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06 Mar 2003 08:22
Almost two years ago, then ANC Chief Whip Tony Yengeni stood defiant before his peers in the National Assembly and protested his innocence, but on Wednesday he quit Parliament in disgrace.
It was left to National Assembly Speaker Dr Frene Ginwala to formally announce to the House that she had received a letter from Yengeni stating: “I forthwith resign from Parliament.”
The news was met with ironic applause and a few “hear hears” from a handful of opposition MPs. Yengeni’s political future also lies in the balance, with the ANC leadership reviewing his membership of the party’s national executive committee and his presence on a special Eastern Cape task team.
Yengeni himself would not comment on Wednesday and later switched off his cellphone.
Ginwala told the House that in light of the resignation, “I think this motion needs to be reconsidered”.
She was referring to a controversial ANC-sponsored motion, which the party had earlier said it would still move in the Assembly calling for a special multi-party committee to investigate Yengeni’s misleading of the House, despite the MP’s resignation.
However, after consulting opposition political parties, the ANC agreed to withdraw it.
ANC Chief Whip Nathi Nhleko told MPs that despite making a statement to the House on March 28, 2001, protesting his innocence, Yengeni had admitted guilt in court in February.
He had unlawfully and with intent to defraud, falsely and to the prejudice of Parliament, failed to disclose a 47% discount on a luxury 4x4 vehicle, as well as other misrepresentations.
Trying to deflect criticism of the party’s perceived lack of action, Nhleko said the ANC was fully committed to the principles and practice of transparent and accountable governance, as well as upholding Parliament’s integrity.
Yengeni’s action were viewed in a serious light and he had done the honourable thing by resigning his seat, Nhleko said.
Parliament should adopt a motion noting Yengeni’s resignation, and censuring him for deliberately misleading the House with the intention of defrauding Parliament.
“Why is it that the ANC’s first reaction is to close ranks behind the corrupt and the crooks?
“You underestimate the anger of ordinary people about corruption in our country in general, and about the Yengeni matter in particular.”
The New National Party’s Johann Durand said there was a parliamentary convention worldwide that MPs should do the honourable thing and resign in such cases.
“In doing this the member protects the integrity of this house and also the political organisation to which he or she belongs.”
The IFP, ACDP, UDM, UCDP, and AEB also supported Yengeni’s resignation. In her reaction, PAC MP Patricia de Lille, who was the first to blow the whistle in Parliament about alleged corruption in the arms deal, told MPs: “I never regretted the day I stood up in Parliament in September 1991 to call for a judicial commission of inquiry…”
De Lille said she had been vindicated. The lesson government had to learn from the Yengeni saga was “that no majority could suppress the truth”.
Ginwala, who earlier in the week had urged Yengeni to resign, and clashed with ANC MPs on how best to deal with the issue, had the last word.
“I do want to draw attention to the fact that an important issue about the integrity of Parliament has arisen through this particular case. “What remains to be done, we need to consider—independently of party political positions—how Parliament should deal with cases when members deliberately mislead the House.
“I hope that we will return to that and deal with this as a united Parliament.”
Meanwhile, the ANC national office, which two years ago stood by Yengeni and claimed he had been a victim of a witch-hunt, changed tack on Thursday and welcomed his resignation as the correct decision. Yengeni’s decision to resign came the day that ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe was quoted in the Sowetan newspaper as saying Yengeni should do the honourable thing and
Motlanthe also dismissed any suggestion that Yengeni would be deployed to work for the party in another position. If Yengeni is sentenced to more than a year in prison without an option of a fine, he would have been obliged in any event to quit
Parliament in terms of the Constitution.
Senior ANC sources told Sapa that the NEC had made a decision that Yengeni should quit Parliament, but it had merely been a question of timing. - Sapa
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