'High level of disrespect and arrogance': MPs slam Pandor no-show over Dirco DG suspension

MPs accused Dirco minister Naledi Pandor and her senior executives of repeatedly undermining parliament and its oversight role.

25 August 2021 - 19:02 By andisiwe makinana
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. File photo.
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times/Simphiwe Nkwali

MPs are still in the dark over why international relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor placed director-general Kgabo Mahoai on precautionary suspension six months ago.

A meeting convened on Wednesday to update the National Assembly's portfolio committee on Dirco about Mahoai's case, among other things, ended without a word from Dirco officials because neither Pandor nor acting DG Nonceba Losi were present.

Instead, departmental officials and one of Pandor's deputies, Alvin Botes, who was part of the virtual meeting, were sent packing by annoyed MPs.

The parliamentarians were critical of Pandor's and Losi's absence, saying the pair were the only ones who could speak with authority on the matter — and they now want National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Deputy President David Mabuza, in his capacity as leader of government business in parliament, to intervene.

The leader of government business is a link between parliament and the executive.

MPs accused Pandor and her senior executives of repeatedly undermining the committee and its oversight role.

Committee members from across the political party spectrum have previously clashed with Pandor over the subject of Mahoai's suspension, with the minister at the time daring them to refer her to the speaker for her claimed misconduct.

At issue is Dirco's purchase of a dilapidated building in New York for R118m, which the auditor-general found to be irregular expenditure.

MPs have previously insisted that Mahoai, who was not the DG at the time and who was not implicated by the AG, was being scapegoated by Pandor.

They accused the minister of abusing their report, which made no findings against Mahoai, to suspend him while not taking action against officials who the auditor-general identified for wrongdoing.

Directors-general are suspended by the president or by a minister if the president delegates such powers to a minister.

Pandor missed the first meeting of the committee on the matter in February.

In a heated second meeting later that month, she denied that Mahoai's suspension was linked to the portfolio committee's report, saying she had never made such a public statement.

While she denied Mahoai's suspension was linked to the New York matter, she would not give reasons for the decision. Instead, she took issue with comments made by MPs, including that she disregarded the committee, undermined it and abused its reports for her own agenda.

Pandor dared the committee to refer her conduct to the speaker so that the matter could be properly investigated and that she could get an opportunity to defend herself. In her absence on Wednesday, MPs expressed regret for not taking her up on the challenge in February.

They also rejected her and Losi's apologies for their absence, saying the minister had known about the parliament meeting for a while and could have made other arrangements, especially in the age of online meetings.

Pandor is travelling with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is attending the G20 compact with Africa meeting in Germany.

ANC MP Desmond Moela was one of those who accused Pandor and her senior staff of arrogance. He repeated an assertion he made earlier this year that the department was run like a “spaza shop”.

“We are facing very serious arrogance from this department to a point where they think they are at a level where nobody can tell them what to do or not to do,” he said.

Moela added: “We are not doing oversight on a department here, we are doing oversight on a spaza shop, a spaza shop that is owned by individuals. That's the high level of disrespect and arrogance. There was such arrogance to the extent that the executive said you can report us, we are ready.”

The DA's Mergan Chetty said the Dirco leadership was treating MPs as if they were part of a “smallanyana” committee that could be pushed around.

“The last time she threatened us — in fact she challenged us — to report her to the speaker. We made a mistake. We should have pursued the matter that time about the conduct of the minister.”

The committee resolved to convene next Wednesday, where Pandor would present an investigation report which led to Mahoai's suspension.

They also want to know whether that report came to a contrary conclusion to that of the auditor-general and of their own which was adopted by parliament last November.

They also want her to present her department's policy on precautionary suspensions, as they feel the six months has been too long.

Pandor's spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the minister was out of the country on official duties and that a letter of apology had been sent to the committee.

“The minister has always made every attempt to honour committee commitments and hopes to restore the very good relations that have existed between her office and that of the committee,” he said.

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