Is Parliament’s punishment of Pule enough?

Axed communications minister Dina Pule cut a lonely figure as National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu rebuked her publicly in Parliament on Tuesday.

She responded by offering a qualified apology to Parliament. "Honourable speaker, thank you very much for the opportunity. I want to say in this House that I gave the best I could do to do my job; and that if in the course of me doing my job, if I made a mistake I am sorry, I apologise," said Pule.

The rebuke and "apology" lasted about five minutes altogether. It might have seemed like a long and humiliating five minutes for Pule, but was that enough?

While Parliament meted out its maximum penalty on Pule, the sanction might not necessarily meet the crime.

Parliament's joint committee for ethics and members' interests recommended the maximum penalty allowed in the joint rules of Parliament: a fine of 30 days' salary and a suspension of privileges and her right to a seat in Parliament, debates or committee for a period of 15 days and a reprimand by the House.

Pule was also instructed to submit full details of the incomplete declaration for the respective years.

The ethics committee also recommended that the presidency consider measures to address the relationship between the communications department and other entities; that the Public Service Commission investigate the possible misconduct of certain officials in the department; that the report on Pule be referred to the South African Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for possible breaches of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act; a speedy revision of the code of conduct and the penalties for transgression be increased.

'Extremely serious'
Sisulu also came down heavily on Pule in his rebuke: "Ms Pule, the charges you have been found guilty of by this House are extremely serious. As a public representative, we are constantly aware that the people of South Africa look to Parliament and its members to display the highest ethical values and standards in what they say and how they conduct themselves.

"A great amount of trust has been placed in us as MPs to chart the course that will lead to a better life for our people. That we do by protecting our national assets and by ensuring in an open and transparent manner that these assets are used only in the public interest and not for private gain.

"Your breach of the code of conduct has gravely undermined the people's trust and brought this House and its members into disrepute … " said Sisulu.

When all is said and done, Pule still keeps her R889 383 (per annum) seat in Parliament where she is now an ordinary MP for the ruling ANC.

She will lose her privileges for 15 days, and a month's salary. But will Parliament refer her matter to the law enforcement agencies as proposed by the ethics committee?

It was interesting to observe that the ANC didn't protect Pule in this regard, the same way it had done previously.

In 2007, MPs implicated in the Travelgate scam were rebuked from the podium by the then speaker, Baleka Mbete. But Mbete said she didn't know how to punish them, asking their parties to deal with them. This was despite the clearly spelt sanctions on how to deal with MPs in contempt of Parliament. Many of those MPs are still in their seats.

'Generally corrupt relationship'
In August 2011, the ethics committee disciplined a senior ANC MP, Yolanda Botha, who failed to disclose her interests and later lied about their value.

The committee also found that the benefits Botha received "accrued from an improper or generally corrupt relationship" with her benefactor, property group Trifecta Investment Holdings and handed her the maximum penalty – a reprimand and a fine of 30 days' salary.

Botha disregarded tender procedures while she was head of social development in the Northern Cape, and signed lease agreements that benefited a company called Trifecta Investment Holdings. In return, Trifecta apparently made renovations worth about R1.2-million to her house.

While the ethics committee initially proposed that aspects of Botha's conduct be referred to the police, the Public Service Commission and the South African Revenue Service, then ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga interfered and forced the committee to change its recommendations. The matter could no longer be referred to the law enforcement agency in the end.

It seems as though the ANC has changed its approach this time around as both Luthuli House and the ANC in Parliament have welcomed the sanctions against Pule especially the referral of her case to the law enforcement agencies.

"The ANC acknowledges the gravity of the allegations against comrade Dina Pule. Consequently, the ANC will closely follow the processes to unfold as recommended by the National Assembly including among them the referral of the matter to our law enforcement agencies," said ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.

Referred to the NPA
The ANC's newly-appointed chief whip Stone Sizani said the transgressions committed by the former minister were of such serious a nature that they warranted the kind of penalty she received.

"We also welcome Parliament's decision to refer the ethics committee report to the NPA and the police for the consideration of matters contained in the report that fall within their mandate," said Sizani.

But Pule might face the law with or without Parliament referring the matter to the police.

Last month, the director of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat, told the Democratic Alliance (DA) that the crime unit was indeed investigating allegations of corruption against the former minister.

Dramat wrote to the party confirming that the case opened by the DA's spokesperson on communications, Marian Shinn, was being transferred to the Serious Economic Offences Unit in Pretoria for investigation.

In April, Shinn laid charges against Pule, her boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa, and SABC executives, chief financial officer Gugu Duda and group chief executive Lulama Mokhobo.

Meanwhile, Botha, who is originally from the Northern Cape, is on a R50 000 bail. She appeared before the Kimberley Magistrate's Court in November for corruption charges after a DA MP laid charges against her in Cape Town. – Sapa


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