So unperturbed was the then president, Jacob Zuma, that he went as far as telling Barbara Hogan not to finalise the CEO appointment until Gama’s disciplinary case following allegations of misconduct was concluded.
Gama was eventually appointed and put in charge of the embattled state-owned logistics utility until his suspension last month over allegations of misconduct and maladministration involving a R54-billion locomotive acquisition deal in one of the biggest scandals of the State Capture saga.
Hogan’s statement to the State Capture inquiry on Monday implicates a number of parties, including Zuma – none of whom had responded to indicate whether they intend to challenge her testimony.
She is broadly testifying to her tenure at Public Enterprises, the most significant scene of the State Capture crime as it affects Transnet, SAA, Denel and Eskom. She was fired by Zuma in 2010, weeks after the Guptas allegedly offered her job to former ANC MP, Vytjie Mentor.
Testifying before deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo at the State Capture inquiry, Hogan said her encounter with the President, a mere month into the job in 2009, had left her shocked.
Gama had made it onto a shortlist of contenders for the powerful position but Hogan testified that she got the distinct impression that Zuma had him on his mind prior to even being provided with the list of suitable candidates.
She said Zuma was not interested in Sipho Maseko, a stellar candidate whose appointment had been stalled by her predecessor, Brigitte Mabandla who had wanted to “consult” more widely on a Board recommendation that the renowned executive be appointed.
Hogan thought it appropriate to meet Zuma soon after taking up the Cabinet portfolio in order to provide him with an extensive information pack about the various candidates and at that stage, Maseko being the number one choice.
“I was extremely shocked. The president would not hear of any candidate except for Siyabonga Gama.
“I told him how professional the search was, that Gama faced serious misconduct charges and that the board, in terms of the PFMA had to investigate those.”
Hogan, upon realising Zuma’s intentions, said she told him it would not be ideal to appoint Gama, especially in view of a decorated executive like Maseko who had previously been CEO of BP Africa and who had sailed through the rigorous recruitment process with extensive and verified academic qualifications, a criminal check, experience and a track record.
Maseko , currently CEO of Telkom, essentially sounded like a dream CEO for the parastatal when the position became vacant following the departure of Maria Ramos.
Hogan said she went further and met Maseko twice after being presented with his CV and interview pack.
She informed the ANC’s Enoch Godongwana and former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who both supported his appointment.
Despite all that, Zuma said Gama must be the CEO. “It shocked me. He then said to me that I could not appoint anyone until Gama’s DC is done. Until that DC is done you cannot appoint anyone,” Hogan testified.
She said over the course of her time in government, she had consulted Cabinet colleagues about whether the President had the power to interfere or stop a process and told the Commission that she was told there was no condition that the President ever had to approve of an appointment.
Asked whether the president could unilaterally, outside of a Cabinet process, rescind decisions relating to the appointment of a Board for a parastatal or a recommendation for a CEO, Hogan said, legal opinion that she obtained had determined that the president was not entitled to do so.
Justice Zondo asked Hogan if a minister could canvass the opinion of the president ahead of submitting recommendations to Cabinet. She said this was possible but that it would amount to consultation and would not entail the president interfering with the executive authority of the minister in question.
Hogan’s testimony continues. DM