THE PARLIAMENTARY Standing Committee on Finance (SCoF) on Wednesday heard how Independent Media was faced with a hostile media environment shortly after being acquired by Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium (SIM).
This was during a presentation by Independent Media’s executives led by the chief investment officer, Takudzwa Hove, after a submission by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to the committee. A submission that has been described by nay-sayers as an “off-the-cuff suggestion”, leaving one wondering if the minister was in the business of making “off-the-cuff suggestions” to the august house.
EFF MP Floyd Shivambu clarified that the SCoF, as part of processing the Mpati Commission report, decided to listen to the affected companies as well as those that had written to the committee to seek an audience in terms of the issues that concerned them. The audience granted to Independent Media was based on this decision.
Sekunjalo executive chairperson Dr Iqbal Survé wrote to SCoF chairperson Joe Maswanganyi after the minister’s submission to make presentations to the SCoF. While making its presentation, Independent Media faced some hostility from DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis who interrupted Hove and took some pot shots at the companies’ executives in an attempt to undermine what was being presented.
After all presentations, including input from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the SCoF chairperson asked the National Treasury to make some input and deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat took the floor after two other representatives were slow to respond, which took several observers by surprise.
Independent Media has previously written about the role that Momoniat is seen to play in “running” Treasury. This issue was also previously raised by the EFF in Parliament, when Momoniat made a presentation on behalf of the Treasury in place of the director-general. Treasury responded by saying that Momoniat was the right person to represent Treasury on tax and financial sector policy related matters.
It has been reported that Momoniat, who was largely known to be Minister Pravin Gordhan’s right-hand man in Treasury, had been instrumental in co-ordinating an onslaught against Independent Media and Sekunjalo through officials in Treasury, the Financial Services Conduct Authority (FSCA), and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC).
Of note is that former DA MP Brandon Topham took up the position of director of investigations at the FSCA. An appointment that raised eyebrows as to how a former MP, with a known allegiance to a political formation, could be appointed to a politically sensitive position within the FSCA. Independent Media previously reported that Topham was deployed to the FSCA to deal with black business, citing sources within the FSCA and was close to Momoniat.
The appointment gave rise to speculation that Topham was tasked by certain members of the DA to deal with some prominent members of the ANC, its allies or EFF-aligned politicians, as well as certain businesspeople. The FSCA denied the existence of such an agenda.
The SCoF meeting showed a tinge of desperation from the DA machinery and the interconnectedness of Momoniat and the DA machinery to undermine Independent Media.
Independent Media in its presentation asserted that the media house was previously a mouthpiece for the DA, before being taken over by SIM. There was also an attempt to stop the sale to SIM with a last-ditch effort from a funder of the DA to offer R500 million to Sekunjalo to walk away from Independent Media.
It is clear from Hill-Lewis’s reaction that the DA may have not given up hope of taking control of Independent Media. The outburst by Hill-Lewis was not spontaneous but an effort by the DA along with Momoniat to undermine SIM. If one goes by the utterances by Hill-Lewis – for which he was castigated by the SCoF chairperson – it is clear this was designed to divert attention from the presentations whose facts had not been disputed.
It is a known fact that Gordhan is part of the President Cyril Ramaphosa faction in the ANC and that Momoniat was said to serve as his proxy in the Treasury, which makes the existence of an alliance more plausible by the day.
Recently the leader of the DA, John Steenhuisen, said the DA would be prepared to work and govern with the ANC under Ramaphosa but not an ANC under David Mabuza or Ace Magashule. This suggests that there exists a close proximity between the ANC president and the DA.
SCoF also heard how at the beginning of 2013 SIM was announced as the preferred bidder and immediately after that vigorous attempts were made by the then chairperson of the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef), Nic Dawes, to stop the transaction.
SIM refused to be threatened and in the end Dawes had to apologise. Sanef continues to play a partisan role against Independent Media, as seen by its most recent conduct.