February 23, 2018 / 4:30 AM / a year ago

South Africa's anti-graft watchdog says minister misled parliament

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African minister inadvertently misled parliament when she said a local consultancy firm linked to business friends of former President Jacob Zuma had no contracts with state power utility Eskom, an anti-graft watchdog said on Thursday.

This is the latest criticism of a senior government official and comes as new President Cyril Ramaphosa is considering a cabinet reshuffle after replacing Zuma, whose rule was marred by a series of scandals.

Busisiwe Mkhwebane, head of the Public Protectors office, said in her report that Ramaphosa should take action within 14 days against the Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, whose department oversees enterprises including Eskom.

“Minister Brown inadvertently misled Parliament in her assertion that there were no other contracts of engagement concluded between Eskom and Trillian,” said Mkhwebane in her report, adding that she breached a ministerial code of ethics.

In response, Brown blamed the utility for giving her misleading information she read out in parliament in December 2016. She said the information was signed off by Anoj Singh, former Eskom chief financial officer on behalf of the utility’s CEO.

Brown said Singh had told her that no payments were made to Trillian, a consultancy linked to the Gupta family.

Brown said when she became aware that she had been misled, she ordered Eskom’s board to take disciplinary action against “those who conspired to mislead me, Parliament and the country.”

Khulu Phasiwe, Eskom’s spokesman, said Singh and others were suspended by the board after Brown’s instruction. Singh was suspended by Eskom in July 2017 and formally resigned his post in January.

Singh did not answer a call made to his cell phone.

Tyrone Seale, Ramaphosa’s acting spokesman, said the presidency was still studying the Public Protector’s report.

Zuma’s business associates include three brothers from the Gupta family who have been accused of using their political connections to win contracts at state firms, including Eskom, and influence cabinet appointments.

Zuma and the Gupta brothers deny wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, South Africa’s parliament said it would launch an investigation into allegations of influence-peddling against mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane. Zwane has denied any wrongdoing.

Separately, a South African court found Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba violated the constitution over a decision he made while home affairs minister. Gigaba has said he would challenge the ruling.

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg and Nqobile Dludla; Editing by James Macharia

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