Update from Presidency on all SIU Reports & status of suspended Public Works DG, with Minister in Presidency

Public Accounts (SCOPA)

08 December 2021
Chairperson: Mr M Hlengwa (IFP)
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Meeting Summary

Video

The Committee had arranged a virtual meeting to receive an update from the Presidency on all Special Investigations Unit (SIU) reports and on the status of the suspended Public Works Director-General.

The Committee had noted that these reports had findings, determinations and recommendations. However, Members had raised a particular concern that there was inaction in the implementation of recommendations from the SIU. Some matters were as old as 14 months and there was no movement by the Presidency. It became important for the Committee to ensure that the investigations of the SIU did not become fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The reports should not gather dust. The Committee had an expectation that the Presidency had to take it into confidence about what happened to the reports.

The Committee members voiced their displeasure and concern with the slow pace of implementation of cases that had been finalised. The Committee expected that those cases that were finalised had sanctions imposed. These matters belonged to the Presidency as it was responsible for the proclamation. The Presidency should be keen to understand exactly how far the issues in relation to implementation were. The members also raised the issue of blacklisting. There were certain cases where the sanction was that companies had to be blacklisted. The entity responsible for blacklisting those companies was still considering those cases. There was an unwillingness to act swiftly, to indicate to society that this administration did not tolerate maladministration, corruption and theft. The Committee wanted the Minister to provide a timeframe when the Presidency would provide a detailed report to the Committee. A member from the EFF noted that there was a laissez-faire attitude at the Presidency when it came to issues of governance and the reports that the President’s Office had to finalise. The Ministry’s availability for the Committee needed to be something it did more regularly. In addition to the feedback that the Committee wanted on the suspended Director-General of Public Works, the Committee also wanted the Minister to take the Committee and South Africans in confidence on another the former Spokesperson in the Presidency, Ms Diko.

The Special Investigating Unit indicated that its final report would be submitted on 10 December 2021, which was this Friday.

The Chairperson said that this was the first time that the matter received the kind of attention that it deserved. It was a learning curve in terms of paying attention to issues of this nature. The Committee wanted to see the work of the SIU come full circle with consequence management being at the centre of that. It needed to be ensured that there were recoveries to the State for the losses that would be incurred because of corruption. It needed to be ensured that the Presidency led by example on the critical question of consequence management. The Committee wanted successful prosecutions which arrived at logical, legal conclusions as a fundamental means on pushing back on the frontiers of corruption.

The Minister in the Presidency requested the Committee that he be allowed to engage with the Office of the President and be advised on how this matter was going to be dealt with.

The Chairperson stated that the Minister would be the Committee’s first guest when Parliament resumed in February. The Minister had December and January to pull out the reports with the legal unit of the President and engage the President on these matters. There was a need of heightened cooperation on this key aspect of work. The Committee was going to give the Minister time during the recess period to prepare and consolidate on the reporting.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone in attendance to the meeting.

The Chairperson said that the meeting was going to be brief. He provided some background. The Minister had only just returned from West Africa. He had had a discussion with the Minister around the issues that the Committee wanted to raise. The Minister would be addressing the Committee shortly on the issues that it had raised. The Committee had been receiving the reports of the SIU into the Covid corruption following the Presidential proclamation. The Committee was now on update number six on those matters. The Committee had also met with the SIU the previous day. These progress reports that were done had findings, determinations and recommendations because it was investigating in real-time. Yesterday, members raised a particular concern that there was seemingly inaction in the implementation of recommendations about what the SIU found and determined. Some matters were as old as 14 months and there was no movement. Consequence management had not moved. Issues around prosecutions with the NPA, there was no movement. That might be an NPA purview, but the fundamental conclusion was that this was an ongoing investigation that flowed from a proclamation from the President and the reports were handed over to the President. Therefore, the Committee needed to gauge what happened at that point. That was the fundamental issue in this conveyer belt of movement of issues. As indicated to the Minister in correspondence, there was the issue of the Director-General in the Department of Public Works whose disciplinary processes were being handled at the Presidency level. It became important for the Committee to ensure that the investigations of the SIU, and the reports thereof, did not become fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The reports could not be done and then gather dust. For today, the Committee would be focusing on the PPE investigations but generally those were not the only investigations that were done by the SIU at the behest of a Presidential proclamation. He was trying to summarise and capture the salient points as to why this meeting was being held. The Committee had an expectation that the Presidency had to take it into confidence about what happened to the reports. Implementation of recommendations was of particular and fundamental importance. That was where the Committee was. The Chairperson asked the Minister to respond and thereafter the Committee would engage on the issues after. The Chairperson thanked the Minister for being available this evening.

Minister Mondli Gungubele, Minister in the Presidency, greeted all of those in attendance. He had just arrived this morning after a very taxing trip. He had arrived at 7am and rushed to Cabinet. He thought that this matter had been dealt with until the Chairperson engaged him to clarify. The Chairperson had said even if there was nothing to report fully that he ordered the Minister to come to the Committee. When the Chairperson did not give him an option, he thought that he should come. The reports that the Committee was speaking about were usually dealt with by the President’s Office. Whatever the Presidency had to deal with was when it had been referred by the President. A number of times the President would have preferred to refer something to an affected Department. He acknowledged that as the Presidency that maybe it should have taken a proactive step with the team of the President. The Presidency had a duty to communicate and a duty to inform society. The Presidency could plead guilty to waiting and not finding out. The Presidency understood that what the President was dealing with now were preliminary progress reports. At some stage he had engaged with the SIU which said the final report would be available around December. It was December now. The undertaking he made to the Committee was that he be allowed to engage with the Office of the President and be advised on how this matter was going to be dealt with. Once the matter was out of the Office of the President it was under his watch. He would then take it from there and come back to the Chairperson on how this matter would be dealt with. He discussed the issue of Mr Vukela (suspended DPWI DG). He found that Mr Vukela’s issue was under process. He had looked at the basis of the suspension and agreed with it. He felt that the suspension was correct. There was a disagreement on the elements of these processes and Mr Vukela had taken the matter to court. There were a lot of disputes. That matter was in process. It was a matter that was being dealt with. That was the situation about the SIU and Mr Vukela. He pleaded with the Committee, if the Committee could allow him, to engage with the Office of the President on this matter and see how to take it forward.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister for the candid response about where things were. That was the position that the Committee was in at this point. The reason why the Chairperson insisted that the Committee proceed with the meeting was to attach the seriousness of the matter to the matter. It needed to be clarified that the Committee had an expectation that there was movement on these matters. Having heard the Minister’s request, he opened the floor to the members to provide comments and respond.

Ms N Tolashe (ANC) said that this was the first time the Committee was able to sit with the Minister in the Presidency and have this kind of interaction. The Committee had been longing to have it. She appreciated that the Minister found time to come and meet with the Committee. The Minister had been very candid in explaining things. He had made a commitment to make sure that he brought all the expected reports to the Committee. She appreciated that. She found no reason for the Committee to not trust the Minister. She was sure in the next meeting the Committee would be receiving all those reports both in writing and through presentations by the Minister so that the Committee could interact and find the answers.

Mr B Hadebe (ANC) said that the Committee was a bit concerned with the slow pace of implementation of cases that had been finalised. He provided a short summary of the cases that the Committee was dealing with and the progress that had been given to the Committee. In July 2021, the Committee was informed that contracts that were under investigation were more than 2600. Out of that, cases that had been finalised were 1068. The Committee expected that those cases that were finalised had outcomes, findings and sanctions imposed. The matter belonged to the Presidency, and it was responsible for the proclamation. The Presidency should be keen to understand exactly how far the issues in relation to implementation were. There were certain cases where the sanction was that companies had to be blacklisted. Some of those cases had been finalised last year, in November 2020. It was now December 2021, that was 13 months later. The entity responsible for blacklisting those companies was still considering those cases. There was an unwillingness to act swiftly, to indicate to society that this administration did not tolerate maladministration, corruption and theft. The Committee did not want a ‘taxi-rank’ approach. A taxi, despite having passengers, will only leave the taxi rank when it was full. The Committee did not want a situation where the Presidency would wait for the final report to act. Yet, there were findings and cases that had been concluded. If that process could be expedited it would give comfort to the Committee. The Committee was fully cognisant that the Minister started on 6 August but that was the rule of succession. He wanted the Minister to provide a timeframe, whether early next year, when the Presidency could provide a detailed report. Not on the finalised outcome but those cases that were already concluded as early as August and November 2020. How was the Presidency going to ensure that it expedited and put pressure as a Ministry responsible for planning, monitoring and evaluation?

Ms V Mente (EFF) said the matters that the Committee was dealing with and the dissatisfaction it had had to be registered. It had to come out outrightly that there was a laissez-faire attitude at the Presidency when it came to issues of governance and the reports of the President’s Office that it had to finalise. The Minister needed to take cognisance that his office was going to be held accountable if the Committee was not pleased as far as the Presidency was concerned. Who was the person who followed up on every proclamation when it was finalised and reported back to the President? The Committee could not sit and be thankful for the Ministry availing itself after three years. There should be other people who came. There were Deputy Ministers and everyone else who had to come and account. The Ministry’s availability for the Committee needed to be something it did more regularly. She was not thankful that the Minister came because he was supposed to come to Parliament, and it was the first time the Committee was seeing him. The Committee had not been pleased with the Office of the President. The Presidency was not reporting on the progress of cases, as Mr Hadebe had mentioned them. Some of the cases were finalised last year already and this year was almost finished. Consequence management was not being actioned. DG’s that had to be dealt with and were reported to the Office were not being actioned. Their five-year terms were about to end and it was going to be a case of saying ‘their term ended anyway there was nothing much we could do’. That did not give confidence to the public. Who should the Committee call when it wanted these things to be done? The Committee could not wait a year for those things to be done. The Minister requested now that he be given time to go, investigate the matters and report back to the Committee. When would that be? It could not be in March or June of next year.

Mr S Somyo (ANC) said that the Committee should accept the plea of the Minister. It would serve the Committee better for the Minister to be more prepared when he came to it. The Committee Secretariat could collate those matters, which needed to be in the Department’s attention, and communicate with the Minister accordingly, inclusive of those matters that the other members had highlighted. Continuing in that way would serve more purpose than to create a highlight mode. The Minister should respond in detail to all those matters that needed a response. The Minister needed to be allowed that time. When would the Committee receive that kind of engagement and the report?

Mr M Dirks (ANC) said the submission the Minister made was understood and he agreed with it. The Committee needed to support that the Minister needed to go back, then return and provide the Committee with proper feedback. That was in order and the Committee should agree to that. In addition to the feedback that the Committee wanted on the DG of Public Works, he also wanted the Minister to take the Committee and South Africans in confidence on another matter that was close to the Presidency. This was the issue of the former Spokesperson in the Presidency, Ms Khusela Diko. She was put on suspension, or special leave, previously. She had now come back to the Presidency. The Committee received conflicting media reports that she had been implicated again in another PPE matter that the SIU had reported. It was believed that the SIU reported this to the Presidency. The Committee did not know how true that was. The reason he wanted this to be included was because it gave the impression to South Africans that PPE corruption was taking place directly in the Office of the Presidency. That matter needed to be clarified. It was best that the Presidency took the Committee and South Africans into confidence regarding this matter. What was the current situation? Was she back at work? What were the new allegations that the SIU reported that she had received further money from PPE contracts? He wanted the Presidency to take South Africans into confidence to clarify this matter. It seemed as if this was happening in the Presidency, and this needed to be clarified.

The Chairperson handed over to the SIU to provide context and perspective that they may have and then he would hand over to the Minister. Thereafter, the Committee would make a determination on the way forward. He did not think the Committee was against the request the Minister had made.

Adv Andy Mothibi, Head of Unit, SIU, discussed the legislation that regulated the SIU’s business and investigations. The formal investigations of the SIU were kicked off based on a proclamation. There was a particular section in its legislation, section 4(f), which stated that from time to time as directed by the President the SIU would provide progress on the investigations and matters that were pending in the Special Tribunal. With particular reference to the PPE investigations, the SIU had been doing that. When the proclamation was announced the President specifically directed that the SIU would present and submit six weekly reports since the inception of the investigations. The SIU had since submitted six progress reports since the inceptions of the investigations. The SIU was now left with the final report. The Minister indicated, rightfully, that the SIU would be submitting the report in December, specifically on 10 December 2021 which was this Friday. The SIU was on track with. It had been working on the draft report. The SIU would be submitting the report by close of business on Friday. The legislation went further in section 4(g) and stated that upon conclusion of the investigation a final report would be submitted to the President. This was what the Committee sought to understand. What became of the reports once submitted? The Minister indicated that he would return to the Committee to explain what happened to the reports. He assured the Committee that in the progress reports that were submitted, there were reports of matters that had been referred for civil litigation and were being actioned. Recoveries were being made. Preservation orders had been obtained. Recoveries were being ordered by the Special Tribunal. There were matters that were referred for disciplinary action that was where officials were involved in maladministration and corruption. Those matters were referred as and when evidence was picked up by the investigators. When evidence was picked up the SIU referred it to the State institutions, the accounting authorities and accounting officers, so that they could act immediately. There was another outcome where the legislation stated that when the SIU picked up evidence pointing to criminal action, the SIU was by law required to refer it to the NPA. The SIU collaborated with the NPA and made sure that those matters progressed speedily and prosecuted. These were the key outcomes. Others were referrals to other regulatory authorities including administrative referrals that Mr Hadebe mentioned. Like the backlisting. He assured the Committee that the wait for the final report would not be long to reach the President. The SIU worked based on the need to take immediate action against those responsible so that consequence management could be implemented with immediate effect on referrals. Once the SIU submitted the final report, it outlined all those actions that had been taken. At the time of the final report there might be some actions still pending. Then it became important that the State institutions, where the SIU investigated, were aware of the matters that were still pending so that there could be impetus in implementing the SIU referrals. The investigations needed to prove that the SIU delivered value for money in the interest of the public. He appreciated the opportunity to appear before the Committee.

The Chairperson handed over to the Minister to respond to the thinking and outlook of the Committee on the matter. Thereafter, the Committee would make a determination.

Minister Gungubele responded that he heard the Committee. The call was that the Ministry was expected to come back to the Committee to give a report with regards to where things were and provide an update on what Government was doing. The Presidency accepted that responsibility. In this Office a lot of things were done and sometimes things were omitted but not deliberately. He should have been engaging the Office of the President because he had a good relationship with the legal unit of the President. The Presidency would find a way of updating the Committee early next year on all matters. If corruption was being committed and there were investigations, then there was comfort in knowing what was happening about that. He appreciated all of the frustration that the Committee had been going through. He thanked the SIU and Adv Mothibi for the tough job they did and their diligence in carrying out that job. He wished all the members well over the festive season, including Ms Mente.

The Chairperson said that this was the first time that the matter received the kind of attention that it deserved. It was a learning curve in terms of paying attention to issues of this nature. The Committee wanted to see the work of the SIU come full circle with consequence management being at the centre of that. It needed to be ensured that there were recoveries to the State for the losses that would be incurred because of corruption. It needed to be ensured that the Presidency led by example on the critical question of consequence management. The Committee wanted successful prosecutions which arrived at logical, legal conclusions as a fundamental means on pushing back on the frontiers of corruption. If things were open ended, then Government ran the risk of being a tuckshop which Government did not want to do. The Committee placed a very heavily reliance on the work of the SIU and on the AG, as the key enablers of the work that the Committee did. The Committee would continue this matter as it developed an SOP in terms of reporting and in terms of implementation to uphold the expectations that currently characterised the outlook of the Committee on behalf of Parliament. There would be that engagement.

Today was the Committee’s final meeting for the year. The Minister would be the Committee’s first guest when Parliament resumed in February. The Minister had December and January to pull out the reports with the legal unit of the President and engage the President on these matters so that there was reporting. Where there was difficulty in implementation, the Committee had resolved that it needed to call those people in. The Committee intended on setting aside time - which might be about a week - engaging with each entity and the relevant department which was expected to take action. The Committee did not want to run that process devoid of the ownership of where the buck stopped. These reports resided in the Presidency. There was a need of heightened cooperation on this key aspect of work. The Committee was going to give the Minister that time during the recess to prepare and consolidate on the reporting. The Committee would be on the other side doing what it was expected to do of calling in those entities. The Ministry needed to take ownership of the reports in a practical way. They could not be paper reports for noting. They were reports that had key, critical findings which must be acted upon. Beyond that, they needed to be an enabler to change the trajectory of the thinking of how things should be done. Some of the recommendations were about righting the wrongs of due process and things were done. The Committee also had a line of thinking about it. The reports should not reach the Presidency and no action taken. That was non-negotiable. There would be communication between the offices and the first meeting of 2022 would be between the Presidency and the Committee on this matter. He hoped that the members were comfortable with that. He thanked the Minister for his presence in the meeting. It was good that the Minister and the Committee had found a point of convergence and that there was agreement.

Mr Hadebe said that there needed to be more emphasis on matters referred to the NPA for prosecution. That aspect the Committee was not happy about. The NPA did not seem to be coming to the party. He wanted to emphasise that point, the matters that were referred to the NPA for prosecution.

The Chairperson said that the Committee was not happy in most respects about the slow pace of the law enforcement agencies work in bringing matters to prosecution. The Committee also had displeasure with the courts as well. The courts were not helping. The Committee did not want cosmetic prosecutions wherein a company or person was prosecuted ten years from now. Something had to give. The Committee was not saying that the Presidency had to interfere because there was the separation of the three arms of the State. The Committee intended on having a discussion with the Office of the Chief Justice. The Committee was waiting for that process to be finalised so that the new Chief Justice could have an appreciation of the damage the slow pace of prosecutions was doing to the public. The taxpayers were really struggling.

This was the Committee’s last meeting of the year. The Chairperson wished all the guests present well over the festive season. He thanked the AG and SIU for being trusted partners in the work that the Committee had been doing, particularly this year. He addressed the media and said that it had been a long year for everyone. He hoped that the media would find time to rest after a busy year. He thanked the members for the hard work they had put in and the progress that they were making. The Committee was slowly making progress in cleaning house and ensuring the accountability of public accounts was done. The Committee was making very good progress. The Committee was doing the best it could.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee Secretariat for their diligent work. The Committee would schedule the Presidency for the first meeting of 2022 to take this matter forward in a structured way. There would be correspondence about the Committee’s oversight visit to Eskom and PRASA in January. There would be two weeks of Committee work before Parliament resumed. Meetings would be dedicated to the strategic plan, Eskom, PRASA and any other urgent matter that might require the Committee’s attention.  

The meeting was adjourned.  

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