A fierce exchange between former National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile and the lawyer representing former Finance minister, Des van Rooyen, took centre-stage at the Zondo Commission on Tuesday.
Van Rooyen’s lawyer Adv Kgomosoane Mathipa had successfully argued for the former minister to be able to cross-examine Fuzile before he gives his side of the story.
Fuzile had first appeared at the inquiry in November 2018 and gave his version of the days leading to former Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s removal in December 2015 and his replacement by van Rooyen.
The bulk of Fuzile’s testimony against van Rooyen focused on his refusal to draft a statement with Treasury officials following his appointment, a move that would have helped calm the markets. Instead, Fuzile said van Rooyen had drafted a poor statement which did very little to calm the financial sector.
Fuzile said van Rooyen arrived in his new position with two Gupta-linked advisors, Mohamed Bobat and Ian Whitely, who acted as his superiors and overstepped their roles at the National Treasury.
One of the advisors, Bobat, had even shared confidential documents with Gupta-linked associate Eric Wood, who headed -up Trillian Capital.
Fuzile said this was a dangerous act as the information contained the department’s strategy in turning around the economy.
Mathipa’s questioning of Fuzile focused on these mentioned concerns. Mathipa questioned Fuzile on why he had said van Rooyen never mentioned that he requested that Bobat be appointed as his special advisor.
Fuzile said as far as he could remember, van Rooyen had never mentioned at the Union Buildings, before his swearing-in, that Bobabt was his advisor. He stuck to his version that Bobat and van Rooyen appeared to not know each other.
Mathipa also focused his questioning on Fuzile’s assertions that van Rooyen had insisted and allowed Bobat and Whitely to continue working even though they had not signed contracts at the time. Mathipa asked why Fuzile had not advised the minister that it was a poor idea to let his advisors start working without proper contracts.
Fuzile conceded that he did not directly tell van Rooyen that the advisors had to have contracts before they started work, but he insists he did caution van Rooyen about the importance of following the ministerial handbook.
Mathipa asks: “At no stage did you not say these people cannot work until they had signed a contract?”
Fuzile responds: “When I referred to the ministerial handbook, I thought that was enough”.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asks: “What you can say is that in the discussion you had with the minister it was implied that he could get that information from the ministerial handbook?”
Fuzile responds: “I referred him to the book, I said please gentlemen we do everything according to the rules here. It could be that I did not say it in your words. If you read the handbook cover to cover then I did not say it”.
What started a fierce exchange between Mathipa and Fuzile were questions about a treasury document that was shared Bobabt with a Gupta associate.
Mathipa questioned Fuzile’s reasoning and disputed his version that the document was classified as top secret and as such could not be shared with persons outside of National Treasury.
Fuzile agreed that the document was yet to be classified as top secret, but it would eventually be classified as such.
Fuzile: “It was headed for Cabinet and would be classified as top secret. If it was intended for Cabinet it will eventually be classified as top secret”.
Mathipa: “So it was not classified?”
Fuzile: “No it was not”.
Mathipa: “So it was open for sharing?”
Fuzile:”We never sought inputs from outsiders, not on a document meant for Cabinet”.
Mathipa: “Do you see that the project was launched in September 2014. So when it was shared there was no way it could have given anyone an advantage”.
Fuzile: “The point I made is that this document and any other, a person who gets it will have an advantage”.
Mathipa: “I put it to you that is untrue. There is nothing classified about it.
My client will say that the document could be used to solicit input from people”.
Fuzile: “I would say thank God he did not stay long as a minister as he would be soliciting advise from anyone from the street. This document was a Cabinet document”.
Fuzile concluded his appearance saying it was a relief that van Rooyen only lasted for a weekend as finance minister and that it was clear he had to be stoped on his tracks based on his lack of knowledge on government documents.
Van Rooyen is expected to testify today.