South Africa

Days of Zondo

Mzwanele Manyi presents challenge to testimony of Phumla Williams

Former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) CEO Mzwanele Manyi at the state capture commission of inquiry in Johannesburg, 14 November 2018. YouTube screenshot/News24

Former government spokesman Mzwanele Manyi got a gap to slip into the State Capture inquiry on a limited, no-questions-asked basis on Wednesday afternoon. And in true spin-doctor style ensured his version was peppered with just the right dash of eye-popping statements.

Mzwanele Manyi was only scheduled to take the witness stand on 23 November, but the Zondo Commission’s legal team had notified him of a slot for Wednesday – one which they then tried to move back to the original date – so the former media company boss moved swiftly to insist he be heard.

Addressing commission chairman, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo himself, Manyi said he had been up all night, preparing for the day, and believed it was right that he be given an audience.

Manyi’s testimony on Wednesday was concentrated on his challenge to the earlier evidence of acting GCIS Director General, Phumla Williams.

In a bid to convince Justice Zondo that Manyi may not be fully prepared to face the commission yet, senior advocate Vincent Maleka emphasised that in addition to the Williams testimony, various crucial issues would need to be canvassed with Manyi. Those include:

  • His version of the testimony of his predecessor at GCIS, Themba Maseko;
  • Procurement deals between GCIS and the Gupta-owned The New Age;

  • Government advertising spend with The New Age;

  • The business model of the media company Manyi acquired from the Guptas; and

  • His role in an inter-ministerial task team that sought to investigate a decision by the country’s banks to terminate Gupta accounts.

In the end he was permitted to present only his challenge to Williams’ testimony – the rest, including questions from the commission’s legal team, rolled over to his appearance on 23 November.

Manyi challenged key aspects of Williams’ testimony and in true spin-doctor style ensured his version was peppered with just the right dash of eye-popping statements.

Like what he says he found upon arrival at GCIS when he took over from Themba Maseko in 2011: “Grand-scale corruption” and “mini VBS-style looting”.

Maseko was fired from the job in 2011 after he refused to entertain Gupta efforts to swing part of GCIS’s R600-million advertising spend to the family’s then fledging media company, The New Age.

Former president Jacob Zuma, Maseko had testified, had called to lean on him to meet one of the Gupta brothers, who then sought to discuss the issue with him.

Maseko realised that he had lost his job when an announcement was made during a Cabinet meeting that he would be moving to a different government department. The earlier testimony suggested that Maseko was fired because he had been unwilling to fulfil the Guptas’ wishes.

Manyi explained that he did not know he would be getting the job. He said that a few days before the announcement about Maseko’s departure, the late Collins Chabane, then minister in the Presidency who was in charge of GCIS, had asked him for a meeting at which he was offered a choice of two jobs – CEO of GCIS or that of COO in the Presidency.

He opted for GCIS because the other post was a level down from that of a DG and it didn’t make sense to take a demotion.

Manyi said he believed government had become aware of a “situation” involving himself and a fallout with his then minister at the Department of Labour.

The clash, he said, resulted in him being placed on extended “special leave” for several months and he assumed the job offer was an effort to remedy that situation.

He said he and Chabane struck the deal over a cold drink.

Dismissing Williams’ testimony that he arrived at GCIS as Maseko was packing up his desk some time in January 2011, Manyi said this was simply not correct.

He said he only went to GCIS a day after a 3 February Cabinet meeting during which Maseko’s departure was announced. He recalled this because he had a brief conversation with Maseko on the sidelines of a press conference the following day, where they spoke of their respective job changes.

Manyi said it was crucial that it is known that he was not at GCIS in January of 2011 – a period during which he said a highly questionable and irregular deal was pushed through.

This deal, he said, was later investigated by National Treasury, found to have been irregular, and ended up costing government nearly R7-million before it was stopped.

The onboarding of this service provider was a monumental disaster,” Manyi said.

This caused him to change the composition of the bid adjudication committee, Manyi said — something that Williams had suggested was untoward.

He then claimed that the Treasury report on this investigation only became available after he had left GCIS. It recommended disciplinary and fraud investigations against some of the implicated individuals.

Manyi then said he had battled to extract some information to prepare for the Zondo Commission, but following intervention from the current minister, he was able to lay his hands on one document which he claims was an effort to sanitise some of the procurement irregularities, going back to 2010.

Manyi said he had obtained a memo, authored by Williams, which he said sought to “regularise” or “whitewash” some of the deviations in respect of bulk procurement.

Although he signed this document, Manyi said this was because it had been given to him for mere noting, and not approval, at the time.

He said he did not set out to make unnecessary wholesale changes at GCIS, as Williams had testified.

It was my duty as the accounting officer. One of the things I had changed was the vision statement (of GCIS) – nobody seemed to know what it was.

We went to a strategy session to produce something that was memorable to inform an approach that would become the pulse of government.”

In what he described as typical government culture, he found other problems.

Simple things like moving a document from one out-tray to an in-tray five steps away – but it would wait for the mail man.”

Similarly, he moved to ensure that suppliers were paid within 14 days of a verified invoice.

There was no need to workshop payment of an invoice. I changed that,” Manyi said.

He then elaborated extensively on the alleged dodgy deal and said it served to validate his reasons for some of the changes he initiated. He told the commission that Williams was right about him dismantling the GCIS bid adjudication committee.

Do I apologise for this — no,” he said.

He said he reappointed Williams as chairperson of the bid adjudication committee and that this ought to show that he did not have an agenda.

But, when he realised that something had gone horribly wrong with that January 2011 deal, he investigated and then made changes to the bid adjudication committee as many of its members had served on it for as long as 10 years.

Manyi testified that he found evidence of irregularity implicating some bid adjudication committee members in this deal, which was later investigated by National Treasury.

The appointment of the service provider was “irregular to the extreme”, Manyi testified.

Quoting a Treasury report, Manyi said that in this case, it involved a company that had three new directors appointed on 3 January 2011 – about a month before his arrival at GCIS.

Three days later, the company was already on the GCIS system and, by the following day, commissioned for a multimillion-rand project.

He said he was equally justified to have the head of internal audit report to him and not Williams as this is the practice across several other government departments. Similarly, the head of media buying was made to report to him instead of Williams because this was a division within GCIS with its own reporting structure.

As for sending Williams a text during her testimony, Manyi said this was because, while following her evidence before the commission, he realised she had made a timing error in reference to an incident that took place long after he had left GCIS.

He said he did not try to interfere with her testimony and had sent her a text message because he believed they had had a good working relationship. He said he had sent Williams the text message only to try to effect a “real-time correction”.

Williams had immediately alerted the commission’s legal team. The incident saddled Manyi with a subpoena to appear before the commission to explain himself.

Manyi took the stand after the conclusion of the testimony of former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan, who revealed details of Zuma’s alleged repeated attempts to influence or control the appointment of board members and executives at Eskom, Transnet and Safcol.

After a series of clashes with the former president, Hogan was eventually fired on 31 October 2010 and replaced by Malusi Gigaba, who resigned amid much pressure on Tuesday. DM

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