added Rantho, because "We are not like Eskom where if we feel it necessary to give our friends a certain amount' we just give that amount. We account to the public of South Africa," she said in her closing remarks.

While the parliamentary inquiry and the pending official Commission of Inquiry will carry on determinedly, in tandem, events seem to have overtaken them, with growing consensus across the ANC that state capture must end, and those responsible held accountable, even if that is to be done "with dignity". How that will work remains to be seen.

South Africans can be forgiven if they have lost track of the overall investigation into state capture. The ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa seems to not need much more convincing, and repercussion, even prosecutions, may be expected any day now, whatever an investigation may still turn up.

But confusion is to be expected after president Zuma's legal about-turn in which he declared that South Africa was to have a Commission of Inquiry into State Capture after all, leaving the South African public wondering how it had arrived back exactly where it had started 18 months before, when the then Public Protector first came up with the idea. And this so soon after Zuma's appeal against the December Court order which found the original State of Capture Report binding.

Was President Zuma listening when the Chairperson of Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services called on Public Protector Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane to stop confusing everyone about the State Capture inquiry?

Committee Chairperson, Dr Mathole Motshekga, called on the current Public Protector, Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane, to respect the remedial action of her predecessor regarding the state capture inquiry. This followed Mkhwebane's alarming offer to help draw up the ToRs of the official inquiry.

She had "perused" some of the information available, she said, and advised the president to make the ToRs "broad enough to include the capture of all state institutions and SOEs, so that the ability of the Commission to uncover the full extent of State Capture in South Africa is not constrained in any manner".

The Committee expressed concern about "conflicting and confusing" messages being relayed by the Office of the Public Protector.

She was sternly told to not "interfere" with the remedial action or scope of the inquiry. "The integrity of the remedial action should not be questioned and as the courts have previously ruled, the remedial action of the Public Protector is binding," chairperson Motshekga reminded her.

It is to be hoped that president Zuma was listening to this advice. If anyone ought to be blamed for causing public confusion over the on-off-and-on again state capture Commission of Inquiry it's got to be Zuma himself.

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