IEC is too important an institution to fail

29 August 2013 - 02:43 By S'Thembiso Msomi
IEC chairman Pansy Tlakula
IEC chairman Pansy Tlakula

Pansy Tlakula is bitterly unhappy with public protector Thuli Madonsela's damning report into the Independent Electoral Commission's lease agreement for its Riverside Office Park in Pretoria.

Since the report was made public on Monday, the IEC chairman has been on the war path, accusing Madonsela of having a "different understanding" of the term "conflict of interest" and vowing not to resign from her post.

Madonsela's report found Tlakula guilty of misconduct and maladministration in that she had failed to declare her interest in a company in which she was a co-director with Thaba Mufamadi - a man whose other company, Manaka Property Investments, partly owned Riverside Office Park.

According to the public protector, Tlakula's failure to disclose this relationship during the bid process undermined the IEC's independence and the objectivity of the tender process.

The public protector's findings have resulted in opposition parties, especially Bantu Holomisa's United Democratic Movement, which had laid the complaint with Madonsela in the first place, calling on Tlakula to resign or be fired.

But a defiant Tlakula, who was the IEC's chief executive before taking over from Brigalia Bam as chairman, said she is going nowhere.

"I am not going to resign until the people who appointed me tell me to do so," she told a radio station yesterday.

Tlakula insisted that she did no wrong and that what Madonsela sees as a conflict of interest is merely a matter of interpreting the rules differently.

Yes Mufamadi, who is also a senior ANC leader, is her business partner in Lehotsa Investments, a company she describes as dormant.

She saw no need to declare this relationship as the company was dormant and she did not stand to financially gain from Manaka Property, Tlakula said.

That Tlakula was prepared to fight Madonsela at every level became clear as early as Monday morning, when she protested over the fact that the public protector had sent the final report to her late.

This, she said, amounted to abuse of power by Madonsela.

Like any other citizen, the IEC head has every right to fight to clear her name if she feels she is being unfairly treated.

She should go ahead and challenge Madonsela's findings in appropriate platforms if she feels hard done by.

But in all of this, the IEC's integrity should not be compromised.

The electoral body plays an important role in our young democracy and, since its establishment in the early 1990s, has built a good relationship of trust with the country's citizens.

It is, without doubt, one of very few public institutions universally regarded as reliable by all citizens.

Even outside our borders, the IEC is seen as a model institution that many countries - especially those in transition - should look up to. This is thanks to the sterling work done by Bam, Tlakula and many others at the IEC over the past two decades.

In her fight with Madonsela, Tlakula should guard against dragging this institution down with her.

Too many Chapter Nine institutions and government agencies over the years have seen their names being dragged through the mud as those who headed them fought their personal battles.

The country cannot afford to have yet another such institution's credibility being questioned. Not the IEC, especially not so close to an important general election.

To protect the IEC's image, Tlakula should take voluntary leave of absence from the institution while she fights to clear her name.

She could then return if it is later found that Madonsela erred in her findings.

Waiting until those who appointed her tell her to resign would do more harm than good.