A court may need to rule whether disgraced Steinhoff chief executive Markus Jooste can testify before Parliament while he is the subject of a criminal investigation.
This emerged from a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance on Tuesday, where the issue of a subpoena against Jooste was discussed. The committee on Tuesday resolved to adopt a resolution to subpoena Jooste, the first step in a process to compel him to appear before the committee.
Following the last Parliamentary hearing into Steinhoff in March, MPs already resolved to subpoena Jooste after he failed to appear to give evidence on matters related to embattled retailer Steinhoff.
But the fact that he is the subject of an investigation by South Africa’s priority crime investigating unit the Hawks has complicated matters.
On Tuesday the committee’s chairperson Yunus Carrim said a court may have to weigh Jooste’s right to a fair defence during a possible trial with Parliament’s right to subpoena someone to give evidence.
”It is likely that they [Jooste’s lawyers] will take the matter to court,” said Carrim, adding that the committee recognises Jooste’s right to a fair trail.
Parliamentary legal adviser advocate Frank Jenkins explained that a resolution to subpoena Jooste needs to be taken by Parliament’s committee before the process of issuing the subpoena can go ahead. The Speaker of Parliament has to give her concurrence to the resolution. A sheriff of the court will have to deliver the summons.
Jenkins noted that Jooste’s whereabouts are unknown, and details such as the time and place for the delivery of the summons need to be finalised.
“Jooste did not represent an organ of state so the questioning of him must focus on the Parliamentary mandate – what Parliament should do in terms of its oversight mandate and legislative mandate to prevent such a financial collapse,” said Jenkins.
Essentially Jooste will be asked if he is aware of any lapses by Parliament that need to be fixed. “This committee cannot try him or find him guilty of anything,” he said.
Responding to a question from DA MP David Maynier about whether this would not confine the committee, Jenkins said that value could still come from Jooste’s inputs. “I do not think there is anything constraining the committee … that said there is a fine line of things he [Jooste] can say.”
ANC MP Thandi Tobias said that Jooste’s lawyers should not compromise Parliament’s role by requiring the committee to provide questions before the hearing in August, once Parliament resumes from recess. — Fin 24