“I have to be honest, we never did anything”
FORMER transport portfolio committee chairperson Dikeledi Magadzi was grilled on Monday at the Zondo commission of inquiry on why the committee she led had ignored allegations that the Guptas were trying to hijack a R51 billion locomotives tender of the embattled Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) in 2016.
Magadzi took the stand to give parliamentary oversight-related evidence, including the role of her committee in curbing maleficence and wrongdoing at state-owned entities during its tenure between 2015 and 2019, including at Prasa.
She was questioned on why the committee had not summoned the Gupta brothers and Duduzane Zuma to explain themselves after former Prasa chief executive Lucky Montana had accused them of trying to grab the multibillion-rand locomotives contract for the purchase of 600 trains.
The Sunday Times in 2016 reported on Montana’s letter that accused the Guptas and Zumas of luring Montana with shares and proposed that then transport minister Ben Martins restructure the Prasa board to include their associates and for the Gupta-linked China South Rail to be roped in on the locomotives deal.
Magadzi said while the committee did receive a request to probe the allegations, this did not happen as the committee did not see the need at the time.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo later quizzed Magadzi on whether the failure of her committee to act on the allegations did not constitute a dereliction of duty to which she replied: “I don’t necessarily have an answer on why we did not call the Gupta brothers, but let me indicate that our discussion in the portfolio committee led us to a situation where we did call them.”
Zondo further pushed Magadzi to admit that the committee had failed in its duty by not acting on the allegations despite increasing allegations about the improper influence of the Guptas over the state at the time.
“Do you concede Ms Magadzi that the conduct of your committee in not taking up these allegations to at least establish what the people concerned had to say about them, was a dereliction of duty on the part of the committee? Remember that is the year in which (former public protector) Thuli Madonsela issued her report a few months later which led to this commission. Already there have been lots of allegations about the Guptas in the media and things have happened, and you are told and made aware of these serious allegations,” Zondo said.
Magadzi finally admitted that the committee had failed in its duty by not taking action on the allegations.
“One could have thought through to say these are the issues that we need to follow up, but we never did anything. I have to be honest, we never did anything,” she said.
Zondo said he had heard from other MPs who testified before him that the ANC had a study group in parliament where members of different committees were often encouraged not to be hard on members of the executive, which Magadzi disputed.
– Political Bureau