'I find your utterances arrogant': tensions over Dirco DG's suspension escalate as MPs grill Naledi Pandor

25 February 2021 - 14:00
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. File photo.
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy

Tensions between international relations minister Naledi Pandor and the parliamentary committee she accounts to escalated on Thursday with at least one ANC MP accusing the minister of arrogance.

Pandor appeared before the National Assembly's portfolio committee on international relations on Thursday to talk about progress made on the implementation of the portfolio committee’s oversight report to New York.

She appeared before an already aggrieved committee after she submitted an apology when she did not attend its meeting on the matter last Wednesday.

At issue is Pandor's suspension of Dirco director-general Kgabo Mahoai, whom MPs insist is being scapegoated for the R118m spent on a dilapidated building in New York, which the auditor-general found to be irregular expenditure.

MPs are accusing Pandor of singling out Mahoai, despite him not being implicated by the auditor-general and in the committee's oversight report, while she is being lenient on officials who were identified for wrongdoing.

On Thursday, Pandor denied that Mahoai's suspension was linked to the portfolio committee's report. “I have not made any such public statement,” she said.

In her opening remarks to the meeting, committee chairperson Tandi Mahambehlala accused Pandor of disregarding her committee and parliament.

Mahambehlala said they were raising concerns with Pandor after they were caught off-guard by her placing Mahoai on precautionary suspension, apparently on the basis of the committee's oversight report.

“As public representatives, we felt duty-bound to protect the integrity of parliament simply because none of those recommendations have been implemented to date. Yet it was reported that the cause of action the minister has taken was to do with the committee's report,” she said.

“It was surprising that it did not occur to the minister that the committee should be taken into confidence and be made aware when its recommendations were being varied.”

Mahambehlala said Pandor ought to have alerted the committee of new evidence implicating Mahoai or that the committee's recommendations were to be set aside.

“This is regarded as total disregard of the hard work that the committee put into the oversight visit, having spent taxpayers' money travelling to verification oversight in New York, only to have our findings thrown out of the window,” she said.

In response, Pandor said Mahambehlala's statement made serious allegations about her and her conduct towards the portfolio committee and towards parliament.

Pandor requested Mahambehlala to refer her concerns to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise so the matter could be properly investigated, and to allow her to be able to defend herself.

“I think it's very important for my professional reputation and standing that such a referral is made, because what you have said I regard as extremely serious and I regret that is the view of the portfolio committee with respect to myself,” said Pandor.

It was in response to this request that Mahambehlala warned Pandor not to prescribe what action the committee should take, adding: “You must spare yourself from self-importance — your utterances, I find them very arrogant.”

Several MPs registered their agreement with Mahambehlala's remarks.

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