Ben Turok, the chairman of parliament’s ethics committee who is under protection by bodyguards following an alleged assassination plot, has said that three witnesses linked to an investigation into sacked communications minister Dina Pule were also the target of intimidation.
“Three of the witnesses who gave evidence have been interfered with,” Turok told Talk Radio 702’s John Robbie, adding that attempts had been made “to get them to withdraw their evidence and so on”.
Last Wednesday, the committee released a damning report into the behaviour of the former communications minister and handed down the harshest penalties it could. It recommended further investigation by the police and the National Prosecuting Authority.
The committee found Pule guilty of most of the charges levelled against her and determined that she lied during hearings in front of the committee. According to the committee’s report, Pule abused her position, with her romantic partner Phosane Mngqibisa accompanying her on overseas trips at taxpayers’ expense.
According to Turok, when Mngqibisa was called to parliament to give evidence he was accompanied by a bodyguard. “When we had a coffee break [Mngqibisa’s bodyguard] spoke to the registrar and asked her a number of questions and she was very perturbed about that; she was very uncomfortable.”
Turok said it’s unclear how the bodyguard made it into parliament in the first place. “We don’t know how this man got into parliament; he’s certainly not allowed.”
Though Turok was alerted to the bodyguard’s presence, he said the committee didn’t give it much thought because it was so busy and because “at that stage one didn’t feel threatened or seriously concerned about security”.
Although Pule still faces the outcome of an investigation by the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, and a separate police investigation, Turok said the committee had also called for further investigations. “I personally have written to the national police commissioner and to the minister of police. It is now at the highest level.”
According to Turok, apart from the death threats, the suggestion that the procedures of parliament have been interfered with could set a dangerous precedent. “If this is the way parliament is going to be treated, goodness knows where it will end?”
Questions also remain over what will happen to department of communications officials Themba Phiri and Sam Vilakazi, who the committee found colluded with Pule in her attempts to mislead it.
“There was collusion between the minister and officials and we did say that in the report,” Turok said. “Goodness knows what will happen to the officials. There’s now a new minister and no doubt he will be interested in that aspect, so even though Dina Pule is no longer the minister, those officials are still there.”
Pule has been fined 30 days’ salary and had her parliamentary privileges suspended for 15 days. This, along with a public reprimand in the national assembly, is the maximum penalty the committee could have enforced.
Many have argued the penalties are far too lenient, and Turok says it is now up to parliament to decide whether it wants to increase the penalties the committee can hand down in future. “Certainly I, and my committee, will recommend an increased punishment in future,” he said.
In the interim, Turok said criminal charges could be laid against Pule and any of those members of her department who colluded with her. “[Charges] can be laid against everybody who gave evidence including herself.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media