Chaos as ANC leaders storm out of Scopa inquiry

The ANC's Marius Fransman and Pierre Uys. (David Harrison, M&G)

The ANC's Marius Fransman and Pierre Uys. (David Harrison, M&G)

What would have been an unprecedented moment to hold politicians to account for wasted public funds quickly degenerated into chaos and pure politics even before the actual inquiry began at the Western Cape legislature on Wednesday morning.

Chairperson of the ANC in the Western Cape Marius Fransman and chief whip of the ANC in the provincial legislature Pierre Uys had not even taken the witness affirmation before storming out of the legislature's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), where they were due to answer for billions of rands spent on consultants under the previous ANC government.

The auditor general revealed in an audit report in January this year that R10.3-billion had been spent on consultants by the Western Cape government over three years, between April 2008 and March 2011, and was the highest of all the provinces.

Of the amount, the Western Cape department of health spent R4.2-billion and the Western Cape department of transport and public works R5-billion.

Fransman was transport and public works MEC until 2008, while Uys was health MEC from 2004 until 2008.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) government blamed the ANC, which was booted out of office in April 2009. The DA claimed that 70% of the money was spent by the ANC before the party was kicked out of office.

Responding to the auditor general, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille wrote that while the report claims to cover the three-year period 2008-09 to 2010-11, it however revealed that 29 of the 31 contracts audited were awarded before May 2009.

"In other words, 97% of the contracts audited were awarded by the previous administration. As these were legally binding they could not be terminated when our administration came into government in May 2009," she wrote.

"This means that most of the findings contained in this report are not applicable to our administration's use of consultants over the last four years," said Zille.

This is what led to the provincial legislature's decision to call in Fransman, now a deputy minister of international relations and cooperative affairs, and Uys to account.

Failure to attend
The provincial Scopa summonsed Uys and Fransman to appear before the committee on Wednesday following their failure to attend a meeting on March 14.

Uys argued on Wednesday that they were prepared to appear before the committee in March but while they were requested to attend the meeting at 9am, the meeting started at 8am and by 8.31am, Scopa took a decision to summons them, while they were waiting outside the venue to attend the meeting.

Uys, as a member of the provincial legislature, was allowed to make a statement to the committee, before he took the oath of affirmation.

In his address, he pointed out a number of administrative flaws in the process that Scopa followed in summonsing to appear before the committee.

One of them was the fact that their letter of summons was signed by the secretary of the legislature on March 27, but the stamp of the sheriff of the court was dated March 8 2014.

"Somebody maybe pre-empted that we must be summonsed; I find it very strange and absolutely wrong."

Uys requested that the meeting be postponed, so that they can be furnished with documents from the departments they used to head and prepare written answers for the committee.

"It was 10 years ago.
I need to get the questions from Scopa in writing, this is my request and I will fully respond to the questions of Scopa.

"I can't sit here, not being an MEC at the moment, and speak to that."

Initially, Scopa chairperson Grant Haskin agreed with Uys saying his request was reasonable and that the committee should compile the questions without delay.

"We are asking them under oath to give evidence that is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"How do we expect them to live up to the oath of affirmation if they haven't had enough time to prepare, they haven't had access to documents for the last seven years?"

The DA MPLs wouldn't hear any of it. And Haskin (ACDP) changed his tune after DA MPL Eugene von Brandis told him "he can't play both sides of the line".

They wanted the meeting to proceed and the duo to give testimony and answer for the expenditure.

The DA MPLs would also not allow Fransman to make any statement or ask questions of clarity, saying he could only speak in the meeting after taking the oath of affirmation.

After several failed attempts to speak, Fransman, Uys and their three legal advisors walked out of the meeting.

Both Uys and Fransman later told journalists the DA was using the legislative authority to victimise those who were no longer in power.

Fransman added that the public finance management act was also clear that when it came to policy positions, it is the political office [that should account] and when it came to administrative and financial matters, it is the accounting officer [a head of department] who accounts.

"We've seen the abuse of a process and the house for a political objective, and that we believe it's a criminal offence. We won't be bullied into any kangaroo political process," he said.

He said they would cooperate with the process, "if the DA could wait a little".

Both Fransman and Uys are in good positions on the ANC candidates' list for the provincial parliament. They are likely to be members there after the May 7 general elections.

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