Times SELECT 15 January 2020
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has indicated that he is likely to narrow the scope of his inquiry into state capture – and the officials and politicians implicated in the VBS Mutual Bank scandal may be the biggest beneficiaries of that decision.
That’s because Zondo’s plan to scale back his commission’s investigations, so that they focus on issues within the limits defined by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her State of Capture report, will result in the possible exclusion of the looting of VBS from the topics that the Inquiry investigates.
It is still possible that Zondo may decide to pursue the VBS probe, as he has left open the possibility of completing investigations into “any other issues that may fall outside [Madonsela’s list] but within the commission’s terms of reference that I consider appropriate to be dealt with by the commission”.
The inquiry has yet to respond to queries from Times Select’s sister publication Business Day on whether Zondo will pursue an investigation into the VBS scandal, about which, in 2019, he reportedly expressed an interest in hearing evidence. Whatever decision he makes will, undoubtedly, result in political pushback.
The VBS scandal has implicated ANC municipal officials – as well as EFF leaders Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu – in either directly or indirectly benefiting from the looting of the bank. Malema and Shivambu have denied any wrongdoing, with Malema describing the recurrent reports about his financial links to the bank and prolific use of an alleged “slush fund” as part of a “political war” against him.
In August 2019, Zondo reportedly invited Limpopo mayors whose municipalities invested funds in VBS bank to testify at the commission. This invitation appears to have been motivated by one of the terms of reference for the inquiry, which asked for investigations into unlawful, improper or unethical awards of tenders in every national, provincial and municipal department, as well as every state-owned enterprise.
Nine municipalities in Limpopo are known to have invested more than R1.2bn in VBS bank, in direct defiance of the provisions of the Municipal Finance Management Act. ANC provincial secretary Soviet Lekganyane confirmed to The Citizen that several Limpopo municipalities had been invited to testify at the inquiry.
“Not only municipalities that invested in VBS, but also those which are a suspect of wrongdoing,” said Lekganyane.
He rebuked some municipalities for “trying to conceal the matter”.
In papers filed at the Johannesburg High Court, Zondo has argued that, should his inquiry stick to the very broad terms of reference it is currently following, it would take “about five if not six years” to probe all the alleged state malfeasance that fell within its mandate.
He has suggested that the commission complete its work on the Madonsela-related investigations, as well as issues he regarded as relevant – which would likely include the politically explosive evidence led about controversial facilities management company Bosasa and its allegedly corrupt relationship with key ANC officials.
Focusing on the issues listed in Madonsela’s report means Zondo will direct his probe primarily at the accusations made against former president Jacob Zuma, which include evidence that he effectively allowed his son Duduzane’s business partners and his friends, the Gupta family, to make key decisions about the appointments of cabinet ministers and state-owned entity officials.
That focus will require Zondo to hear Zuma’s evidence about the accusations against him – and arguably explains the intensity with which the legal team now appears to be pursuing the former president.
Unlike with the Bosasa saga, the inquiry has yet to hear testimony on the VBS scandal. So Zondo may, in the light of his time constraints, decide that the investigations currently being pursued by law enforcement agencies are adequate in dealing with the evidence of corruption linked to the looting of the bank.
But, if Zondo does not investigate VBS, there is a danger that – outside of a criminal trial – the politicians and officials involved in the scandal may not be exposed and held to account in a public forum.
Meanwhile, the commission confirmed on Tuesday that testimony would resume on Wednesday, with testimony from retired Col Johannes van Loggerenberg on law enforcement related matters.
“The legal team is in the process of identifying and/or consulting with other witness who will be called to appear before the commission over the next few weeks,” a commission statement read.