Parliament is considering the legal merits of a request by the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (MGCIJ) to give the public access to a hearing into alleged ethics violations by a senior ANC member of Parliament.
Yolanda Botha, who chairs the social development portfolio committee, must explain why she did not disclose benefits that she received from a company she awarded R50-million in tenders to when she was head of the Northern Cape social development department between 2006 and 2009.
The Mail & Guardian reported in February that property leasing company Trifecta allocated Botha’s family a 10% stake in the company while she was a provincial official, and also renovated Botha’s Kimberley home for at least R500 000 after she moved to Parliament.
At the time of the M&G report, Botha had not declared these interests to Parliament.
The Joint Committee of Ethics and Members Interests announced in March that, in light of the seriousness of the allegations against Botha, it would investigate.
But the committee’s rules state that hearings into members’ conduct should be held in camera, with a summary of the hearing and its findings released to the public afterwards.
The MGCIJ’s lawyers pointed out the unconstitutionality of this rule to the ethics committee this week, arguing that it ran counter to the principles of open justice, responsiveness and accountability which permeate the Constitution.
The committee’s behind-closed-doors rule also conflicts with the public’s right to receive information on matters of public interest which, in this case, concerns the conduct of a public representative, the lawyers argued.
The hearing has been tentatively scheduled to take place on June 22.
This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.