Former communications minister Dina Pule has been reprimanded in parliament as part of the punitive measures enacted against her after parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests found her guilty of abusing her position to benefit her boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa, and misleading the committee about the nature of their relationship.
Ethics committee co-chair Ben Turok presented the report to parliament on Tuesday and didn’t pull any punches when describing how Pule had sought not only to mislead the committee, but how threats were made against him and the committee’s registrar, Fazela Mahomed.
“The central issue in this case was the relationship of Hon Pule with Mr Mngqibisa and how her public office was used to benefit him improperly,” Turok said. “She denied in an affidavit that the relationship went beyond long-standing friendship. Mngqibisa stated under oath that, quote, ‘My private life is private’, and refused to answer questions about the relationship.
“However, evidence emerged during the hearings that Pule and Mngqibisa had travelled together to several foreign destinations such as Mexico, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and Prague. They shared road transport and they shared hotel accommodation.
“The panel obtained proof that at least one of these trips was paid for by the department of communications and Mngqibisa was listed for the purposes of that trip as Pule’s spouse.
“The panel had great difficulty in obtaining other travel papers and the file for the Mexico trip was lost by officials. Officials were uncooperative and gave contradictory evidence on how travel companions were recorded. What is remarkable about these trips is that Mngqibisa had no formal status at these meetings and when asked what his role had been, he was unable to answer.
“It is clear, therefore, that he benefited from several privileges through his association with Pule, none of which were declared. More seriously, Pule seems to have been instrumental in enabling Mngqibisa to advance from being a minor player to a dominant position in the ICT Indaba. He not only gained R6m for his company Khemano, but he steadily positioned himself to become the main player with prospects of further substantial gains. None of this was declared.
“Pule allowed herself to be in a position where her private interests were in direct conflict with the public interest. Pule did not act to prevent this and indeed promoted this undesirable situation.
“The witness, Mngqibisa, came to give evidence accompanied by a bodyguard. This bodyguard stood outside the doors of our committee room and interfered with the registrar at a coffee break. There is no place for private bodyguards in parliament and he should have been removed. Throughout the hearing it was clear there was collusion between Pule and some senior officials in presenting a false version of their activities.”
Turok also told parliament he and Mahomed were assigned bodyguards after it emerged that threats had been made against the pair. He added that other parties, including a department of communications official, were bullied in an attempt to get them to reverse their testimony.
“Parliament needs to take note of these attempts to intimidate the ethics committee and interfere with the proceedings of parliament.”
Turok reiterated that the ethics committee recommended that the maximum penalty allowed in the joint rules of parliament be imposed. This entails a reprimand in the house, a fine of 30 days’ salary and the suspension of privileges and Pule’s right to a seat in parliamentary debates and committees for 15 days.
The ethics committee has also recommended that the presidency consider measures to address the relationship between the department of communications and other state entities and private entities. “The Public Service Commission should investigate the possible misconduct of certain officials in the department of communications,” Turok said.
He also said the report should be referred to the police and the National Prosecuting Authority for possible breaches of the Powers and Privileges Act. In addition, he recommended that parliament support the speedy revision of the code of conduct, with harsher penalties.
National assembly speaker Max Sisulu addressed Pule after Turok’s presentation.
“Your breach of the code of conduct, Ms Pule, has gravely undermined the peoples’ trust and has brought this house and its members into disrepute,” Sisulu said.
“Furthermore, you wilfully misled the ethics committee by lying under oath in your continued attempts to conceal your relationship [with Mngqibisa]. In doing so, you showed complete disregard for the exceptional privilege members of parliament have of freedom of speech in this house and before its committees.
“Both as a member of this house and a cabinet minister, you had undertaken to uphold the constitution and act according to its principles when you took your oath of office. Your direct contravention of the provisions of section 96(2) of the constitution, by allowing your position to be used to improperly benefit your permanent companion, shows indifference to our constitution, which is unacceptable.”
Pule asked to address the house and proceeded to deliver an unconvincing apology. “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.”
Meanwhile, new communications minister Yunus Carrim said in a statement that members of the department accused of colluding with Pule may still have punitive measures taken against them.
“I conferred with the chief state law advisor, Enver Daniels, and was advised that I should await the outcome of the investigation by the public service commission,” Carrim says. “Once the outcome is determined and the matter is referred to my office, I will take further advice and decide on appropriate action.”
Themba Phiri, who served as acting director-general in the department, reportedly recommended Mngqibisa’s company, Khemano, to ICT Indaba organiser Carol Bouwer. The testimony of deputy director-general Sam Vilakazi has also been called into question by the committee. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media