The Sunday Times, its editor and its investigative team were vindicated this week when parliament’s ethics committee laid into axed communications minister Dina Pule over her series of lies to the national assembly, lies that were exposed by the newspaper in a series of probes that laid bare the minister’s actions.
Pule’s continued denial of her relationship with Phosane Mngqibisa, who was paid R6 million to help organise an ICT Indaba in Cape Town, and who travelled extensively with Pule at the state’s – and taxpayers’ – expense, allowed Mngqibisa to profit from his intimate association with the disgraced former minister.
“The central issue in this case was the relationship of Hon Pule with Mr Mngqibisa and how her public office was used to benefit him improperly. She denied in an affidavit that the relationship went beyond “longstanding friendship”. Mr Mngqibisa stated under oath that ‘my private life is private’ and refused to answer questions about the relationship,” said Ben Turok, chairman of parliament’s ethics committee in his address to the national assembly on Tuesday.
But, Turok said, evidence emerged during the hearings that Pule and Mngqibisa had travelled together to several foreign destinations such as Mexico, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and Prague. “They shared road transport and they shared hotel accommodation. The Panel obtained proof that at least one of these trips was paid for by the Department of Communications and Mngqibisa was listed for purposes of that trip as Hon Pule’s ‘spouse’,” Turok said.
“More seriously,” he went on to say, “the Hon Pule seems to have been instrumental in enabling Mngqibisa to advance from being a minor player to a dominant position in the ICT Indaba. He not only gained R6 m for his company Khemano but he steadily positioned himself to become the main player with prospects of further substantial gains. None of this was declared.
“Hon Pule allowed herself to be in a position where her private interests were in direct conflict with the public interest. Hon Pule did not act to prevent this and indeed promoted this undesirable situation,” he said.
Turok also mentioned an alleged plot to assassinate him and the registrar of the committee, Fazela Mahomed, the fact that several officials were subjected to “bullying” in an attempt to get them to reverse their testimony, and collusion between Pule and some senior officials in presenting a false version of her activities.
As a result, he said Pule faced the maximum penalty in terms of the rules of parliament that includes the docking of a month’s salary, a ban on parliamentary privileges and a reprimand in the house.
Speaker Max Sisulu complied, and Pule was asked to stand up to receive the public reprimand. He chose not to address her by the ANC’s given form of ‘comrade’.
“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 … ” Sisulu said.
The opposition, however, is not satisfied. Watty Watson, the Democratic Alliance chief whip, said in a statement Pule “should be suspended, not hugged”.
“It is inexplicable, however, why Dina Pule has not been subjected to a disciplinary process from within the ANC, and accordingly lost her membership and her seat. The manner in which the Chief Whip and numerous ministers displayed support for Dina Pule in the House indicates they intend to only give her a slap on the wrist,” Watson said. “The DA trusts that now that the report has been adopted by Parliament, it will be immediately handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Services (SAPS) for further investigation without delay,” he said.
But the ANC’s chief whip, Stone Sizani, seems to be taking the issue further. He said the ethics committee report would be given the National Prosecuting Authority and the police “for the consideration of matters contained in the report that fall within their mandate”. He said Pule’s transgressions were “of such serious nature that they warrant the kind of penalty she received”.
Sizani said his office had “noted” the calls for the party to expel Pule and that the ANC’s 53rd national conference resolution was clear that ‘ANC members who are found guilty of wrongdoing in other institutions of society should also be subjected to internal disciplinary processes in line with the ANC Code of Conduct.’.
“It is noteworthy that the matter pertaining to the former minister is ongoing, as parliament has now decided to refer the findings to the NPA and the police for investigation and for possible criminal prosecution. Any action by the ANC at this stage will be premature and would preempt the process to be undertaken by the law enforcement agencies,” he said.
The ANC, in a statement issued by spokesman Jackson Mthembu, said the party “acknowledges the gravity of the allegations against Comrade Dina Pule” and would “closely follow the processes to unfold as recommended by the National Assembly including amongst them the referral of the matter to our law enforcement agencies.” Mthembu congratulated the multiparty ethics committee on its work.
And Pule? The MP stood in parliament after being given Sisulu’s no-holds-barred dressing down and said, “I want to say to this House I did the best I could to do my job and if I made a mistake, I want to apologise.”
The “if” in the “if I made a mistake” is telling.
And the Sunday Times? Pule certainly didn’t apologise to the newspaper for accusing it of conducting a “sophisticated smear campaign” against her. Nor for accusing the investigative team of being “handled” by various nefarious entities trying to influence a tender to supply and distribute set-top boxes.
At the time, editor Phylicia Oppelt said , “We find it unfortunate that rather than dealing with the essence of the claims against her, she proceeds to attack the messenger of the stories. We also find it disturbing that the minister would use her office to call an ‘important’ press conference, as she did today, to launch a personal attack on both the Sunday Times and its journalists.”
Oppelt said the stories written by the team were in the public interest with “with no other motivation in mind. If the minister has any evidence to the contrary, we invite her to give this to the newspaper so we can deal with it appropriately”.
Has anyone in parliament or the ANC congratulated the newspaper on unearthing Pule’s various acts? Not yet.