Pandor refuses to give reasons for suspending DG Kgabo Mahoai
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor won't tell MPs why she put Dirco director-general Kgabo Mahoai on precautionary suspension.
She is prepared to say only that Mahoai's suspension was with pay and that she followed the required prescripts in taking the decision.
“I cannot go into reasons or detail with respect to the director-general's precautionary suspension but I will come back at the appropriate time, under legal advice, to indicate the outcomes and processes which I've attempted to follow assiduously in terms of the Public Service Act, including consulting the department of public service & administration,” she said on Thursday.
MPs repeatedly pushed Pandor, with some saying she should at least indicate whether the suspension was linked to the R118m paid for an abandoned and dilapidated building in New York. That expenditure was deemed irregular by the auditor-general who also identified a number of officials who should be held responsible for irregularities in the awarding of the tender.
The portfolio committee also investigated the matter, going as far as conducting an oversight visit to New York in December 2019.
When the news of Mahoai's suspension broke earlier this month, it was widely reported that the suspension was linked to the scandal. But on Thursday, both Pandor and her spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told MPs that they never linked Mahoai's suspension to the New York property scandal.
“There is no intention to make the DG a scapegoat and I hope that the members will be able to see the proof of this once the process has been concluded. There is no intention on my part nor do I know of any person that I would protect or any covering up that I would do,” Pandor said.
Pandor was forced to repeatedly apologise after MPs led by ANC MP Tandi Mahambehlala, who chairs the Dirco committee, accused her of arrogance.
At the start of Thursday's meeting, Mahambehlala said the committee was 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 course 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.
You must spare yourself from self-importance — your utterances, I find them very arrogantANC MP Tandi Mahambehlala
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.”
Pandor apologised saying she had not been seeking to be arrogant, but that she was concerned at the notion that she disrespected the committee and parliament and that she had not shown integrity in her conduct.
“It might be that my view appeared to border on arrogance but my conduct, as indicated in the remarks of the committee, was referred to in a fairly negative light and I think any human being would be concerned at being described in the manner that [was] stated.”
Other MPs aligned themselves with Mahambehlala's remarks.
Dirco stands accused of paying in advance R118m for a plot of land in New York which turned out to be a dilapidated building.
Pandor said the department indicated that it had made interchangeable references to the purchase of a site or a property, and this might have been understood to mean vacant land, when in fact the intention of the department was to purchase an existing building which they had anticipated would be demolished for the construction of new office accommodation.
She said the department indicated that there was no intention at all to mislead the parliamentary committee on this.
“The R118m was indeed approved and paid out and there is nothing to show for it, hence the case in court and the judgment is awaited,” she said.
The department was conducting more investigations on the matter, added Pandor.