The Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests briefed the OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee on the Code of Conduct for Assembly and Permanent Council Members of Parliament as well as all public representatives. The OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee, being a new committee, had come before the Joint Committee to find out how the Joint Committee operated in matters of ethics and conduct of Members of Parliament and also what lessons would be learnt by the new committee for its own operations on matters of ethics and joint interest. The Joint Committee explained, in brief, its main function, which included joint interest, that is, a Member of Parliament, had to declare his or her material benefits, and also those of close family annually in a book that was provided at Parliament. These benefits would also include gifts worth over R1 500 given to the Members.
The Joint Committee’s powers were explained in brief. It was also explained that the Registrar of the Committee had full investigation powers. For example, the Committee had the power to investigate all matters that concerned a Member of Parliament who did not declare his or her material benefits obtained outside their work, and especially if a newspaper was alleging that such a Member did not declare certain gifts and material benefits. An example was given of a Member whom a newspaper alleged did not declare benefits for her close family and also herself. In this case, the Joint Committee recommended before Parliament that the ethics code of conduct be read before the National Assembly in one of the meetings in which that Member would be present, that she be reprimanded for the lack of declaration and also be fined a month’s salary. This was taken up by the Parliament and done accordingly.
The OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee asked questions about the benefits of the members of the Joint Committee, to which the Joint Committee replied that the Members did not have any benefits apart from their salary and air travel within the country and mileage on a Member's car. The Joint Committee was asked if it had any relationship with the Hawks in its investigations, as some of the examples given involved the Hawks being involved in the investigations. To this, the Joint Committee answered that it had no criminal jurisdiction and that any matter that was brought before the Joint Committee by the Hawks would be handled differently from the criminal investigation. More so, the Joint Committee pointed out a few cases where its role came into play, namely the investigative role, like the investigation that involved Member of Parliament Yolanda Botha and allegations against her in the Mail & Guardian about interests and benefits to her and her close family that she had not declared.
The OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee urged the Joint Committee to support it, as it was a new committee, on matters that concerned ethics and joint interest.
The Chairperson welcomed Members and thanked the OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee for being the first delegation to appear before it. He then spoke about what the Ethics Committee did. The whole Committee was not present for the meeting but the Members who were present endeavoured to answer the questions from the councillor members of the OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee. He introduced Ms Fazella Mahomed, who was Registrar for the Joint Committee.
Membership and main functions of the Joint Committee
The Committee was made up of 22 members from four parties, that is, African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Independent Democrats (ID). The ANC had a big majority on the Committee but that the Committee endeavoured to run all its business on non-party lines and tried to operate as a unit as issues dealt with in the Committee were matters of Ethics. The main focus of the Committee was on the joint interest, hence Ms Mahomed through long experience was capable of handling Members regarding their joint interest and declaration of Members’ benefits. Every year, Members had to fill in a little booklet, in which they disclosed their interests and their material benefits. In other words, if someone gave the any of the Members shares or benefits of any kind, the Members had to declare all material benefits, and if a gift was given worth over R1 500 they had to declare it annually. Hence any shares, trusts, outside income, and income of close family had to be discussed.
On the issue of close family, the Chairperson chose not to get into details, as that was an issue that was now being discussed before the Presidency. There was a book in which ministers and Members of Parliament had to declare their benefits and it showed slight differences in the benefits declared but that income of close family just meant income of really close family. There was a case not far long that involved a Member of Parliament, Ms Yolanda Botha (ANC), about certain matters reported in the news paper in which she was involved. There was a hearing in which she was found guilty and she was later fined a month’s salary.
Powers of the Joint Committee
Hence the Committee had powers to act on Members of Parliament, to exercise such powers carefully, and investigate cases brought before it. For example, if a newspaper wrote negatively about a Member of Parliament or Minister, the Registrar wrote to that particular person and asked him or her to explain why such allegations were made by a national newspaper, and if the Member’s explanation was not satisfactory, then the Registrar would ask for a sworn in affidavit, so as to be sure that the allegations against the Member were not true. A meeting was held in which more information was required of the Member personally. If it was a serious case, the Registrar would work even with the police and the Hawks to investigate such matters, like matters of corruption.
The important thing was that the ethic of culture needed to be understood. All public representatives had to behave in a principled manner, and if they behaved to the contrary, they would then be taken to task. Public representatives that engaged in funny businesses of any kind and tried to get special treatment would then be taken to task. They were investigated especially if the Committee thought something had happened. The code of conduct that governed the Committee’s work was very essential. Hence it was essential that public representatives, set a good example for the people throughout the country. On the other hand, in case a public representative felt that he or she were targeted maliciously, he or she would be given a chance to explain, and this was done to give him or her the benefit the doubt. However, the person would have to submit to the Committee a sworn affidavit. For example, one day a minister wrote back an ordinary letter to explain the allegations in the newspapers but the Committee rejected the letter, and asked the minister to give a sworn affidavit of what he had to say to such allegations, about certain benefits received, made against him in the newspaper. When the sworn affidavit was received, the Committee decided not to take further action because it seemed like a genuine affidavit.
Mr Dlodlo then asked the Members to make any contributions in case they had any, before the meeting would be opened up to discussions and questions.
Ms S Mangena (ANC) requested that the issue of the Members of Parliament being fined a month’s salary because of their unethical behaviour and not declaring their benefits should be explained.
The Chairperson said that he had explained that particular case in which evidence was very strong, and where a Member of Parliament received so many benefits for her family and herself. Hence when she was found guilty the National Assembly was recommended by the Ethics Committee that she be fined and reprimanded before the Assembly. The Speaker read her a lecture on ethical behaviour and she was fined a month’s salary.
Dr G Koornhof (ANC) said the document guiding the Committee was the Code of Conduct, and that what was not written there was the spirit of the law which needed to be taken into consideration. Secondly the Members’ interests were essential as they had to declare what they had got every year.
The OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee speaker first explained that the reason for coming to Parliament was to be mentored on matters that concerned ethics as it was still a new committee and that there was a lot that was not being done right. Hence Parliament was urged to give support to this committee in all its endeavours on ethics.
In terms of representation, she asked how the Joint Committee managed the political parties' politics, irrespective of the ANC being the majority. On the investigative capacity, what were the capacities one needed in order to investigate? Would the Joint Committee help the OR Tambo Ethics Committee free of charge in forming the capacity needed to investigate? She also asked the relevance of councillors' declaring their benefits
The Chairperson replied that it was the first time that an issue of local government not being supported by Parliament was brought before it, but that Members would think about it. There were many councils throughout the country to look into, and that the Joint Committee that would try to come up with a solution but it might not be able to help all councils in
On how to manage party politics, he replied that, in the case of OR Tambo District Municipality, in case a political person was in charge of the Municipality's Ethics Committee, it would be a difficult situation and that would be discussed too. Currently in the ANC a discussion was still underway on how to separate politics and management.
The Chairperson said that Ms Mahomed had full investigation powers. For example in the case where a Member of Parliament was found guilty, the Joint Committee did not go to the Hawks but the Hawks came to the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee did a separate process that was independent of the Hawks whereby a hearing was called but it was not a police investigation as Ms Mahomed did not have police powers.
To the question of whether the Joint Committee would help free of charge, the Chairperson replied that the OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee needed to put its request in writing and be specific as to which area it needed support and this would be discussed before the full Joint Committee.
The Chairperson said that he could not answer the question on the relevance of councillors declaring their interests as it was a matter for public debate. The most important matter concerning the Joint Committee and the OR Thambo District Municipality Ethics Committee was public interest. He then proceeded to give an example of
Ms Mazuza Cebisa, a councillor and member of the OR Tambo Committee, asked whether the Joint Committee had any guidelines on categorising an act as criminal or warranting a fine, especially where the Joint Committee had worked hand in hand with the Hawks.
The Chairperson replied that the Joint Committee had no criminal jurisdiction and that any matter that was brought before it by the Hawks would be handled very differently from the criminal investigation the Hawks would undertake, as in the case of the Member who had failed to declare benefits. The Joint Committee Members were not police inspectors, hence if a Member broke the law, or a news paper alleged that a Member broke the law, then that particular Member would be asked to swear an affidavit.
Ms Nocwaka Priscilla Ntshoyi, OR Thambo District Municipality Councillor and Ethics Committee member, thanked the Joint Committee Chairperson for the presentation. What steps could be taken if a councillor did not declare his or her benefits? What benefits did councillors have in the local sphere? What did the Joint Committee do when debating in the National Assembly? What benefits did the Joint Committee have?
The Chairperson replied that there were no benefits for the Members of the Joint Committee except for free travel by air and mileage on a Member's car. There were no financial benefits other than salary.
If the Member did not declare his or her benefits, and a newspaper or anyone told the Joint Committee, then the registrar would write to the Member and ask him or her to explain why he or she had not declared his or her benefits. Hence an affidavit on oath was sworn and the Member would have to declare his or her benefits. The powers of the Joint Committee came straight from the Constitution and rules of Parliament. The very important point was that anyone would lodge a complaint. Hence if someone did not like the Member, they could lodge a complaint against that Member.
The Joint Committee would debate with the rest of the Chamber but the Speaker controlled and everything was timed. There was a system where the Chief Whips met regularly to make all decisions about parliamentary procedure and they would try to get unanimity or else Parliament would not function well. Hence there should be cooperation between parties on procedural matters.
Another councillor and member of the OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee asked how often the Members had to declare their benefits.
The Chairperson replied that the Members declared annually. It did not matter when one received the gift. One had to declare it in that calendar year.
Ms Fazella said that no Member could change the form after declaration and any additions to that particular form were made in the form of a letter which was kept updated.
Mr B Radebe (ANC) said that the role of this Committee was to verify what was being said against any Member.
The Chairperson thanked the OR Tambo District Municipality Ethics Committee for attending the meeting, and looked forward to its letter which the Joint Committee would take seriously.
The meeting was adjourned.
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