/ 4 April 2023

G4S playing hide-and-seek with parliament – committee chair

G4S is the world’s biggest private security company. (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Parliament will summon multinational security company G4S to appear before its portfolio committee on justice, whose chair accused the company of playing hide-and-seek after it requested “privilege” on Monday for protection under the Privileges and Immunities Act.

A meeting in parliament on Tuesday — which included Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and national police commissioner Fannie Masemola — decided that G4S would be subpoenaed to lead the first presentation into the escape of convicted murderer and rapist Thabo Bester.

Bester remains a fugitive after he escaped in May 2022 from the maximum security Mangaung Correctional Services in the Free State, which is privately operated by G4S Correctional Services South Africa. 

On Monday G4S wrote a letter to the committee requesting a “formal meeting, under parliamentary privilege” and asked that it be scheduled after the Easter recess “to allow G4S sufficient time to prepare”. 

Ben Winks, who is representing G4S, told committee members the company was contractually bound and thus limited in what it could disclose to the parliament body.

“In order to enable [G4S] to fully and properly engage with the [committee] it would need to be afforded the same protections which ordinarily would apply to those attending parliamentary committees,” reads the letter.

G4S maintains parliament has not officially invited it to appear, but the chairperson of the committee, Gratitude Magwanishe, told portfolio members that the company was invited last week but decided to only respond on Monday afternoon. 

Committee member Glynnis Breytenbach said G4S’s reluctance to address the committee suggested the company was hiding something. She said the process of the hearing would be prejudiced if G4S did not present ahead of the department of correctional services, Lamola, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services and the police. 

Outside parliament, Magwanishe told the Mail & Guardian that G4S was “playing hide-and-seek, using the legal process to buy time”. He said the invitation parliament had sent to G4S last week was official but that the company specifically wanted to be subpoenaed.

Magwanishe said the G4S was “not ready” on Tuesday to make a representation to the committee, but a G4S spokesperson told the M&G that it was.

Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will, through the secretary of parliament, summon G4S to address the committee meeting “soon”, Magwanishe said.