While Pansy Tlakula is fighting the public protector's damning report, the IEC is respecting its proposals – including possible action against her.
In a blow for advocate Pansy Tlakula, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said on Thursday it will take corrective action as recommended by the public protector in her report on Tlakula's handling of a R320-million leasing deal. Public protector Thuli Madonsela said Tlakula had played a “grossly irregular” role in procuring the Riverside Office Park building, in Centurion, for the IEC’s head office.
"The commission is fully committed to adhering to and implementing the remedial actions within the set time frames of the public protector's report," said IEC vice-chairperson Terry Tselane.
This included conducting a forensic audit of the entire lease agreement, which will finally reveal the budget details of the deal that was withheld by Tlakula’s former deputy, Mosotho Moepya, during the investigation.
Madonsela found improper conduct and maladministration on Tlakula’s part, and recommended that the IEC review its agreement with Abland, which was awarded the contract to lease the Riverside building.
Tlakula was accused of having a romantic relationship with Parliament’s finance portfolio committee chairperson Thaba Mufamadi, who owns a 20% stake in Abland, but Mandonsela did not investigate the claim.
Tlakula flouted procurement regulations
The IEC's current chair and former chief electoral officer came out swinging after the report by the public protector last week found Tlakula flouted procurement regulations and held an "unmanaged conflict of interest" as a result of her separate, but still undisclosed, business relationship with one of the businesspersons involved in the deal, Parliament’s finance portfolio chairperson Thaba Mufamadi.
While Tlakula has been adamant she is not in the wrong, even accusing Madonsela of "procedural and substantive irregularities, and errors of law and fact", the IEC has taken a more moderate approach.
"The commissioners will be meeting with national treasury to develop an approach to these issues and to finalise the terms of reference for the important forensic investigation that must take place, after which it would be easier to discuss the specific issues you raise in a public forum," said Young.
The IEC's response stands in stark contrast to Tlakula’s approach.
Tlakula threatened possible legal action against the report in her initial statement, but subsequently said she would wait for Parliament’s processes to run its course before making any further comments.
The IEC, particularly Tselane, has been at pains to answer the media's questions and commit to a clear process in responding to the PR nightmare for the previously blameless electoral body.
Alarm bells raised
With the country's next general elections eight months away, alarms bells have been raised by opposition parties and others that the IEC may be compromised.
Tlakula, a respected figure with a long history of fighting injustice, employed her own lawyers to assist at every stage of the investigation with the public protector, even for "simple administrative tasks" according to the report. It pushed her legal fees up to almost R270 000 at the taxpayers' expense, according to Sunday reports, despite the fact that the IEC already retained attorneys to represent the body at a cost of R109 668.
It is not clear why Tlakula needed separate legal representation. She also engaged the services of a professional public relations company to deal with media queries, while the IEC continued to use its own internal communication resources.
If the commission is serious about complying with the report, Tlakula could be in trouble. One of the first recommendations was that Parliament, with the IEC, considers action against Tlakula for her role in the procurement. The ANC’s chief whip in Parliament, Stone Sizane, has been sympathetic towards Tlakula, telling other parties calling for action to not "prejudge" the matter. But the committee assigned to deal with the report will have to be careful not to undermine the public protector and respect her findings.
Other remedial action recommended by the report includes reviewing the entire lease agreement with Abland, taking action against Moepya, who was condemned in the report for withholding relevant budgets and minutes of meetings and budgets. The public protector also suggests the commission review its supply chain management structures.
The buck on many of the questions may well stop at Moepya's office. He initially referred the questions to the IEC's Tselane, who was handling all communication on the matter for the organisation. But it has since been referred back to him as it involves operational details. The Mail & Guardian is waiting for answers.
Although Tlakula disclosed her stake in Lehotsa to the IEC, she did not disclose that Mufamadi – whose Manaka Property Investments owns a 20% stake in the ownership of its head office – was a fellow Lehotsa director, City Press reported.
Meanwhile, Parliament on Thursday announced it will establish an ad-hoc committee to "consider" the findings by Madonsela relating to the procurement of the IEC's headquarters in Centurion.
"The establishment of the ad-hoc committee will be tabled in the NA [National Assembly] next week, together with a time frame for it to complete its work ... and recommend a course of action," Parliament said in a statement.
"As is the case with other committees of the NA, the ad-hoc committee will comprise proportional representation from political parties represented in the House."
This meant that there will be seven members of the ANC, two of the Democratic Alliance, one of the Congress of the People, one of the Inkatha Freedom Party, and one from smaller parties represented in the Assembly.
By early next week, parties are expected to provide the names of their chosen members to serve on the committee. – Additional reporting by Sapa