Ex-minister Dipuo Peters flouted ethics code: committee

Former transport minister argues she did not benefit from her wrongdoing and that besides some blemishes, her track record was clean

25 October 2023 - 21:59
By Andisiwe Makinana
Former transport minister Dipuo Peters.
Image: Business Day/File photo Former transport minister Dipuo Peters.

Parliament's ethics committee has found former transport minister Dipuo Peters guilty of breaching the MPs' code of ethics for indiscretions committed while she was minister.

The Zondo commission, and courts, had also found against Peters on some of the matters.

In September 2022, activist Zackie Achmat and #Unite Behind, a nonprofit organisation complained to the joint committee on ethics and members' interests that Peters, as the then-minister of transport breached the code.

The complaints related to her failure to appoint a permanent group CEO for Prasa for about a year because she felt the company was not ready for one. The complainants alleged this was neglectful as her failure to act on the recommendation of the board to appoint a candidate resulted in a loss of R1,767,000 that was paid to a recruitment company.

Another complaint related to her dismissal of a board led by Popo Molefe, seemingly because it had uncovered R14bn of irregular expenditure and instituted investigations into corruption at Prasa.

The high court found that Peters’ conduct was irrational, unreasonable and unlawful.

Peters was also accused of approving the use of Prasa buses for ANC events during 2014 and 2015 without ensuring payment from the party.

The complainants wanted Peters to be called to account for failing in her duties, maladministration and inhibiting the work that tried to ensure that corruption and maladministration was stopped at Prasa.

They charged that she breached the code of ethical conduct and disclosure of members’ interests.

Responding to the ethics committee through her lawyers, Peters indicated that the complainants were regurgitating findings and recommendations of the state capture commission in their demand for accountability.

She indicated she intended to take the state capture report on judicial review, to the extent that it related to her.

The Zondo commission heard that after Lucky Montana left Prasa, the board commenced a recruitment process to appoint a new group CEO. In terms of the board charter, the group CEO is appointed by the minister of transport, on the recommendation of the board.

A candidate well versed in rail matters was recommended, but Peters, the minister at the time, wanted Collins Letsoalo, the then CFO of the department of transport, to act as Prasa CEO.

Peters did not appoint a CEO because she thought Prasa was not ready for one. This went on for about a year, and a new group CEO was not appointed. After ignoring the board’s recommendation, Prasa paid R1,767,000 to the company that was contracted to conduct the recruitment process.

The committee found that Peters breached the code in her failure to appoint a group CEO, in the dismissal of the Molefe board and on the misuse of Prasa assets, which included a request to use the company’s buses for the ANC’s January eighth celebrations in 2015 that were not paid for.

It requested her to provide written representations on the sanction to be recommended to the house. She provided representations dated May 18.

Peters also requested to address the committee in person, which she did on September 28. The committee said she acknowledged the seriousness of the matter but asked that her political journey to date be taken into account.

She argued that she did not benefit personally from anything where there were found to be shortcomings on her part. She also stated that she was not found guilty of any corruption or aiding such acts, and asked for leniency.

She said other than the findings of the state capture commission and the committee, her track record was clean.

She explained that a public spat between Molefe and Montana was about their egos, which was detrimental to Prasa, and that the situation could have been saved had the two men behaved professionally. Had she appointed a CEO, the person would have failed because of the internal strife at Prasa.

On the use of Prasa buses for an ANC rally, she said she was approached by the organiser of the rally about the procurement process to be used if they wanted the use of Prasa trains. She had indicated that she would ask Montana as the then CEO but did not discuss the use, or procurement, of buses.

She rejected the finding that she abused her authority in relation to the use of buses, saying she has never abused her authority and the finding brought her immense pain.

The committee said it noted that the court judgment in respect to the dismissal of the Molefe board still stood. It said Peters should never have forwarded Montana’s details to secure Prasa assets for use during the ANC’s January eighth celebrations in 2015.

The committee found that the delay in appointing a CEO resulted in a financial loss for Prasa.

It recommended that the house suspend her from all parliamentary debates and sittings, committee meetings and committee-related functions and operations for one term of the parliamentary programme for each of the three breaches, but that these run concurrently during a term of the parliamentary programme determined by the house.