AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Joint ethics committee throws the book at Mosebenzi Zwane over Gupta links, travel and coal mine
Former minister and ex-transport committee chairperson Mosebenzi Zwane is suspended for an entire parliamentary term for having negotiated the Gupta-linked Tegeta coal mine acquisition – and must apologise to the House for appointing two Gupta business associates as his special advisers.
It’s an unusually harsh penalty that goes beyond the usual penalties of Parliament’s code of conduct – a month’s suspension from parliamentary proceedings, a fine of no more than a month’s salary, the maximum deduction of a month’s salary and/or a reprimand in the House.
And it’s the first time a MP has been found guilty of violating public trust. ANC MP Mosebenzi Zwane “did not act with the public trust placed in him. That he did not discharge his obligations in terms of the Constitution, to Parliament and the public at large, by placing the public interests above his own interests. That he did not maintain public confidence and trust in the integrity of Parliament and thereby engender the respect and confidence that society needs to have in Parliament as a representative institution,” according to the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests report published on Wednesday.
It is the guilty findings for violating the code’s ethical conduct norms and its ban on using one’s influence as public representative for financial and business interests – “that the member (Zwane) participated in the negotiations of the sale of (Optimum coal mine) and approved the sale” – that allows the joint ethics committee to “recommend any greater sanction it deems appropriate to the House”.
In this case, suspension from the House and parliamentary proceedings for a full term.
In addition, Zwane, who vacated the transport committee chair’s post after appearing in court in late 2022 for fraud and corruption in the Vrede Dairy saga when he was Free State agriculture MEC, is fined five days’ salary for not having disclosed benefits of “travel, (a) hotel stay and being chauffeur-driven in a 7-series BMW” paid for by the Guptas. He also must apologise for a ministerial statement issued on approaching banks regarding their closing of Gutpa accounts that violated public trust and brought Parliament and Cabinet into disrepute.
It has taken almost six years to get here.
The initial complaints against Zwane were laid in June and October 2017 by DA MP James Lorimer and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). When the new post-May 2019 election Parliament was established, the joint committee on ethics and members’ interest, in November 2019, decided to revive and pursue the complaints. It informed Zwane of this on 21 November 2019.
In May 2022 the joint ethics committee also received the report and findings of the State Capture Commission that was scathing about Zwane, although he would not have been held to account in Parliament for matters during his term as Free State MEC, such as the R280-million Vrede Dairy project scandal.
Read in Daily Maverick: “At least two current MPs to be investigated for State Capture ethics violations”
The complaints against Zwane involve his 2 December 2015 onward trip from Switzerland, where he met Optimum mine owner Glencore, to Dubai and India in the company of Tony Gupta and business partner Salim Essa, and that he “spent two days in India with the ‘Guptas’ before flying back to Johannesburg”, and other travel perks.
Crucially, the complaints centre on how Zwane “had to provide approval for the sale of the Optimum Coal Mine and he also assisted with the negotiations of the sale with Tegeta. The sale of the Optimum Coal Mine to Tegeta resulted in lucrative multimillion-rand deals being awarded to Tegeta for the supply of coal to Eskom”.
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The complaints also dealt with the appointments as special advisers of known Gupta business associates Kuben Moodley and Malcolm Mabaso, how he himself was appointed minister, and how during his time as mineral resources minister he repeatedly lied to Parliament.
Zwane was exonerated on the dodginess of his appointment, since this had been then president Jacob Zuma’s prerogative, according to the committee report. No findings were made on misleading the national legislatures.
The joint ethics committee sits behind closed doors, also for hearings, but its report must summarise proceedings. Its report was published in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATC), or Parliament’s record of work.
According to the committee report, Zwane dismissed any travel benefits and told the joint ethics committee “in the ANC they do not self-deploy… That in the ANC, experience is not a requirement to be deployed. Further that his CV was public knowledge and that he does not know how Mr Duduzane Zuma (ex-president Zuma’s son) was linked to his appointment as minister”.
He had gone to Switzerland on official business “to meet with Mr Glasenberg of Glencore to discuss the job losses at Optimum Coal Mine. That he never pressurised anyone to sell the mine,” the committee report says of Zwane’s account to it.
The ethics committee decided otherwise, and in an unusual move signalling a dim view of Zwane’s conduct, imposed harsher sanctions than are common practice. The joint ethics and members’ interest committee report must now go to the House for approval before the sanctions can be implemented. DM