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State capture inquiry into Zwane not meant to deliver verdict, Parliament hears

Apr 25 2018 13:55
Lameez Omarjee

Cape Town –  A new state capture inquiry into the department of mineral resources and its former minister Mosebenzi Zwane is purely meant for "oversight purposes" and will not issue verdicts. 

Criminal issues which may crop up will be dealt with relevant organs of state and Parliament can refer issues to the Hawks and the Public Protector, said Parliament’s legal adviser Fatima Ebrahim on Wednesday. 

“At end of the day no verdicts are cast,” she said. 

She was attending a meeting of the portfolio committee on mineral resources on Wednesday to clarify and finalise the terms of reference of its inquiry. 

The committee decided to initiate the inquiry earlier in the year after Zwane, who was minister at the time, failed to arrive for a sitting where he was to be asked about his alleged role in state capture.

He was implicated in former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report for undertaking a serious of “mysterious” trips, during which he allegedly escorted a member of the Gupta family to a meeting with an international mining company.

Responding to a question about the reach of the inquiry and if it would involve the Vrede Dairy Farm, Ebrahim said the committee should limit the inquiry to issues related to the department of mineral resources. “Other committees deal with other issues as they see fit,” she said.

However, if the committee feels there are pertinent issues that need to be touched on then nothing will prevent the terms of reference from being amended. Ebrahim said that specifics are important so that witnesses can be aware of what they will be asked, this will avoid them being evasive or saying that they do not recall certain issues.

According to the terms of reference discussed at the meeting, the inquiry will look into Zwane’s role in facilitating the sale of Optimum Coal mine and all other Glencore assets to Tegeta. 

Other areas to be investigated include fruitless and wasteful expenditure relating to travel arrangements made by the department for Zwane, non-compliance in the handling of mining rehabilitation funds, Zwane’s alleged breaches of the ethics regarding conflicts of interest, and whether appointments and dismissals of departmental officials were subject to “external undue influence”.

Chair of the committee Sahlulele Luzipo raised concerns that there may be an overlap on issues with Judge Raymond Zondo’s judicial inquiry into state capture. 

Ebrahim said there was nothing to stop both inquiries running at the same time and dealing with the same issues. 

Potential witnesses

According to the draft terms of reference, witnesses will be subpoenaed to appear. While they can make written submissions, this will not absolve a witness from appearing before the committee.

Witnesses will also be allowed to have legal representatives. But their lawyers may not cross-examine other witnesses as the inquiry does not constitute a trial in a court of law.

“No guilty or innocent verdict will be issued after the inquiry, it is merely to give findings and recommendations,” said Ebrahim. 

A report will be tabled with Parliament once the inquiry has been completed. Prior to this witnesses will be able to comment on a draft report. 

Ebrahim advised that the committee be aware that some witnesses may not be willing to appear before the inquiry, out of fear for their safety or job security.

Preliminary closed planning meetings should be held to finalise the list of witnesses. The legal services unit will test the willingness of witnesses to appear before the committee, and determine the reasons for the unwillingness. 

Ebrahim added that following these planning proceedings nothing will prevent the committee from extending the list of witnesses. The terms of reference can be adapted and changed where necessary.

The list of witnesses was not made available.

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