Ebrahim Patel forced to appoint acting chair of lotteries commission - again
Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel has less than 24 hours to make a decision on the appointment of an acting chairperson of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) while the National Assembly considers a report on a permanent appointment.
The acting position is currently occupied by Zandile Brown, whose appointment on a three-month contract in December sparked controversy and unhappiness among MPs.
Patel addressed the portfolio committee on trade and industry on Wednesday, saying he sought members' opinions on the way forward as Brown's tenure came to an end at the close of business on March 31.
“I will need to address the reality that the acting appointment of Miss Brown expires today and, of course, this is not a matter that I had anticipated. By later today I will need to make an appointment and I can make that through a number of ways,” Patel said.
His three options were:
- to extend Brown's acting period;
- to appoint a current NLC board member to the position (as he did in appointing Brown in December); or
- to appoint an independent candidate from outside the NLC to serve as an acting chairperson, pending recommendations that would come via parliament.
The decision on who to appoint is at Patel's discretion as the executive authority — and MPs appeared divided on the appointment.
DA MP Dean Macpherson argued that the briefing was four months late and could have taken place earlier to avoid taking a drastic and urgent decision.
“We knew that there was going to be an extreme delay in the appointment of an acting chairperson and yet here we are, four months later, still talking about it. This is a crisis of the NLC governance that was entirely predictable,” he said.
The DA voted for the appointment of an independent candidate. Explaining this decision, Macpherson questioned the integrity of Brown's appointment. He said the acting commission had failed to speak out against wrongdoing which took place at the commission unabated for over 10 years. He also said it would not be wise to appoint another existing board member, arguing that chaos would ensue.
“I've got a feeling that if the current board members who have sought to challenge the process continue in the way they have, we are going to see an ensuing fight or an ensuing case of problems in the NLC, and that we cannot deal with,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ANC voted in favour of Brown's extension as acting chairperson.
“The only logical thing that can be done right now is to extend the appointment of the existing acting chair, because I am of the view that with the report having been submitted we will soon have a duly appointed chairperson of the NLC,” said ANC MP Judy Hermans.
“We look forward to the matters at NLC to be attended to and that we have a fully functional organisation that will really uplift the poorest of the poor in the county through implementing the mandate.”
ACDP MP Wayne Thring voted with the ANC, citing time constraints.
“We would have also preferred an external acting chair to be appointed, but I think under the conditions we are currently in the only viable solution that I can see is that the position of the acting chair be extended,” he said.
Patel was expected to formally communicate his decision to the committee later on Wednesday.
When it comes to the permanent appointment of a chair, MPs have shortlisted eight candidates — from an original list of 41 — which they have given to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise for consideration.
These are Terry Tselane, Nyameko Barney Pityana, Beryl Ferguson, Gugulethu Xaba, Muthuhadini Madzivhandila, Frank Chikane, Ashwin Trikamjee and Themba Dlamini.
Meanwhile, also at Wednesday's meeting, MPs were also critical of Patel for not keeping them informed on investigations into the embattled NLC.
The commission is the subject of a probe by the Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks — which raided its offices in December last year — after reports of fraud, corruption and maladministration. These involved lottery donations to entities connected to senior staff members and their relatives.
Patel would not go into the status of these investigations at Wednesday's committee meeting.
DA MP Mathew Cuthbert slammed Patel's decision not to discuss the progress on criminal investigations.
“It's important that we are kept abreast of the investigations and what action has been taken thus far. I think to remain silent for six months creates uncertainly to the public and it also doesn’t elicit much faith to us as portfolio committee members, by virtue of the fact that you are not willing to deal with it head-on,” he said.