Cape Town – Tensions ran high on Wednesday among members of the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources, over news that the legislature did not have funds for an inquiry into allegations of state capture in the department of mineral resources.
Parliamentary legal services support staff member Fatima Ebrahim told the committee that there was no funding to commence with the inquiry.
However, the committee could agree that they would write to the office of the Chair of Chairs, Cedrick Frolick, for clarity on the issue.
The Chair of Chairs is a position allowed for in the National Assembly‘s Rule 14, and which delegates responsibilities to House and committee chairs.
Call individuals to give evidence
In 2017, former minister .
Earlier during the briefing, mineral resources director general Thabo Mokoena told the committee that Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe was willing to appear before the committee to give an update on Tegeta‘s business rescue process and other pressing matters.
“As the accounting officer, these things must come to me. This process has never seen us approached. The minister must not be implicated in something that is the responsibility of the accounting officer,” said Mokoena.
Ebrahim said the committee was free to call individuals initially invited to give evidence, regardless of whether they were currently in government.
“There is nothing stopping the committee from calling the current executive authority and accounting officer in the department to come before the committee to come and account regarding the expenditure and management at the portfolio,” Ebrahim said.
Asked by the committee why funding could not be provided and who had said funding was unavailable, Ebrahim said requests for funding were stopped at the office of the Chair of Chairs.
Committee member for the African National Congress (ANC) Motswaledi Matlala said there was no need to seek funding for a parallel inquiry if the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, chaired by Constitutional Court deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, was still pending.
‘We are not running away‘
“We are not running away from the issue of an inquiry. I would suggest that organisations hand over their submissions to Justice Zondo.
“We have heard that this process could take two or three years. We don’t know how many people we need to call. It might be two or three hundred,” said Matlala.
Committee member for the Democratic Alliance, Hendrick Schmidt, was incredulous at the news that Parliament could not finance the inquiry, and said accepting this was akin to a cover-up.
“It might not be most helpful to call the minister when others have to be answerable to our inquiry. It is also quite disturbing to see that funding simply can’t be granted for this work. We are not fooled by what is going on here,” said Schmidt.
A visibly upset Matlala slammed Schmidt, accusing him of scaremongering using state capture. He said the timing of the portfolio committee’s planned inquiry, as well as that of Zondo’s commission of inquiry and the national elections next year, would not allow for a smooth process for MPs.
“We are likely to finish this process after Zondo completes his inquiry. Our mandate is for five years. It won’t work, and I am advised that you cannot call someone who is no longer in the executive to account to an inquiry,” said Matlala.
Portfolio committee chairman Sahlulele Luzipo maintained that the committee had a right to invite individuals who were once ministers to account, and that the committee did not have the right to close the matter of its own volition.
‘None of us came out of a tree‘
“None of us came out of a tree and became an MP.
“Just because we come from different parties, [it] does not mean we must forget that we are all compelled to work in the common interests of South Africans,” said Luzipo.
Schmidt insisted: “This is an important inquiry and there [must] a budget for it, as well as an opportunity for witnesses to consult with their legal advisers.”
A vexed Matlala countered: “There is no money for this. Parliament does not have the money for this. Let us just stop talking about budget. There are other issues that we need to discuss besides funding and budget.”
Ebrahim told the committee that when considering a request for clarity on finances, it would be “more sensible” to request a day-to-day costing, rather than “one rigid budget”, as the day-to-day costs of the exercise were liable to change, as in the Eskom inquiry.
Lizupo said the committee would seek to send a letter to the House Chair for clarity on the inquiry budget.
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