/ 25 April 2018

Parliament legal resources stretched as Zwane inquiry looms

New Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
Mosebenzi Zwane, The chairperson of parliament's portfolio committee for transport, will be indicted for the dairy farm scandal this week

There are currently more than 40 committees in Parliament and five state capture inquiries are about to be established. But Parliament has only nine legal advisers who can attend to administrative duties involved in these inquiries.

Parliament’s mineral resources committee is preparing for an inquiry into allegations of state capture in the national department during Mosebenzi Zwane’s tenure. However, the inquiry could face delays because of the availability of legal resources.

Fatima Ebrahim, a legal adviser in Parliament, met with the mineral resources committee on Wednesday where the draft terms of references for a state capture inquiry was discussed.

The draft terms of reference was put before the committee in March, but were yet to be adopted. The chairperson of the committee, Sahlulele Luzipo, told Ebrahim the terms of reference will be ratified after a programme of timelines and potential witnesses is drawn up.

But Ebrahim explained that resources are tight when it comes to legal services in Parliament.

“There are 9 legal advisers, more than 40 committees and five state capture inquiries,” Ebrahim told the mineral resources committee.

“Everyone thinks their committee is more important, and they tell me I have to attend their committee meeting over another committee meeting,” she said. “In this role we are expected to be a jack-of-all-trades.”

MPs asked Ebrahim on Wednesday if she would be the evidence leader for the inquiry. She did not give a direct answer, instead pointing out that unlike Parliament’s inquiry into state capture at Eskom, the mineral resources inquiry would have to rely on the House’s legal services.

At the Eskom inquiry, Ebrahim explained, evidence leader Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara was not a member of Parliament’s legal advisers. But in the Zwane inquiry, Ebrahim will have to do administration, advise the committee, and balance the workload with expectations from other committees.

She later told journalists that she would be “assisting” as evidence leader.

The case against Zwane

Former mineral resources minister Zwane has been a focal point of state capture allegations involving the Vrede dairy project in the Free State and the sale of Optimum mine from Glencore to the Gupta-linked business Tegeta.

According to the draft terms of reference for the inquiry, Zwane has already been confirmed as a witness to testify.

The draft terms of reference say that the inquiry will focus on:

  • Zwane’s role in facilitating the sale of Glencore assets
  • Any alleged breach of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) which led to “fruitless and wasteful expenditure relating to travel arrangements made by the DMR for Hon. Zwane”
  • Zwane’s alleged breach of section 96 of the Constitution and section 2 of the Executive Members Act due to conflicts of interests
  • DMR’s handling of the Mining Rehabilitation Funds and any breach of legislation involving the administration of the fund
  • If there was any external influences that led to DMR officials being dismissed

The inquiry cannot make criminal findings against Zwane or any witness who may testify, but it can take the matter to the Hawks or any other law enforcement for further investigation.

It remains unclear when the terms of reference will be adopted, but Ebrahim and Luzipo are set to meet later today to discuss when the the programme will be submitted. After that, the committee will decide on adopting the terms of reference.