Brigadier AWOL from probe into De Ruyter Eskom allegations, but MPs aren’t buying his claim of ‘safety fears’
After not getting a behind-closed-door session to discuss his role regarding the Eskom syndicate corruption claims from ex-boss André de Ruyter, Brigadier Jaap Burger was M.I.A. on Wednesday.
It was left to National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola to sidestep MPs’ questions about AWOL and insubordination.
“I directed him to be here, but I don’t see him here. He did raise some concerns about appearing publicly where he raised concerns about his security. I still said, no, he should come…”
If Masemola thought that would be the end of it, and he could simply go on with a presentation on police probes at Eskom, he was wrong.
Parliament’s watchdog on public spending, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), unable to engage Brigadier Jaap Burger on his role as liaison, and possibly more, in ex-Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s claims of organised crime, corruption and the involvement of “high-ranking politicians”, legislators asked why his safety fears had only emerged on the eve of Wednesday’s meeting.
It emerged that Masemola had requested an in-camera meeting to avoid that the brigadier’s “face is broadcast”, which was declined by Scopa chairperson IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, who called on the SAPS to provide all necessary security so Burger could explain his safety concerns to MPs himself.
At one point Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale cut to the chase: “It will not be difficult for the committee to accede to his request to appear in camera. You want to get information… We should agree that this should happen.”
The carrot of more information being provided in a closed Scopa meeting was held out first by presidential national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi in late May.
But any information obtained in a closed-door session remains behind closed doors, according to parliamentary rules and practice. At best a summary that does not impinge on confidential info and/or sources might make it into a committee report.
The Constitution stipulates that Parliament must “conduct its business in an open manner” and hold its meetings in public.
“The National Assembly may not exclude the public, including the media, for a sitting of a committee unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society,” states Section 59(2) of the Constitution.
It is rare that committee meetings are closed, which in itself requires a motivation to and permission from the institution.
In August 2010, the South African National Editors Forum obtained an interdict against the closure of the parliamentary communications committee to get to the bottom of then tensions between the SABC board and its chairperson.
And despite official invocation of “market sensitivities” and such, parliamentary committees have remained open. There was one exception, in October 2018, when the water and sanitation committee closed its doors – and called in the so-called bouncers to ensure the media left – to get names and details of various investigations from the SAPS, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the National Prosecuting Authority. By all accounts, little if anything concrete was delivered, according to insiders afterwards.
Wednesday’s Scopa meeting took place against the backdrop of an increasing turn towards secrecy in public affairs. Illustrative is the decision not to publish, according to the Sunday Times, even the terms of reference of the inquiry into the controversial docking, and reloading, of the sanctioned Russian Lady R.
Burger is central to De Ruyter’s late-February e.tv interview claims about a troubled state power utility that only this week stepped off the persistent Stage 6 rolling blackouts that leave South Africans without electricity for about half a day.
Security is not the only reason Brigadier Burger is not here.
Interacting with Burger directly was part of Scopa’s preparation to decide whether to hold a full-blown inquiry into Eskom corruption.
While all legislators acknowledged security concerns must be treated seriously, opposition MPs were sceptical that this was it.
Hlengwa pointed out Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, who is investigating Eskom as national energy security priority committee head, was present at Scopa, as was SIU boss Andy Mothibi, who is also investigating Eskom corruption.
“We have a former CEO, who has gone to ground overseas… He was poisoned. We have a brigadier tasked to investigate, now afraid for his life,” said DA MP Benedicta van Minnen, pointing to a “very definite reluctance” to investigate and move on the Eskom corruption claims.
“This begins to smack of the most enormous cover-up.”
Highlighting the policeman’s Facebook page with photos, DA MP Alf Lees also said that “security is not the only reason Brigadier Burger is not here”, while EFF MP Constance Mkhonto added: “Either he’s really concerned about his safety or he is just avoiding to account to this parliamentary committee.”
Wednesday’s SAPS line that Burger did not appear before Scopa owing to safety fears (no apology was tendered) raises the possibility that a precedent will be set for avoiding parliamentary accountability in future.
But it also comes against the backdrop of how SAPS politics seemingly determine which officer’s safety concerns are heeded.
Ex-SAPS officer Jeremy Vearey, who has been instrumental in jailing gangsters and also police who illegally sold guns to gangsters, turned to the court in July 2021 to get the police to reinstate his security team.
It never happened.
Police Anti-Gang Unit detective, Lieutenant-General Charl Kinnear, was shot dead outside his Bishop Lavis, Cape Town, home in September 2020. He did not receive official protection, even though it was known he was under threat.
Scopa will approach Parliament’s legal services and engage with the brigadier over his concerns so a fully informed decision is taken in the next step. DM