MALUSI ON THE ROCKS

Try as he might, MPs refuse to buy Gigaba’s story

By Marianne Merten 7 November 2018

Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba during the National Treasury budget vote debate on Tuesday 22 May 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba got shut down in Parliament late on Tuesday night when MPs dismissed his attempt to proffer old explanations in the Fireblade Aviation private terminal saga. Just a few days earlier the minister’s last bid to appeal court findings that he had lied under oath was dismissed – still he wanted to tell MPs there had been no approval – and the public protector instructed President Cyril Ramaphosa to take disciplinary steps against the politician once touted to head for the presidency. MPs across the board were not impressed by Gigaba’s performance.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba was told “to go rest”, not by an opposition MPs, but his ANC colleagues.

Please, let’s allow the minister to go rest… Let the president and Speaker deal with him,” said ANC MP Malesela Kekana.

No one objected.

On Tuesday night this comment was a clear sign that the minister was – if not on the way out of the door – then at least on very thin ice. Whether Gigaba knows it, or accepts it, remains unclear. But in the corridors of often very subtle parliamentary politicking, the writing is usually on the wall when MPs of the governing party feel comfortable enough to speak without protocol-induced niceties.

Such was the case at the 2016 parliamentary inquiry into governance at the SABC and its board that ultimately, among other things, requested the president to consider whether then communication minister Faith Muthambi should remain in Cabinet. It regularly happens at Parliament’s public spending watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), when ministers find themselves at the sharp end of uncomfortable questions, not only from opposition parties. And it also happened with the parliamentary inquiry into State Capture at Eskom.

What brought about the sharp words?

At the beginning of the Tuesday meeting, Gigaba sidestepped MPs’ direct questions about him having lied under oath. There was a dinner break and a second attempt, which led to Gigaba again trying to traverse, once more, the ground he already had covered in the meeting with MPs on 8 May 2018 with regards to his (non)approval for the Oppenheimer owned and operated Fireblade private terminal at OR Tambo International Airport.

Although the courts all the way to the Constitutional Court ruled against Gigaba – he “deliberately told untruths under oath”, said one judgment – the minister’s argument remains this: there was no approval because he could not have taken a decision for approval because not all fellow ministers had yet agreed. And there was no policy framework for such a private policy; the privately-owned Lanseria and Kruger international airports were different because they were for public use. And if the courts had allowed proper oral arguments, it would have a different story for him and the home affairs department.

But the home affairs committee stopped him in his tracks, soon into this account. Since then, it was pointed out to the minister, the highest court of South Africa had dismissed his application for appeal against three previous court rulings that he had lied under oath – and the public protector found that, by lying, Gigaba had violated the Constitution and the Executive Ethics Act and codes and the president should take appropriate disciplinary action.

EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi earlier put it like this:

The minister is a constitutional delinquent. He’s been found to have lied. The Constitutional Court dismissed (his appeal); so the minister remains a person who has lied. There is nothing we can do. The only thing the minister can do is to resign…”

And DA MP Haniff Hoosen also did not mince his words, saying the minister has had the opportunity to give his side as to why he lied.

He chose not to. So the minister must not complain there’s a political conspiracy against him.”

The committee accepted those rulings by the Constitutional Court and public protector, said the chairperson of the home affairs committee, ANC MP Hlomani Chauke. And there was no reason to canvass what the courts and public protector had pronounced on: “Minister, you may go home.”

Gigaba chose to stay until just before 21:00. By then the private sector spin doctor whom he had engaged to handle the leaked solo sex video clip saga, Vuyo Mkhize, had posted Gigaba’s prepared statement to MPs on Twitter, the social platform also used by Gigaba to apologise for those visuals. Mkhize’s tweet read: “members of a portfolio committee of parliament refuse to hear the response of their fellow mp to allegations they gave nicky oppenheimer a platform to make, just 7 days ago?!? What a charade!!! welcome to the real state capture!!!”

Back in the Old Assembly Chamber in Parliament, acting Director-General Thulani Mavuso briefed MPs on the Fireblade Aviation private terminal. Much of what he said effectively confirmed what billionaire businessman Nicky Oppenheimer and his son Jonathan had told MPs a week ago.

The Oppenheimers had told MPs there had been approval, in fact 27 different approvals, by the time Gigaba had in a meeting on 28 January 2016 indicated his approval, captured in minutes of that meeting the Fireblade Aviation sent to the minister. There was acknowledgement of receipt, and the minutes were never corrected, amended or changed in any way. Nicky Oppenheimer said he found it “very offensive” that the minister in May suggested the company had bribed someone to obtain a document.

Those minutes, alongside a handwritten document by Gigaba talking of approval being reversed, had played a role in the ministerial legal setbacks that by April cost taxpayers’ over R800,000. The bill for the Constitutional Court appeal is still expected, the parliamentary committee heard on Tuesday night.

Yes, there was a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding the Fireblade Aviation private terminal since April 2018, the MPs heard from Home Affairs that had previously insisted there had been no agreement. No, the MOU was not signed because legal advice given to the department indicated it could not be signed pending all the legal appeals against the original judgment by the Pretoria High Court in December 2017. Yes, the draft is the basis of the current operations at the private terminal for which Fireblade Aviation pays just over R116,000 every month for officials at the private terminals, but the money is paid over to the National Revenue Fund.

Gigaba’s line, according to the tweeted statement, remained that there had been no approval.

I never received the letter that Mr Oppenheimer is said to have written… as well as the unofficial minutes of our meeting… which were sent to my then acting Chief of Staff on 29 January 2016, whereby the assertion is made that I had given approval, as opposed to an ‘in principle’ approval of their application,” said that ministerial statement.

My then acting Chief of Staff merely noted the minutes, She neither adopted nor passed them on to me, or any of the other DHA (Department of Home Affairs) officials who had been present at this meeting, for this purpose.”

Perhaps the late hour could be blamed for some of the more bizarre comments from the Home Affairs officials at Parliament, including Mavuso’s statement that the Oppenheimer Fireblade Aviation terminal matter was not dealt with in accordance with government’s “practice note 11 of 2008/9”, dealing with unsolicited bids. In the absence of a policy on private terminals that was, unsuccessfully, taken to the Forum of South African Directors-Generals (FOSAD), a permanent structure that is meant to co-ordinate government activities across departments.

And as the decision of the Constitutional Court was only given last week, the department was now waiting for a legal opinion on how to proceed because, after all, the courts only ruled there was “no prospect of success (of the appeals); they did not go into the merits”.

The MPs, courts and public protector all have made their views clear. But it seems the fightback remains on. DM

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