Ben Martins: ‘The Guptas are not that rich’
Deputy Public Enterprises minister says he has seen their bank statements
Deputy Public Enterprises Minister Ben Martins has told parliament he saw nothing problematic about the presence of President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane at a meeting where a government tender was discussed.
Appearing before the national assembly’s inquiry into the alleged capture of Eskom by the Gupta family, who are Duduzane’s business partners and the president’s friends, Martins told MPs it was a “perception” that the Guptas were billionaires.
In a meeting that was ill-tempered at times, Martins also sought to dismiss the legislators’ criticism of him initiating a meeting at his official residence with the Guptas and former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana where a multi-billion-rand tender to supply the rail agency with locomotives was discussed.
MPs from across the political spectrum wanted Martins to explain whether he was in the habit of calling a meeting with CEOs of parastatals each time tender bidders complained to him.
The former minister of transport said he brokered the gathering with the Guptas, which “ended acrimoniously”, as part of stakeholder engagement.
Under cross-examination by EFF MP Mzingisi Dlamini, Martins said he saw nothing untoward about the presence of Duduzane, whom in a slip of a tongue the deputy minister referred to as “Duduzane Gupta”, at his meeting with Montana and Tony Gupta.“No, I saw nothing untoward with Duduzane Zuma accompanying his business associate to the meeting and I did not see the necessity to raise the issue with the president,” said Martins.
From there, the interaction between the two degenerated when Martins, who is also energy minister, claimed that he was not aware that Atul Gupta was a billionaire in terms of the Sunday Times Rich List.
“You should not impose your views on me; if you believe the report that you’ve read that they are billionaires, I’ve not read the report. I don’t know the scientific veracity of the report you've read.
“My reason for saying that this is a perception is that I have seen bank statements of any member of the Gupta family,” Martins said.
Martins had the public gallery in stitches when the told Dlamini that “sometimes your behaviours is not honourable”.
He also objected when ANC MP Zukile Luyenge referred to him as a senior leader of the governing party, saying he should not be referred to as such because he did not serve in leadership structures of the ANC national executive committee.
Martins said the meeting at his official residence in Pretoria ended on an acrimonious note when he rebuked Tony Gupta for telling overseas businesspeople that he worked for the president following a complaint from Montana.
He told another ANC MP, Mondli Gungubele, that it was not his “tradition” to set up meetings at his house to discuss government tenders, but he had done so because he regarded the Guptas as stakeholders who wanted to expand their business into other sectors of the economy outside the computer industry.
Martins was called to appear before the inquiry after he was implicated late last year by suspended Eskom legal chief Suzanne Daniels, who told the committee that he had been present at a meeting at which the Guptas discussed how they had planned to influence the North Gauteng High Court in the case of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe.
He denied being party to that meeting, saying on the alleged date he had attended the funeral of the late Ronnie Mamoepa and the lekgotla of the NEC and there were witnesses to back up his version of events.