Parliament’s ethics watchdog is rushing to re-table a damning report on the conduct of ANC MP Yolanda Botha before the National Assembly closes at the end of November and the report is buried.
The joint committee on ethics and members’ interests found parliamentary committee chair Botha guilty of not disclosing her interests and of misleading the committee about their value.
On Wednesday the House took less than a minute to endorse ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga’s motion that the report be sent back to the committee.
While ethics committee co-chairman Ben Turok (ANC) scrambled to seek legal advice and Democratic Alliance MPs on the committee were spoiling for a fight, it emerged that an agreement brokered among chief whips from the major parties had resulted in Motshekga’s motion passing unopposed.
The ethics committee’s efforts could now come to naught because the end of the parliamentary year would result in the report lapsing and an entirely new investigation into the MP’s conduct — including hearings — would have to begin next year.
The report, unanimously adopted by the ANC-dominated ethics committee in August, found that the “benefit accrued from an improper or generally corrupt relationship” between Botha and Trifecta Investment Holdings.
Botha awarded Trifecta tenders worth R50-million when she was head of the social development department in the Northern Cape and she and her family received shares, employment and renovations to property from Trifecta.
The report noted that Botha “lied under oath, submitted false and misleading evidence and showed no sign of remorse”.
The Mail & Guardian uncovered the allegations against Botha in February and when it also emerged that Botha had not declared to Parliament Trifecta’s kickbacks, the ethics committee took action.
The committee slapped the maximum possible penalty on Botha — a reprimand and the forfeiture 30 days’ wages — but the report must be adopted by Parliament to take effect.
The report also recommended that the case be referred to several other public bodies, including the South African Revenue Service, the police, and the Public Service Commission, for further investigation.
But Motshekga reportedly told the chief whip’s forum, a body comprising the chief whips from all the major parties, that while the ANC was fully behind the report, it had reservations about the further recommendations.
The chief whips then acted in concert to have the report sent back to the committee.
DA MP Anchen Dreyer, who sat on the panel which heard the Botha matter, said: “If the ANC had technical concerns it should have acted immediately, not months later.”
Motshekga and his DA counterpart, Watty Watson, were not available for comment.
In a further twist Botha’s legal representative, fellow MP Jonas Sibanyoni, is understood to have sent a letter to Motshekga and speaker Max Sisulu threatening to take legal action if the report is adopted.
Sibanyoni said he was challenging the committee’s process and the charges and wanted an entirely new hearing.
In 2002 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela also attempted to avoid a public reprimand from then-speaker Frene Ginwala for non-disclosure of her interests by taking the matter to court. The Cape High Court rejected her application.
Botha declined to comment.
The ethics committee met urgently on Thursday afternoon to approve a new report, minus the further recommendations, which Turok plans to resubmit immediately.
“We are determined to place this report before the house. We want the matter finalised this year,” he said.
Asked whether he had any guarantees that Motshekga’s lobbying had not sunk the report, Turok said: “There are never any guarantees, but the chief whip has given his commitment that the ANC backs the recommendations and penalties. It will be hard to backtrack now.”
He pointed out: “Many of us feel that Botha is making the biggest mistake of her life if she takes this to court. Who knows what else might then come out?”
— Additional reporting by Andisiwe Makinana
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