Bongani Bongo bribe probe to resume as former 'Zuma minister' gets new job

19 June 2019 - 17:44
By Dave Chambers
Former president Jacob Zuma congratulates Bongani Bongo after he was sworn in as state security minister on October 18 2017.
Image: GCIS Former president Jacob Zuma congratulates Bongani Bongo after he was sworn in as state security minister on October 18 2017.

Bongani Bongo was named chair of a parliamentary portfolio committee on Wednesday — and immediately faced the resumption of an investigation into allegations that he tried to bribe a parliamentary employee.

Bongo, dumped as state security minister in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first cabinet reshuffle in February 2018, failed in a Cape Town High Court attempt to halt the investigation by a subcommittee of the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests.

Judge Ashley Binns-Ward said Bongo had been “well advised” to abandon his application for the investigation to be scrapped.

Bongo’s alternative attempt to scupper the investigation - a demand that the subcommittee had run out of time, should stop hearing evidence and submit its report - was dismissed.

Binns-Ward ordered the new chair of the home affairs portfolio committee to pay the costs of the eight parties he named in his application - including parliament, the ethics committee and former speaker Baleka Mbete.

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The subcommittee is looking into claims that Bongo tried to bribe Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader of the parliamentary inquiry into the capture of Eskom, Transnet and Denel.

Ntuthuzelo Vanara.
Image: LinkedIn/Ntuthuzelo Vanara Ntuthuzelo Vanara.

In October 2017, Vanara submitted a sworn statement to the ethics committee that Bongo offered him a “blank cheque” if he would suppress the investigation.

“The alleged act of attempted bribery ... was reported to have occurred on October 10 2017, eight days before [Bongo’s] appointment to the cabinet [by then president Jacob Zuma],” said Binns-Ward in his judgment.

The subcommittee held its first hearing on September 5 2018, when Vanara and another witness testified. Afterwards, Bongo was advised of the identity of four further witnesses.

He filed his court applications at the end of November, complaining that the timeframes for the investigation, set out in parliament’s code of ethical conduct, had not been met.

This was unavoidable, Binns-Ward pointed out, because Vanara was the registrar of members’ interests and would normally manage such an investigation. “As the complainant, he was obviously disqualified from doing so in this case,” said the judge.

“The bureaucratic processes entailed in appointing a substitute caused some delay ... [and] complicated the initial formal reporting of the complaint.”

Binns-Ward said courts would not intervene in parliamentary processes until they had run their course, except in exceptional circumstances.

Bongo’s claim that the subcommittee had taken too long in its investigation was “rather ironic in the circumstances”, said Binns-Ward, since it had postponed its hearings only because of the court application.

“[His] own conduct has therefore materially contributed to the delay in finishing the investigation.”