/ 30 June 2009

No evidence for Shaik parole review, says minister

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says that without ”compelling evidence” she has no intention of reviewing fraud convict Schabir Shaik’s medical parole.

Briefing the media at Parliament on Tuesday, ahead of debate on her department’s budget vote, she said there was no evidence to warrant a review of the decision on the matter by her predecessor, Ngconde Balfour.

Shaik, a former financial adviser to then deputy president Jacob Zuma, was found guilty in 2005 of fraud and corruption and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was controversially released in March this year on medical parole, on the grounds he was terminally ill.

Mapisa-Nqakula on Tuesday told journalists she had received a number of questions on the matter since she assumed office last month.

”Just to indicate that I have no intentions to review the minister’s [Balfour’s] decision … I do believe that the minister must have taken into consideration a whole lot of issues before he could actually reach that kind of decision.

”And, for now, there are no indications, and there is no evidence which has come to the fore, which would make me take a decision to review. So for now, I am not reviewing, nor am I reviewing any other decision with relation to parole that has been taken by the minister,” she said.

Speaking later during the debate, Mapisa-Nqakula told MPs that if she was provided with compelling evidence in the Shaik matter she would consider reviewing his parole.

”I wouldn’t want to find myself in a position where I have to review a decision of my predecessor. If you provide me with evidence, compelling evidence, which says to me review, I will review.

”But when there are no compelling reasons provided to the minister, it becomes difficult for the minister to review a [prior] decision.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said she had also discussed the matter with Judge Siraj Desai, in his capacity as Parole Review Board head, and ”there hasn’t been any advice given that the minister should review”.

Speaking earlier in the House, she noted that Section 79 of the Correctional Services Act — in terms of which a determination can be made to release an inmate on medical grounds — had been ”the subject of some controversy for the past year”.

It was limited to an offender who was diagnosed as being in the final phase of a terminal disease.

”I have requested the Correctional Supervision and Parole Review Board, through its chairperson Judge Desai, to review the application of this section and to make proposals to me with regard to medical parole in a much broader sense.

”This task will include the setting of guidelines for the application of the legislation as it stands in order to ensure a degree of consistency.

”For instance, it may well be advisable to appoint medical professionals to advise correctional supervision and the Parole Review Board in these matters,” she said. — Sapa