South Africa

Politics, South Africa

Secrecy surrounds state meeting with the Gupta Four banks

Secrecy surrounds state meeting with the Gupta Four banks

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on Tuesday confirmed, but declined to give details of, meetings with “financial institutions” as Cabinet has yet to be briefed. Just over two weeks ago Oliphant, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan were tasked by Cabinet to engage the banks that had cut ties with Gupta-owned companies. Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said Cabinet was concerned this could “deter investment” and therefore had asked the ministers to meet the banks to find “a lasting solution”. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

On a day with six budget debates in Parliament, it was an off-chance question during a media briefing following the labour budget debate. “Yes, we have met with some financial institutions, but we have not yet reported back to Cabinet,” said Oliphant, adding that any report on such meetings would come from Radebe, who hosts the post-Cabinet media briefings. “I can’t disclose the information. Once the report is out, you’ll know who was at the meetings.”

That may be as early as later this week as one of Cabinet’s regular twice-monthly meetings should take place on Wednesday. However, it would depend on whether the ministers’ reportback is on the agenda. Traditionally there is a post-Cabinet media briefing the next day, or Friday, although that is not always the case.

Radebe’s announcement was made on 21 April, during a briefing on the 13 April Cabinet meeting. Then Radebe confirmed that Cabinet had noted the actions of the four commercial banks.

Whilst Cabinet appreciate the terms and conditions of the banks, the acts may deter future potential investors who may want to do business in South Africa. Cabinet has endorsed that the ministers of finance, labour and mineral resources should open a constructive engagement with the banks to find a lasting solution to this matter.”

Facing a barrage of journalists’ questions, he downplayed this move as nothing extraordinary, but an information gathering exercise:

I think there are big boys and girls in the banks. They can never be bullied by anybody.”

His announcement came as Oakbay Investments initiated a public campaign over employees’ jobs. Between late March and early April, South Africa’s four commercial banks, and Oakbay auditor KPMG and Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) sponsor Sasfin Capital, cut ties with Gupta-owned companies. However, in late April SizweNtsalubaGobodo were appointed auditors, although a new JSE sponsor, required to remain operational, remains outstanding.

On 16 March, Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas publicly announced that he had been approached by the Guptas to head the finance portfolio.

Members of the Gupta family offered me the position of Minister of Finance to replace then Minister (Nhlanhla) Nene. I rejected this out of hand. The basis of my rejection of their offer is that it makes a mockery of our hard-earned democracy, the trust of our people and no one apart from the President of the Republic (of South Africa) appoints ministers,” he said in a statement.

It was not the only time on Tuesday that the Guptas, or the finance ministerial musical chairs of December 2015, featured in Parliament.

According to Business Day, Public Investment Corporation (PIC) CEO Dan Matjila told the standing committee on finance that “to the best of our knowledge the PIC has not made any direct investment in a Gupta-owned entity”.

However, the PIC lost R99-billion within 48 hours of Nene being sacked as finance minister, it emerged during the briefing to MPs by the corporation, which invests on behalf of government, including government pensions and social security funds such as the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) money.

On 9 December 2015 Nene was relieved of his duties, ostensibly because he was nominated for the African structure of the BRICS Bank (as this has not happened, he is now employed in the private sector), and replaced by ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen. The move shocked markets and saw the rand plummet. After a series of interventions, four days later Gordhan returned to the finance portfolio, and Van Rooyen to his place at the co-operative governance ministry.

DA MP David Maynier on Tuesday expressed disbelief.

This is a stark reminder of how much damage was done to pensioners’ savings and proof that President Jacob Zuma was dead wrong when he claimed the effect of his disastrous decisions was ‘exaggerated’ in South Africa,” he said. DM



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