Parliament’s inquiry on “State Capture in Granting of Citizenship to Non-South Africans” has concluded, just shy of two years after the home affairs committee began the work of figuring out how the Gupta family qualified for South African citizenship much sooner than they should have.
The committee’s work was hamstrung by the fact that the man considered to be the most vital witness to proceedings – Gupta lieutenant Ashu Chawla – refused to come to South Africa to testify. Or, to be more precise, Chawla presented the committee with so many obstacles to his return that the committee in the end had to conclude its work without Chawla’s information.
Among other constraints, Chawla told the committee through his lawyer that he was caring for his sick mother and could only make the trip to South Africa at certain points which happened to coincide with Parliament’s closure. He also said he would only fly business class.
Yet in the end, the picture the committee was able to build up was damning enough without Chawla.
The report found that the Guptas were granted early naturalisation in South Africa on the basis of a second application submitted by Chawla, which made extravagant claims as to the Guptas’ contributions to both the South African economy and social upliftment.
Though Chawla’s application on behalf of the Guptas claimed that the family had investments totalling R25-billion in South Africa, there were no supporting documents to confirm this.
The claims made as to the Guptas’ charitable contributions, in particular to schools in North West province, were similarly unsubstantiated.
As part of the committee’s work, Parliament’s Research Unit attempted to verify the details of schools which allegedly received donations from the Guptas. Although the majority of schools did not respond to Parliament’s inquiry, 45.5% of the schools which did respond “indicated that they never received a donation”, in contrast to what was claimed by the Guptas.
It also emerged later that in cases where donations had indeed been given, the Guptas’ company Oakbay had bypassed the proper procedures by not approaching schools through the provincial Department of Education.
Parliamentary research also established that the donations that were given by the Guptas were sometimes quite meagre. In the case of Ithumeleng Secondary School in North West, the donation consisted of R1,000 for one learner, 15 soccer cones and 15 hula hoops.
It was apparently on the basis of Chawla’s largely fictional application for the Guptas that erstwhile Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba chose to use his discretion to grant naturalisation to the Indian family.
The report notes that it is within the legal powers of the Minister of Home Affairs to grant early naturalisation under exceptional circumstances – but says that in the case of the Gupta family, “it is difficult to make a determination as to what was considered ‘exceptional’ in this instance”.
However, the committee stops short of slamming Gigaba himself.
The current information is “not sufficient to impute ulterior motive on the part of the minister or department unless there is additional evidence that definitively points to that direction and we have not come across any from the available information”, the report states.
In general, the committee found that their work was rendered more difficult because Home Affairs had failed to keep track of the relevant officials and documents who processed the Gupta family applications.
The committee also found that Home Affairs did not do a sufficiently rigorous job when it comes to verifying the documents submitted by applicants to bolster claims to early naturalisation.
In a very diplomatic turn of phrase, the report finds that the “oversight roles” of a number of Home Affairs officials have been “brought into question” by the department’s habit of churning out of visas for Gupta associates and employees.
What should happen next?
According to the committee, criminal charges should be brought against “Ashu Chawla and members of the Gupta family”, as a result of the tissue of lies submitted in their naturalisation applications. It should be noted, however, that the committee has no special power to ensure that this is effected.
The committee wants to see Chawla and the Guptas potentially stripped of their South African citizenship. It also calls for its report to be referred to the Zondo Commission for further investigation.
The closest the report comes to an implicit sanction of Gigaba is in its recommendation that the Citizenship Act be amended, in order to stipulate more clearly the circumstances under which the Home Affairs Minister can grant early naturalisation.
Beyond that, Gigaba escapes reproach. That’s good news for the former minister – who was revealed last week to be ranked 23rd on the ANC’s list of public representatives to Parliament. DM