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From Steinhoff to 'pimping' the budget: 2018's top moments from inside Parly

Dec 27 2018 12:41
Lameez Omarjee and Khulekani Magubane, Fin24

It was a hard year for Parliament, with the economic cluster grilling executives from state-owned enterprises including Eskom and SAA - as well as other government departments - on financial mismanagement and governance issues.

There was a national budget that included rapper Kendrik Lamar lyrics and Steinhoff executives who finally came to face the music.

All in a day's work.

Here are some of 2018's top moments.

1. Malusi Gigaba tries "to pimp" the National Budget

With all the Cabinet reshuffles which have taken place this year, it's easy to forget that Malusi Gigaba was finance minister at some point.

Gigaba delivered the national budget, days after Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as president. It was expected that Ramaphosa would announce a new Cabinet shortly after.

Before he was moved back to the department of home affairs, Gigaba presented the national budget to the National Assembly.

He spoke on the importance of charting a path forward responsive to global change and still addressed the nation's challenges before quoting rapper Kendrick Lamar: "As urban poet Kendrick Lamar says: We gon' be alright!"

This was meant as a reference to Kendrick Lamar's song Alright from his critically acclaimed 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly

2. EFF's Floyd Shivambu and Treasury's Ismail Momoniat face off

During a briefing by Treasury to the Standing Committee of Finance, EFF MP Floyd Shivambu questioned Treasury's Deputy Director General Ismail Momoniat's presence in meetings and suggested that Momoniat was undermining African leadership.

The committee issued a statement distancing itself from Shivambu's comments. National Treasury also issued a statement condemning Shivambu's remarks that Momoniat was driving an anti-black agenda. At a subsequent meeting, Shivambu demanded an apology from the committee and a withdrawal of the statement as it implied he said someone could not speak before the committee on the basis of their race.

It is not known if Shivambu and Momoniat ever met to settle differences, but they were both seen again attending the same meetings.

3. Pravin Gordhan scolds Eskom's Anoj Singh

Eskom CFO Anoj Singh. (Pic: Gallo Images)

Before he was appointed public enterprises minister, in his capacity as ANC MP, Pravin Gordhan was part of the Eskom Inquiry and questioned several witnesses including former Eskom Chief Financial Officer Anoj Singh.

Gordhan challenged Singh on his evasive approach to answering questions and for not taking any responsibility for the mismanagement of funds at the power utility.

Singh’s testimony was dominated with "I don’t knows," as Gordhan put it. "Is self-preservation trumping conscience and ethics?" Gordhan asked Singh. "In other words, do you have to survive at any costs, including lying and misleading?

"What you are saying to South Africa and to your family, is that you will continue to deny that you are guilty, rather than open up and help the country cleanse itself of corruption," he said.

"You brought Eskom to its knees, the biggest utility in Africa," Gordhan added.

Singh's whereabouts are unknown, but the final Eskom inquiry report has been adopted by the National Assembly - it recommends criminal investigations and prosecutions of those implicated in the mismanagement in the power utility's funds.

4. Steinhoff execs appear before Parliament

The finance committee's oversight work on Steinhoff kicked off with a meeting in January. Former chairman Christo Wiese attended the meeting and described the Steinhoff saga as a "bolt from the blue".

The committee had considered subpoenaing former CEO Markus Jooste and CFO Ben la Grange, before the two agreed to appear before Parliament, at separate meetings.

From La Grange, Parliament heard that it was unlikely shareholders would ever recover the monies lost through the share price fallout and that losses to pension funds were permanent.

Jooste pinned Steinhoff's downfall on a business partner - Andreas Seifert.

PwC has delayed the release of a report into its investigation into the retailer's accounting irregularities. It is now due for release by the end of February 2019, and will reveal how it all went wrong.

5. Scuffle breaks out in minimum wage sitting

The president may have assented to the National Minimum Wage, but it did not come without a fight - literally.

A sitting of the labour committee on the minimum wage was disrupted by members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, News24 reported.

The committee was meeting to ratify amendments to labour bills including the National Minimum Wage. The 15 Saftu members were bounced out of the meeting.

The bill has since been passed by both houses of Parliament. Ramaphosa has signed it and it will come into effect on January 1, 2019.

6. Every reason not to pay

Power lines feed electricity to the national grid

The top ten defaulting municipalities owing Eskom told Scopa that spiralling debt, compounded revenue losses, a chain of non-payment and 'ghost vending' were just a few of the reasons they were not paying their debts to Eskom.

The top ten defaulting councils were in the hot seat before Scopa in June, explaining why they continually failed to settle their debts to the embattled power utility.

They cited structural challenges in their own financial practices as well as historical financial constraints. They also blamed their own communities for refusing to pay power rates, and in some cases, said the parastatal had unrealistic expectations of their ability to pay their debts.

7. We need money

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni delivers his maiden

At least three-state owned entities came to Parliament's committees, including Scopa and the portfolio committee on public enterprises, asking for billions in government guarantees or bailouts.

This followed - and flew right in the face of - Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni's insistence on Budget Day in October that these entities could no longer depend on government and Parliament to shoot them unlimited blank cheques.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation told Parliament's portfolio committee on communications that it needed R3bn or it would not be able to pay salaries by the end of March 2019.

South African Airways told the portfolio committee on public enterprises that it needed R5bn in order to be able to keep procuring goods and services into the first quarter of 2019.

Denel has been holding out hopes for a R1bn government guarantee and has told Parliament as much.

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