South Africa

ANALYSIS

Whistle-blower Suzanne Daniels will have to fight to clear her name

Suzanne Daniels and Whistle-blower and former Head of Legal and Compliance at Eskom on the panel discussion Life of a Whistleblower at Daily Maverick's The Gathering in Cape Town, 18 August 2018

Unease over the bona fides of Eskom whistle-blower Suzanne Daniels has again set in after a National Treasury report lumped the parastatal’s former head of legal in the same camp as the Dubai club of executives who were central players in the costly Gupta heist of the institution.

To many, Suzanne Daniels, having confirmed that she helped the media with information at a time when the corporate veil at Eskom was hell-bent on selective truths and outright lies, is a genuine whistle-blower.

But there are those, like former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko, tarnished by corruption allegations of his own, and quietly, some among the anti-State Capture brigade, who continue to question the validity of her status as a whistle-blower — if for very different reasons.

A year ago Daniels was celebrated after testifying at a parliamentary inquiry into State Capture where she shed light on a meeting with a “barefooted” Gupta brother.

Eight months later, in July, she was fired after being found guilty of misconduct charges relating to her role in two dirty deals that benefited the Guptas and for having Eskom cough up more than R800,000 for the legal fees of former chairman Ben Ngubane, for a private matter.

A report released by National Treasury on Friday put Daniels back in the spotlight as it lumped her in the same camp as Eskom’s Dubai club, which included, among others, Koko and former CFO Anoj Singh.

In the report by Fundudzi Forensic Services, it is stated that Daniels, along with some of her former senior colleagues, be reported to the Hawks to determine whether they had leaked information to benefit a third party linked to a nondescript email address, infopo[email protected].

She should also face investigation for violations of the Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act and the Public Finance Management Act, the report contends.

In addition it states that Daniels, like the others, be investigated by the Hawks to determine if she received any gratification for her role in those deals.

On the public release of the report, Daniels immediately took to Twitter and denied that she did.

Efforts by Daniels to clear her name have proven hard. The nitty-gritty of the tainted Gupta deals in which she is allegedly implicated revolves around the execution of her duties as acting company secretary and head of legal at the time by virtue of advice given, not given or documents signed and disseminated among executives and / or the board.

That puts her right where the action was.

And on some of the important aspects, her version is at odds with that of Koko, whose take on things has been deemed “implausible” at times, Ngubane, who has had very little to say thus far, and former CEO Anoj Singh, a man whose bank accounts came under scrutiny in the most recent investigation by National Treasury.

Needless to say, Koko, Ngubane and Singh are sticking to their respective stories, leaving Daniels, the woman who stood up at Parliament to expose some of their lies, to try to convince investigation upon investigation of the merits of her own.

Daniels understands better than anyone the need for her to clear her name. She has demonstrated this through various legal challenges — her latest, against the disciplinary findings against her, is headed for the Labour Court.

But, while no culprit of State Capture should be spared scrutiny and consequences for their actions, there does appear to be a special dose of vengeance reserved for Daniels as some perceive her to have been an “insider” among the team of executives who abused the system to the benefit of the Guptas.

If not pay-back, what then is the obsession with her whistle-blower status?

Daniels would be the first to admit to oversights and having taken too long to connect the proverbial dots while inside Eskom when the controversial deals were being done.

Can she be faulted for that when President Cyril Ramaphosa seemingly needed the #GupaLeaks to be jolted about that reality in 2017?

But, she did at some point break ranks when she helped South Africa to find greater clarity around the circumstances of former CEO Brian Molefe’s special pension, the McKinsey/Trillian deal and a R650-million prepayment for coal to help the Guptas fund their purchase of Optimum Coal Mine.

In a recent Daily Maverick article, Gabriella Razzano, CEO of the Open Democracy Advice Centre, questions society’s insistence that whistle-blowers be angels.

Insisting on impossible standards of moral purity for whistle-blowers is a ridiculous burden,” Razzano wrote.

The law to protect whistle-blowers, the Protected Disclosures Act, does not require that a person making a disclosure was not involved at all in the commission of the impropriety in deciding whether or not to extend protection, or whether or not a disclosure exists.”

Importantly, the Protected Disclosures Act, while it shields whistle-blowers from civil or criminal charges relating to the actual disclosure, does not protect them from any charges arising from their participation in an offence.

That seems to sum it up. Daniels is a whistle-blower, one who would have to answer to allegations of impropriety if ever formally confronted with such. DM

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