Ramaphosa walking on a tightrope over ANC election campaign funds

Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa may be forced to air the ANC’s dirty laundry in public if legal opinion obtained by parliament this week is anything to go by.

Ramaphosa will have to give a full account of his knowledge of how state resources were used to bolster election campaigns of unnamed candidates vying for the ANC’s top political office in the run-up to the party’s closely contested 2017 elective conference, which saw Ramaphosa go toe-to-toe with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Ramaphosa narrowly won the election.

The legal opinion, which Sunday World has seen, concludes that an audio clip in which Ramaphosa was recorded talking about how public funds were siphoned from the State Security Agency (SSA) to prop up the election campaigns of some candidates warranted an investigation by parliament.

In a leaked audio recording, Ramaphosa is heard saying that he would rather fall on his sword rather than reveal that public funds were used to sponsor campaigns of some candidates in the run-up to the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec elective conference.

“One of the officials said as these people from the state security [agency] testify [at the state capture commission], one of the officials said soon they will be revealing how money was used for some campaigns.

I said I would rather say you got money from this business for CR17 than for the public to finally hear that their public money was used to advance certain campaigns,” he said during a meeting of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) last month.

Last month, MP Mervyn Dirks wrote to Scopa (standing committee on public accounts) chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa saying Ramaphosa’s statement that state funds were used in ANC campaigns, and his failure to disclose the information before the Zondo Commission into State Capture, would make the final report of the commission questionable.

In a dramatic turn of events, the ANC on Thursday suspended  Dirks a day before he could appear before Scopa to explain why Ramaphosa should be summoned.

ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina suspended Dirks over his “unbecoming conduct”.

However, chief parliamentary legal adviser, advocate Zuraya Adhikarie, wrote to Hlengwa on Tuesday that Scopa was mandated to investigate Ramaphosa’s comments and was within its rights to request information from the president.

“The audio recording upon which Mr Dirks complaint is based is limited and does not provide sufficient context to the discussions or the entirety of the president’s remarks,” said Adhikarie.

“Nonetheless, the audio seemingly implies that public funds were used for party campaign purposes leading up to the Nasrec conference.

In particular, there is reference to funding being channelled from the State Security Agency for this purpose.”

“If indeed public funds of any government department or public entity have been utilised for unauthorised purposes, Scopa is mandated to further investigate and consider such matter.

“Of particular interest to Scopa is whether and how the alleged unauthorised expenditure was captured in the financial statements and whether it was detected by the AG [auditor-general], and if so, how they were reported,” he added.

Adhikarie further said Scopa might determine whether to refer information tabled before it to law-enforcement agencies such as Hawks for criminal investigation, or the public protector, in respect of possible breach of ethical conduct.

The focus on Ramaphosa should be for the purposes of helping Scopa to play its oversight role.

“It is not the mandate of Scopa to consider the conduct of the president or whether there has been a failure of the president to share information with the Zondo Commission as alleged.

Scopa may accordingly use its constitutional powers to summon any person, including the president to provide further information on any allegations that relate to the mandate of Scopa”, Adhikarie said, adding these summons could be issued for the minister of state security and director-general.

“However notwithstanding Scopa’s power to summon any person, we advise that summons be used as a last resort in the event that an individual refuses to comply with the reasonable request to appear before the committee”

Hlengwa has since indicated that Scopa was going ahead with the investigation.

On Tuesday, Hlengwa told Dirks in a letter: “I have considered your correspondence, and noting its seriousness I have determined that the matter requires attention and consideration of the committee.” He invited him to table his complaint on Friday.

In a statement on Friday, Hlengwa said Dirks’s suspension had no material bearing on the matter because the committee reserved the right to invite or summon any person.

Some of the information Ramaphosa will need to submit include:

  • Any information that relates to alleged misuse of public funds for the purposes of election campaigns.
  • Information relating to whether there were any instructions to ministers, accounting officers or any other officials to release such funds or to facilitate the release of such funds.
  • Whether the relevant ministers or accounting officers were made aware of any unauthorised spending in the event.

Former spy boss Loyiso Jafta told the state capture commission last year of how huge amounts of cash was carted out of the SSA headquarters in Pretoria, particularly in
December 2017, in the lead-up to the ANC conference.

Sydney Mufamadi, the chairperson of the high-level panel into the SSA, also told the commission that the agency, among other things, had tried to impede the distribution of CR17 T-shirts to the 2016 ANC January 8 anniversary rally held in the North West.

Sunday World reported recently that outgoing head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s investigating directorate, advocate Hermione Cronje, also tried last year to get her hands on information pertaining to SSA activities in the lead-up to the ANC conference but was thwarted by SSA bosses.

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