By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has conceded that Parliament had the ability to investigate allegations of state capture levelled against the Gupta family during former president Jacob Zuma’s time in office.
Ramaphosa on Thursday returned to the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture for his second day of testimony in his capacity as ANC president.
He told the commission although the ANC did not have the capacity to investigate allegations of state capture at the time, Parliament could have investigated the veracity of the claims against Zuma and the Guptas that had been in the public domain for more than five years.
Ramaphosa agreed that Parliament dropped the ball when it came to carrying out its oversight responsibilities.
He said the Gupta emails provided much more substantive information that MPs could have followed through.
"When it comes to allegations of this nature, I would say it is the governing party that should activate its own processes. And I guess where it fails, it needs to then rely on parliamentary processes or structures that would need to go beyond just newspaper articles. There would need to be much more substantive information, which is why the Gupta email saga presented much more weighty information that needed to be followed up.
"So, it was no longer allegations, there was real substantive, documents [and] what amounted or appeared to be real evidence that could be followed through," Ramaphosa said.
The president was responding to a question from the commission’s evidence leader, advocate Alec Freund, who asked whether the ANC through its action or inaction enabled state capture by not exercising its parliamentary powers.
Freund also referred to Parliamentary house chair Cedric Frolick, who sent letters requesting the legislature’s committees to investigate state capture claims after the Gupta emails were leaked.
The email cache exposed the extent of the Gupta family’s influence over state procurement processes and the appointment of key officials to state-owned enterprises.
At the time when multiple allegations had surfaced in the media, Ramaphosa was both the leader of government business and head of the ANC’s political committee — a subcommittee of the national executive — which directs the ruling party’s caucus.
In terms of the constitution, parliament is obliged to provide mechanisms to ensure that all organs of state are accountable to it and must maintain oversight of all executive authority.
The ANC eventually agreed to conduct an inquiry into the capture of SOEs in May 2017 after turning down a request by DA MP Natasha Mazzone and voting against a DA resolution in the National Assembly in March 2016. The ANC instead proposed a countermotion in which it suggested that MPs with evidence of state capture provide this to the police or to the public protector.
Shown extensive evidence of media reports from 2011, which exposed the influence of the Gupta over state affairs and appointments in state-owned enterprises (SOEs), Ramaphosa argued that the ANC had decided at its conference in 2012 to become more "activist" at parliament but that there was "a lag" in putting this into effect.
Ramaphosa’s evidence as ANC leader continues. He will also give evidence in his capacity as head of state at the end of May.