The Committee met with the Director General of the Department of Home Affairs to discuss the allegations made by him during a Portfolio Committee hearing on 4 March. It was noted that in the Sunday Times of 9 March, the Director General was quoted as saying that members of the Committee were in contact with suspended Home Affairs officials. This suggested that there was collusion between people accused of corruption and members of the Portfolio Committee.
Another matter was the criticism by the Director General of a Portfolio Committee trip to Germany sponsored by a company that would be tendering for the smart card project of the Department. The Director General explained that the tendering process could be compromised. If that company were to be awarded the tender, the companies that lost the tender would then question the nature of that trip.
The Director General was asked to provide proof of his allegations of collusion. He confirmed that he had said what was written in the Sunday Times. He explained that what had been stated by a committee member as a passing remark outside of the meeting bore an uncanny resemblance to a statement by one of the suspended officials. The linkage between these had led to his allegation. In addition, at the same meeting, there was a handwritten note written by a committee member, perhaps even the Chairperson, which had landed in the hands of the Department. The note was derisive of the Department’s efforts to prosecute suspended officials, specifically the Gauteng East case.
The Committee concluded that no evidence had been provided to proof the allegations made by the Director General, and therefore the matters raised by him would be referred to the Speaker’s Office. The Committee set aside 6 May to deal with the matter again where a Committee report to the Speaker would be tabled.
The Committee then reviewed the public submissions on Clauses 11 to 14 of the Refugees Amendment Bill.
The Chairperson stated that issue of the appearance of Home Affairs provincial managers before this Committee had been resolved. They were scheduled to appear on 6 and 7 May There was however a letter from the Director General (DG) sent on 17 April. The letter stated that provincial managers would not appear before the Portfolio Committee. He pointed out that the Committee merely wanted to look into the issues that affect the various provinces. It was still unclear why the DG refused to allow the provincial managers to appear.
Mr K Morwamoche (ANC) added that the Committee should not try to entertain the letter from the DG. The decision to invite the managers still stood. It was not the Committee's duty to seek permission from the DG when doing parliamentary oversight work.
Ms M Maunye (ANC) noted that during their Committee strategic workshop it was said that the invitation to provincial managers would ask them to stick to issues pertaining to their provinces. Therefore the Committee needed to meet with the provincial managers.
The Chairperson noted that the Committee’s standing had been made clear, and asked the DG to comment on the matter.
Mr Mavuso Msimang (Director General: Department of Home Affairs) replied that he should not have written the letter, as the invitations were sent to provincial managers. Of the meeting that had been scheduled for 6 May, he had read about it in the media.
The Chairperson reiterated that the Committee was not going to entertain the issue
Ms Maunye noted that the purpose of this meeting was to focus on the proceedings of the 4 March meeting regarding the remarks made by the Director General. The Committee needed to focus on the comments that had been made by the DG, especially the comments pertaining to the German trip. The DG should elaborate on the facts, because the Speaker had given the go-ahead for the trip. The second issue was the suspension of departmental officials. Allegations had been made that the Committee was colluding with suspended officials. The Committee was very upset that such allegations were made, and the DG should clear up the matter. The Committee and Department needed to start on a clean slate and build a better working relationship.
Mr Morwamoche added that the DG should prove his case and substantiate the allegations about the German trip and the suspended officials.
Ms H Webber (DA) asked whether the press should be allowed to be present at this sensitive stage and suggested that a caucus meeting be held.
Mr Morwamoche noted that when the DG had made the allegations, he had done so in front of the media. The media should therefore be present to watch him prove his case.
Mr P Mathebe (ANC) added that the Committee needed to discuss issues raised by the DG, and he should clarify his comments
Mr F Beukman (ANC) said that there were two issues that needed to be discussed. The first was the oversight role of Parliament and the relationship between the Committee and the Department. There needed to be ways of ensuring good relations, and ensuring good governance. Therefore the aim of the meeting was to resolve the issues in order to move forward.
The Chairperson noted that the Sunday Times of 9 March quoted the DG as saying that members of the Committee were in contact with suspended Home Affairs officials. This meant that there was collusion taking place between people accused of corruption and members of the Portfolio Committee. The DG should therefore provide the information to the Portfolio Committee. The DG had been invited to give evidence to the Portfolio Committee and the Committee would not deal with hearsay.
Mr Msimang replied that he was called to appear to substantiate the allegations of collusion between members of the Committee and suspended officials. On the German trip, the Committee was invited by a German company to tour its facilities. The trip however had the potential to compromise the integrity of the Department as there was a smart card tender with the same company. The Department was not saying that the Portfolio Committee should ask permission when performing such visits. However when the Portfolio Committee goes to a company that will be a potential tenderer, then the tendering process could be compromised.
The Chairperson asked the DG to comment on when he had appeared before the Committee and discussed the the smart card matter. If so, then the briefing would have advantaged the Committee when the invitation was made, however there was no such briefing. The DG should also comment on whether he understood the purpose of the visit, which was to deal with the e-passport and not the smart card. If these issues were not dealt with now in a timely fashion then there would be a perception that the Committee was being lobbied and was a corrupt Committee. The DG should state whether he had checked the rules of government on sponsorship matters, and also comment on whether the Department had provided an open tender for the smart card and when was it given.
Mr Morwamoche said that clarity should also be provided on who served on the tender board.
Ms Maunye asked the DG to comment on whether Committee members and officials were on the same par when it came to tendering.
Mr Msimang replied that the company was a smart card company and this was common knowledge. It was known that the Department was preparing to issue a tender for smart cards. This had made the Department very uncomfortable. It was also exasperated by the request from the Committee Chairperson to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Government Printing Works for a report regarding an overseas trip he had made. The CEO felt that the report should go via the proper channels, and decided to send the Committee a draft report. On the question regarding who is on the tender committee, the issue was not relevant. What was relevant was the perception that was given. It had been shown that Members of Parliament have had conflicting interests in the past. Therefore a perception still remained a perception.
Mr Morwamoche said that he was not happy with the answer provided. When the DG spoke to the matter he did not say it was a perception. The DG should therefore apologise.
Mr Msimang stressed that the visit clearly had a potential to compromise the tendering process, and that there was no difference between potential and perception
Mr Skhosana said that the DG should come clear with the Committee, and must not come play with big words. He must prove the facts
The Chairperson pointed out that the issue of smart cards came through in 1996. The Committee had been grappling with the matter for a very long time. The DG had made a very serious allegation in that he questioned the ethics of the Committee. These serious allegations needed to be substantiated. At no point did any Committee members approach the DG to ask him to consider a company to tender for a smart card.
Mr Morwamoche said that it was the Portfolio Committee who had made a decision that any official, including the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Government Printers, who had made an overseas trip, should provide a written report. Departments usually spends a lot of money was spent on overseas trips.
The Chairperson added that the Committee’s trip was disclosed and it was not an oversight trip. It was merely an invitation and Parliament had sanctioned the trip. The Portfolio Committee had not been briefed about the smart card.
Mr Msimang replied that he only spoke about the CEO of Government Printers. The Committee had a right to ask for all reports, there should be no argument about whether the Committee had a right to department reports, but the reports should be submitted thought the proper channels. On the German trip, if a company paid the costs of members to travel abroad, then there would be a perception that the tender process was compromised; in that the losing bidders would also question the nature of the trip.
Mr Skhosana said that he did not understand what the DG was trying to say. If officials of the Department had the same deal and were allowed to travel, then surely the Committee had a right to travel oversees as well.
The Chairperson asked the DG to share with the Committee what the Department was doing about the smart card process, and he should also comment on who was sponsoring some of the recent trips that the DG was undertaking. The Committee appealed to the DG to respect the rules of Parliament and respect the institution. The DG should withdraw the comments so that the Committee could move ahead with more pressing matters. At the end of the day the DG was accountable to the Committee. A lot of money had been spent on the smart cards and if the DG could not provide any substantial information, then the DG should withdraw his comments.
Mr Msimang replied that he was at a loss for words in trying to address the matter. He said that the visit had the potential to compromise the process and stressed that he did not say that members accepted money. The statement regarding the trip could not be changed. The smart card matter would be reported on in due time and has been reported to the Committee. On the overseas trips, there was a visit to Japan, where the Department was seeking potential tenders for the production of passports and it was important that the companies be looked at. There was also a mission to Portugal, where a company invited 72 people to visit the government printing works. All costs were handled by the department. It should also be noted that the smart card process had been presented to Cabinet and they gave the go ahead for tenders.
The Chairperson noted that the DG had previously been working for many years for the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), on a DHA project called “Who am I Online”. At the time of the launch of the tender, it was standing at R1.5 billion. When the DG took over the tender, it was worth R2,5 billion. It was also discovered that SITA officials were now working for the company that won the tender. The Committee had written letters to the DG requesting information on Who Am I Online. Clarity should be provided on what the project was about and when it would appear before the Portfolio Committee.
Mr Msimang replied that he had all the respect for parliamentary rules, and that the Who Am I Online was a tender for the online verification of persons. The tender was awarded before his time. Who Am I Online was meant for 2010, as the Department would need to verify who moved in and out of the country. Therefore a system of managing people who came into the country was needed. The project was much broader than 2010 as it would also be linked to the online verification of citizens.
He did not know how the people who used to work for SITA or Home Affairs affected the issues that were being discussed. He doubted that he tendering conditions should be changed on a tender which was won before some people who used to work for SITA, then left SITA to go and join the tendering company. He added that the Department had to go to National Treasury early enough to ensure that the necessary funds were available for 2010 preparations.
Mr Morwamoche asked the DG to comment on who had evaluated the tender process
Ms Maunye suggested that the Committee should shelve questions on this project and deal with more pressing matters.
The Chairperson felt that it was clear that issue of ethics did not apply to the DG. The privileges that the DG received during his overseas trips, were the exact same privileges members of the Committee had received. The German company only arranged for transportation to the conference venue, which was just a short walk away. The Committee had no interest in the tendering process of the Department.
Mr Msimang stated that he did not know what to say. The issues that were put forward related a conflict of interest. On the tender process, he was uncertain whether the tender was R 2,5 billion, but the information would be provided to the Committee. The tender was probably evaluated by the previous DG and he was not involved in the tendering process. The Committee was free to investigate. On the German trip, he said that if the host company had merely provided transportation and not the hotel fees, then he had received the wrong information.
Mr Skhosana stated that if one had to look at the whole process, it would be a bit difficult and problematic to attach names to allegations. In the newspaper article, members as individuals had been singled out. Members should be given a chance to clear their names. The matter needed to be clarified once and for all.
The Chairperson said that the matter needed to be closed. In summary, the DG stood by his decision that the Committee had an interest in influencing the smart card process. The Department would therefore be unaccountable to the Committee when it came to the smart card. The Committee however would like to declare openly that they had no influence on or interest in any tendering process regarding smart cards. What the Committee would like to see was the smooth running of the smart cards, and the stamping out of corruption.
Mr Msimang replied that the Chairperson had made a summary full of inaccuracies. He said that not once did he accuse any of the Committee members of having influenced the smart card process.
The Chairperson said that since Cabinet had given the go-ahead for the tendering process of the smart cards, then the Committee requested a step by step analysis of the smart card process from the tendering process.
Mr Msimang referred to the matter of collusion between members of the Committee and suspended officials. In preparing for the hearing, there was an attempt to access written or audio records that were prepared by the Committee during the course of doing its business. What was made available were the records prepared by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG). He said that the record of the meeting of 4 March 2008 contained some serious inaccuracies. If this was the official record then it would be somewhat unfortunate. If there was some other record available, then the Department should be given access to it. The PMG audio recording also became very inaudible in some places, and did not capture the essence of the deliberations during the day. It was hoped that the problem might have been just that day, and not a continuous one.
Mr Msimang said that he had prepared a statement which he read during the 4 March meeting . He then described what this statement contained: The Portfolio Committee insisted on speaking on matters which were still under review. This had the potential of compromising departmental negotiations. A case in point was the suspension of senior officials. It was worrying when a scribbled note appeared which stated that the Department had no chance of winning its case against the suspended officials. The author of the note was none other than the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee. The note was then given to Deputy Minister Malusi Gigaba who then passed it on to the Minister who in turn passed it on to the Department. [End of the first part of the statement].
Mr Msimang said that it was important to determine who told the Chairperson that the Department had no chance of winning its case. It could not have come from the Department or any of the Department's attorneys. When a Department hears that they cannot win a case, then it makes matters very uncomfortable.
Mr Msimang then returned to describing his statement: During the 4 March presentation it was also said that one of the suspended departmental officials had been openly boasting that he knew what the Department was saying in Parliament about them. He was also carrying a Parliamentary letterhead, which was aimed at intimidating Departmental staff. [End of the second part of the statement].
Mr Msimang said that it would be appreciated if the Committee allowed the Department time to complete internal processes before forming judgments.
Mr Msimang then returned to describing his statement: One of the members responded that what had been brought forward was hearsay, and therefore could not be used as evidence. The Department may not have recorded the conversations, nor was there a photograph of the Parliamentary letterhead document in question. Mr Morwamoche however had noted during a previous meeting that if there was an audit of tenders awarded after the suspension of officials then serious discrepancies would be uncovered. Mr Morwamoche suggested that the Department suspended the officials so that it could carry on with the corruption. It was also discovered that one of the suspended officials in his defence used the very same argument. It was due to the connection, which lead to suspicion of collusion between members and suspended officials. [End of the third part of the statement].
Mr Msimang said that, concerning the status of the suspended officials, the hearings were still on the way, and the dates had already been set down. There were other developments taking place, and it would be premature to engage in those discussions at this time.
The Chairperson asked whether there was any written information about what the suspended officials had alleged to have said during their defence.
Mr Msimang replied that information would be made available in due course.
The Chairperson asked whether it was the active linkage that was therefore seen as colluding.
Mr Msimang replied that it was merely an example of people actively defending themselves and the position the individual was taking was saying exactly what the Member of the Committee had said. The plea was in writing.
The Chairperson said that what was being brought forward by the DG was not evidence.
Mr Msimang pleaded with them that the matter was a serious matter, and it should interest the Committee.
The Chairperson asked the DG to confirm whether or not he said what was written in the newspaper. Did he believe that what was recorded of the meeting was not recorded correctly.
Mr Msimang replied that he was not accountable for things that were stated in the Sunday Times. The basis of the evidence was what was said by Mr Morwamoche, and everything else mentioned at the Committee meeting. The Committee should really look into the matter, as the matter was too much of a coincidence.
The Chairperson said that what was brought forward was merely an allegation and was not direct evidence. The DG clearly stated that the PMG records were inaccurate and the PMG audio recordings were inaccurate. The newspapers also quoted the DG as stating that members were actively in contact with the suspended officials.
Mr Msimang reiterated that there was a very direct linkage between the position taken by someone who has been accused of corruption and the position held by a member of the Committee.
The Chairperson noted that the PMG records were not Parliament records. PMG was an independent body which dealt with how parliamentary procedures were recorded, and had no bearing to Parliament. What Parliament relied on was parliamentary information. Therefore if the DG had any evidence, then he should provide it so that the matter could be taken forward.
The next matter was that of the note. It was believed that the DG was in possession of the note and it was unclear how the note linked to the issue of colluding.
Mr Msimang noted that the only source of information was the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, and if there was any other record with more accurate information, then it should be made available. If there was a better audio recording of the meeting then it should also be made available. On the matter of the note, the note would be made available. The Chairperson however should state whether or not he wrote the note, and if so, how could a chairperson of the Portfolio Committee say such a thing? If such a note was written, it was up to the Chairperson to clear it up.
Mr Skhosana asked if there was any other info other than the note. If there was no other evidence, then there was no way of trying to find out whether what was written or said was true.
The Chairperson said that what was needed from the DG was whether he stood by what he said in the newspaper. The issue of the note came into the whole matter. He also said that he was not going to confirm or deny whether or not he wrote the note.
Mr Msimang replied that he was going to rely on the records that existed.
The Chairperson asked the DG whether he had records which showed members of the Committee colluding. If the DG provided the Committee with evidence of collusion, then an investigation would be presented. The DG should therefore provide the information showing collusion.
Mr Msimang replied that regarding the quote in the newspaper, he would need to get legal advice on how to respond to the matter. The Chairperson should state as a person of integrity whether or not he wrote the note.
The Chairperson said that the legal advisor present was provided by Parliament. Parliament was provided with a legal service and if the Department wanted legal advice then it was up to them to get legal advice. The Committee was asking about the record in the newspapers and the DG should confirm whether or not he said what was written.
The Sunday Times article was read to Mr Msimang by the committee researcher.
Mr Msimang confirmed that he had said what was written.
The Chairperson said that now that the DG had agreed with what was written, then he should provide evidence of collusion before the Committee.
Mr Msimang replied that the evidence was in the quotation.
Ms Maunye asked the Chairperson clarify whether there was a note.
The Chairperson asked where in the world the note was and evidence of the note should be provided.
Members took a 10 minute break for Committee Deliberations
After reconvening, the Chairperson said that the Committee had said on many occasions that the Department's case in Gauteng East was a lost case. However nothing had been achieved in this meeting and all the matters that had been raised by the DG would be referred to the Speaker’s Office. No evidence was provided that members were colluding, and the Committee set aside 6 May to deal with the issues that had been raised by the DG. During that meeting, their report to the Speaker would be tabled.
Refugees Amendment Bill: Deliberations continued
The Committee continued reviewing the summary of submissions on each clause of the Bill.
Adv Deon Erasmus, Chief Director: Legal Services, DHA, noted that one had to link Section 8G together with Section 8E as they both referred to appointment. Section 8E spoke about membership and appointment, whereas Section 8G spoke to the appointment of the individual subject to Section 8E. Therefore Section 8G was subject to Section 8E. In terms of Section 8J it was still unclear from where the appointment of the CFO came. The Refugee Appeals Authority would be an independent body which would continue to make use of the administrative personnel of the Department.
Mr R Sikakane (ANC) added that in Section 8J, in terms of the accountability of the Refugee Appeals Authority, they usually table all their reports to the DG.
Ms Maunye asked for an elaboration of the independence of the Refugee Appeals Authority
Mr Erasmus replied that the independence referred to the non interference of the decision making process of the authority. Once a decision had been made, then the decision would be final. However when it came to the administrative functions, the functions would be run by the Department.
Mr Skhosana said that it would be important for the Department to consult Parliament before they create refugee reception offices. Clarity should also be provided whether the refugee reception offices should be treated as a separate entity.
Mr Erasmus replied that before one could open an office within the public service, there were certain criteria and regulations to which one had to adhere. Therefore the opening of offices could not be highlighted in the Refugees Amendment Bill as it was already highlighted in other pieces of legislation.
The Chairperson noted that biometrics was a serious matter and should be flagged. The Department should return at a future meeting with thorough information on the matter.
Ms Weber said that there needed to be provision made for unaccompanied refugee children who came into the country and the Department of Social Development needed to be brought in.
Mr Sikakane replied that there had been various consultation processes on how the clause should read. Therefore the regulations would indicate what type of procedures needed to be taken when dealing with unaccompanied minors and people with mental disability. The Department did not emphasise that the Department of Social Development was the one who should responsible. The Children’s Act had provisions already when it came to dealing with unaccompanied minors, and the Department of Social Development took responsibility for anything that fell within the Children’s Act. The same would apply to people with mental disabilities. The Department of Health was responsible for caring for mentally disturbed individuals, and the mental care act spelt out the provisions that needed to be followed.
Mr Morwamoche said that the Department of Social Development was mandated to look after the children of South Africa and not children from other countries.
Mr Skhosana noted that the Department of Home Affairs was working with the Department of Social Development in dealing with unaccompanied minors. The Department of Social Development went as far as assisting the child with the process of obtaining a permit and organizing a foster care grant.
Ms Maunye asked the Department to comment on the progress on clearing up the matter, as the word ‘must’ still caused confusion.
Mr Erasmus replied that one could not legislate on behalf of another department. The Department had been in consultations with other departments and the suggestion from these departments was to assist the children as much as possible, given the existing legislation.
Members then debated certain grammatical elements of the clause. The Chairperson noted that members should form study groups and focus on the various issues that have been raised. Members were the ones who would have the final say and they would look into areas that required fundamental changes. The Committee set aside Thursday 08 May for members to deliberate clause by clause on the Bill.
The meeting was adjourned
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