Pule found guilty of breaching code of conduct

Axed communications minister Dina Pule. (Gallo)

Axed communications minister Dina Pule. (Gallo)

On Wednesday, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Ethics and Members Interests found Pule guilty of breaching the code of conduct for Members of Parliament and will be reprimanded by the speaker of the National Assembly during a sitting of the House, fined an equivalent of 30 days salary, suspend her privileges for 15 days and be excluded from any parliamentary debates or committees during that period.

The committee would have given her more severe penalties but said it is limited by the rules of Parliament.

Last month, President Jacob Zuma dismissed Pule, who had been dogged by controversy for months over allegations of funnelling contracts and government resources to her boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa during the controversial Information and Communication Technology Indaba.

Co-chairperson of the ethics committee Lemias Mashil told journalists the allegations against Pule related to the nondisclosure of the financial interests of her companion or spouse Mngqibisa, who benefited from various privileges during his association with Pule including gaining financial material and business benefits.

"Pule did not declare her association with Mngqibisa as she was obligated to do in term of the code of conduct," said Mashile.

Pule was also accused of receiving Christian Louboutin shoes as a gift from Mngqibisa, which she failed to disclose as required. The panel couldn't find evidence that Mngqibisa bought the Louboutins for Pule and she was found not guilty on that charge.

Pule has repeatedly denied that Mngqibisa was her companion but confirmed that she has a long-standing friendship with him.

'Permanent companion'
"As a result of lengthy and detailed investigations, the panel found that Mr Mngqibisa was the de facto permanent companion or spouse to Pule," found a seven-member panel which was appointed by the ethics committee to investigate the matter.

"Through that relationship, he was able to obtain government funding for overseas trips and participate in official meetings despite having no formal department role in respect thereof.

"He was further able to obtain financial benefits for himself and his company Khemano as a result of his relationship with Pule," found the panel.

It also found that Pule’s disclosure and declarations for the respective years were incomplete. The investigation looked at a period of four years, from 2009, when Pule became an MP and a deputy minister in the department of communications.

The panel said Pule wilfully misled them and that several officials of the department may have committed perjury in their evidence and colluded with her.

The committee has recommended that the South African Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority investigate the breach of the Powers and Privileges Act of Parliament, which lays down very severe penalties for lying.

The committee began investigating whether Pule breached a code of conduct for MPs, following allegations in the media and complaints by certain MPs.

The code of conduct for MPs prescribes that MPs must disclose to the registrar of the ethics committee particulars of all their "registrable" interests.

The code further requires the registrar to record details of all financial interest of an MP’s spouse, dependent child or permanent companion to the extent that the member is aware of those financial interests.

ANC veteran Ben Turok, who co-chairs the ethics committee, said they thought the penalties should be more severe but were limited by the code, which is under review.

Turok revealed that public funds spent on Mngqibisa’s travels and hotel accommodation ran into thousands but it was up to the department to decide what to do about the money.

"There’s a bigger amount of money involved, money paid to Khemano as a result of Khemano being a company led by Mngqibisa, which became a partner in the ICT indaba.

“Khemano was paid R6-million by the ICT Indaba and Mngqibisa himself gave evidence to the effect that he had received R600 000 as a kind of salary,” said Turok.

He said because of the kind of influence that Mngqibisa was able to exercise as a result of his association with Pule, the matter went beyond the ICT Indaba and perhaps into other terrains which might have to be looked at.

"The period involved is about four years and the association and travels go back that period. We investigated the activities over the period."

'Extremely difficult'
Turok, who has investigated a number of cases, said this was an "extremely difficult" case as a file dealing with one of the trips was lost in the department of communications.
"Officials came and told us that in evidence."

He said the officials were very reticent in indicating just how these matters are handled. In the department of communications, there doesn’t seem to be total clarity on how the companions of ministers record their trips and how this is managed.

According to a detailed report that the ethics committee tabled to Parliament, Tsakane Mahlaule who was Pule’s personal assistant from when she was deputy minister in the presidency, submitted an affidavit detailing overseas trips by Pule and Mngqibisa and how they shared accommodation.

The report said Mngqibisa refused to respond to Mahlaule’s affidavit stating that “these are private matters”. Pule did not refute the substance of Mahlaule’s testimony, states the report.

Turok said these actions were criminal in nature and the perjury of some officials, which is a criminal offence, would be handed to the authorities to investigate.

He said although their investigation was primarily focusing on declarations in terms of the code of conduct but as they were proceeding, it became clear they had to account to other legislations, particularly the Ministerial Ethics Act, the Powers and Privileges Act as well as the Constitution for that matter.

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