MPs plan to appeal to Speaker for resources to conduct state capture inquiry

16 August 2017 - 12:59 By Linda Ensor
Speaker Baleka Mbete.
Speaker Baleka Mbete.
Image: AFP

A delegation from Parliament's public enterprises committee is to seek an urgent meeting with Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete to ask for resources for its inquiry into the state capture of state-owned enterprises.

Committee members from across the political spectrum were outraged on Wednesday by the fact that Parliament will not provide the necessary resources for the inquiry‚ particularly to employ an evidence leader which all political parties believe is necessary.

"We are smelling a rat here‚" African National Congress MP Zukile Luyenge said after hearing the view of Parliament's chief legal advisor Zuraya Adhikarie at a committee meeting. He was supported by Democratic Alliance spokeswoman on public enterprises Natasha Mazzone.

Both argued strongly that the committee needed an evidence leader with expertise to lead evidence at the inquiry the committee plans to hold into state capture and the abuse of public resources‚ particularly at Eskom.

"We need to have the necessary resources‚" Luyenge said.

Mazzone said it was "ludicrous" to suggest that Parliament did not have the resources to conduct an inquiry which was essential for it to conduct its oversight role.

The committee has been keen to employ an experienced evidence leader to prepare for the inquiry and to lead it but Parliament has indicated that its advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara would not be available. Vanara was the evidence leader for the ad hoc inquiry into the SABC.

Adhikarie has advised against the procurement of outside experts to lead the inquiry.

She said in a legal opinion distributed to committee members on Wednesday that the inquiry into state capture of state-owned enterprises might extend beyond the current issues identified and might take considerable more time than envisaged.

"As a result‚ procuring the services of an outside expert is cost prohibitive and impractical. Other portfolio committees may also request to follow a similar process in future and this will be unsustainable."

Luyenge responded with "total dismay" to Parliament's "unacceptable" failure to provide the necessary resources and was supported by his fellow ANC MP Mondli Gungubele. It meant that Parliament was not able to perform its oversight functions because of a lack of money.

Adhikarie confirmed that the parliamentary committee was entitled to conduct an inquiry as part of its oversight mandate.

"The constitution envisages that parliamentary process be conducted in a multi party environment to enable the various interests of citizens to be represented. Only elected representatives are able to fulfill this obligation.

"While members must receive support from staff and have access to resources or ensure that they effectively conduct oversight‚ they should not relinquish this power to un-elected officials or third parties. Members must both lead and direct oversight processes.

"Members enjoy parliamentary privileges which empower them to carry out their oversight responsibility without the threat of civil or criminal liability. They are afforded these protections to ensure parliamentary processes are conducted in a robust and effective manner. Parliamentary privileges do not apply to members of staff and third parties."

Adhikarie noted that the SABC ad hoc committee had adopted a quasi judicial process with an evidence leader putting questions to witnesses on a defined set of concerns. "This was done as its recommendation to the National Assembly required that evidence be adduced and weighed up to establish if there were grounds as listed in the Act to find the board unfit (to hold office).

"As this was a quasi judicial process‚ the SABC ad hoc committee had to ensure stricter adherence to administrative law principles including to the rules of natural justice.

"However the use of an evidence leader was not the only option available to the SABC ad hoc committee. The process could also have been conducted by members questioning witnesses as a previous inquiry into the SABC board had done.

"The closer an inquiry resembles a quasi judicial or administrative process‚ the greater the need for the committee to follow the rules of natural justice."

Adhikarie noted that the public enterprises committee inquiry was a fact-finding one and its purpose was not as narrow as the SABC inquiry.