“I want to say in this house that I gave the best I could do to do my job. And that if in the course of me doing my job I made a mistake, I am sorry, I apologise.”
Those were the brief words uttered by former communications minister Dina Pule after she was reprimanded by parliament and subjected to the full penalties the body could impose, following the scandal involving her boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa.
Pule sat at the back of the house and had to wait through various other items on the agenda before co-chair of parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests, Ben Turok, delivered his findings to the house. It was accepted without much fanfare.
Turok said Pule had transgressed both parliament’s ethical code and the country’s laws. He recommended that the police and the National Prosecuting Authority investigate the breach of the Powers and Privileges Act, which lays down severe penalties for lying.
“We are not a court of law, we must respect the rights of members and follow due process,” said Turok, adding that there was broader evidence that went beyond the committee’s mandate.
The scandal around Pule has been long-running.
She was dogged by controversy for months over allegations of funnelling contracts and government resources to Mngqibisa primarily during the controversial ICT Indaba.
Things came to a head when she was effectively dismissed by president Jacob Zuma in his cabinet reshuffle last month, and was replaced by then deputy minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Yunus Carrim.
The committee’s investigation was dramatic, by all accounts. Turok said he and the committee registrar Fazela Mahomed were subjected to death threats, leading to both being assigned bodyguards during the process.
“In recent weeks, three witnesses were subjected to bullying to try to get them to reverse their testimony,” he added.
He also criticised senior officials within the department of communications for “collusion” with the minister by hiding information and forging documents.
Speaking about the couple’s numerous international trips, at least one of which was at the department’s expense, Turok said it was difficult to obtain information about the trips to Paris, Prague, Kuala Lumpur, among others. “The file for the Mexico trip was lost by officials,” he said, repeating “lost”.
“Officials were unhelpful and gave contradictory evidence on how trips were organised.”
The ethics committee found Pule guilty of breaching the code of conduct for members of parliament on 7 August. She was handed the maximum penalty of a reprimand by speaker Max Sisulu during Tuesday’s sitting of the house, a fine to the equivalent of 30 days’ salary, a suspension of her privileges for 15 days and exclusion from any parliamentary debates or committees during that period.
Sisulu was grave during Pule’s reprimand in the assembly, where she made to stand and listen.
“As a public representative, you are constantly aware that the people of South Africa look to parliament and its members to display the highest standards in what they do and how they conduct themselves,” he began.
“That we do by protecting our national assets and ensure that they are used only in the public interest and not for private gain.”
He said Pule had “gravely undermined the people’s trust and brought this house into disrepute”.
Furthermore, she had “wilfully mislead the committee by lying under oath”.
Pule previously told the committee she was not romantically involved with Mngqibisa, but a trip recorded by her department had him down as her spouse.
“You have showed indifference to our constitution, which is unacceptable,” concluded Sisulu.
Her 15-day suspension will come into effect on Wednesday and a 30-day salary fine was imposed.
Turok again called for a “speedy revision” of the members’ code of conduct, and repeated his request that the maximum penalty be increased.
The code of conduct prescribes that MPs must disclose to the registrar of the ethics committee particulars of all their “registrable” interests.
The code further requires the registrar to record details of all financial interest of an MP’s spouse, dependent child or permanent companion to the extent that the member is aware of those financial interests.
Turok said public funds spent on Mngqibisa’s travels and hotel accommodation ran into thousands but it was up to the department to decide what to do about the money. — (c) 2013 Mail & Guardian