Pansy Tlakula erred, but it doesn’t warrant her removal

2014-06-04 15:01

Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Pansy Tlakula believes that the “mistake” she made in the awarding of a R320 million lease to a business partner cannot be used as grounds for her removal, her lawyers told the Electoral Court today.

Tlakula’s lawyer Daniel Berger also told the court that rules governing the conduct of commissioners in the IEC do not apply to Tlakula as the “misconduct” she allegedly committed occurred while she was chief electoral officer of the commission, not a commissioner.

Berger argued that the application by five opposition parties to have Tlakula removed would only have applied if she had committed the alleged misconduct while she was a commissioner.

He told the court Tlakula had proved herself fit to hold office and that her “impartiality, integrity and independence” were not being questioned as shown in her “smooth” management of the general elections last month.

Berger repeatedly argued that Tlakula had committed a mistake by not ensuring that she instituted an open tender process rather than a closed one.

This mistake, said Berger, was normal. Other government officials commit them from time to time and it is deemed “irregular expenditure” by the Auditor-General.

Berger argued that Tlakula should not face any calls for her removal because she had declared the “irregular expenditure” to the Auditor-General.

He also said there was evidence to show that the IEC never embarked on an open tender process for lease agreements before and that Tlakula had enquired why this was the case before embarking in a new search for office accommodation.

“This was not the first time the tender prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act were not observed. The IEC has 264 offices around the country and not once, in any of those agreements, were tender prescripts observed, therefore this is not negligence on her part,” said Berger.

Judge Lotter Wepener agreed with Berger’s submission that if the Electoral Court found Tlakula had committed misconduct, but was of the view that this did not warrant her removal from office, the court should not make any recommendations for her removal to the National Assembly.

The political parties have asked the Electoral Court to investigate Tlakula and recommend to Parliament that she be removed.

“But if the court is satisfied that this misconduct is not sufficient grounds for her to be removed, the court should not make any recommendation to the National Assembly,” said Berger – and Wepener agreed.

Two separate probes by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and the Treasury have found that Tlakula had irregularly awarded the R320 million lease contract to a company in which she and ANC MP Thaba Mufamadi had a stake.

Tlakula contends that at the time of the signing of the lease she had no obligation to disclose any “conflict of interest” of her business “association” with Mufamadi. This was because she had no financial stake in Lehotsa Holdings – a company in which she and Mufamadi were co-directors – which owns 20% of Abland, the company that was awarded the controversial R320 million lease deal.

The hearing continues.

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