Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi on Tuesday told MPs she had no doubt about the legality of her secondment of former director general Thabane Zulu to the Strategic Fuel Fund as its acting chief executive officer, but stopped short of assuring them it had been approved by the board of the entity.
Kubayi said she would not bow to pressure from Democratic Alliance MP Gordon Mackay, who challenged her on the secondment during a meeting of Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy, to prove to the legislature that she had acted within the law.
“We might be sitting with different positions here on what we take the law to be and about what we take the minister’s intention to be. So it is a question of interpretation,” she countered.
Kubayi said she would not seek legal opinion on the matter as doing so when she believed she was right would be “schizophrenic”.
“I do not have an issue with my opinion, I do not have an issue with my process and I am sitting here believing what I have done is right. I made a request in terms of what I want to see done in the department. Why must I seek legal opinion if I don’t have an issue with my decision? I would waste the department’s money. It is like I will act schizophrenic.”
She did not say whether the board had given the go-ahead for Zulu’s appointment before she announced it in her maiden budget speech in May, but stressed that he only took up the post after that. She went on to add that she could not imagine that lawmakers intended her to be powerless to make decisions.
Mackay rejected her stance and said it was crucial to understand whether she had acted legally or bypassed the board with a decision that had considerable implications, since it appeared that under Zulu’s leadership the SFF’s mandate has moved beyond storage to gas exploration in West Africa.
“The minister is not a lawyer, she had erred if she did not take advice before making the secondment. Did she act legally or not to appoint an acting CEO who is taking a subsidiary of the Central Energy Fund in a totally different direction? He has changed the entire operational model of the SFF.”
He said further questions were raised by the fact that Zulu recently told the portfolio committee that information on the SFF’s involvement in oil exploration in Equatorial Guinea resided with the minister.
The chairman of the portfolio committee, Fikile Majola, resolved that, to save time, Kubayi would be allowed to respond to Mackay’s questions in writing. Mackay said her response should include letters confirming she consulted the board.
“She must present the documentary proof,” he said, adding that even if she did her actions were “questionable anyway because she does not get to make a recommendation, the board does”.
Kubayi said she had nothing to do with the SFF’s work in Equatorial Guinea. When she announced Zulu’s secondment, she said his brief would include establishing whether the sale of more than 10 million barrels of oil in South Africa’s strategic reserves in December 2015 had been above board.
Zulu last week said the sale would be contested in court and it depended on the outcome of the case whether the country had access to strategic stocks by way of buying it back.
In response to a question from Mackay on whether the oil had been sold to other parties since the original sale, Kubayi replied that it was still sitting in tanks in South Africa.