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Officials avoid Scopa grilling

2010-03-04 19:21

Nelspruit - Two top officials in Mpumalanga's government went AWOL when they were supposed to appear before the select committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Thursday.

Mpumalanga's MEC for culture, sport and recreation, Vusi Shongwe, and his head of department, Sindi Mjwara, were nowhere to be seen for a grilling by Scopa chairperson Fish Mahlalela, who had ordered the department to appear before the committee.

Instead, officials from the department improvised a last-minute delegation to face Mahlalela.

“What are you guys doing here? We never invited any of you. We don't even know who you are," said Mahlalela.

"Our invitation was strictly for the HOD to come explain herself and the MEC to be here when she does so,” he added.

The officials, who appeared to be at a loss of words, caucused among themselves before admitting that they were not supposed to be at the Scopa meeting.

“We don't have a mandate to be here. Someone from Scopa called to remind us that we are supposed to appear but the HOD is in Pretoria and she wasn't aware that there was such a meeting,” said the department's manager of cultural affairs, Mafika Lubisi.

Lubisi also apologised on behalf of Shongwe, saying the MEC was still at a media briefing at the Mbombela Stadium.

Mahlalela lost his temper and send them to get both Mjwara and Shongwe to appear before the committee before the end of the lunch hour.

“This committee is not a playground. Go get the MEC and the HOD. It's not our problem that she is in Pretoria. Her office acknowledged receipt of our invitation a month ago,” he said, producing a copy of the signed receipt of invitation.

Dismiss officials

Mafika and his entourage left the building.

An hour later they returned to apologise on behalf of their bosses.

“The HOD still can't make it because she is on study leave. She said she will call the MEC to give me the authority to answer questions on behalf of the department,” said Mafika.

He said the MEC was "not easy to trace" because there was no cellphone reception where he was, and that he had sent Shongwe's bodyguard to give him a message.

After more to and fro between Mahlalela and Mafika, committee member and deputy chief whip in the provincial legislature Thandi Shongwe asked Mahlalela to dismiss the officials until their bosses' return.

“It is obvious that the HOD is running away from the committee. Even if the MEC was here, he would do nothing because she is the accounting officer of the department, she is the one who has to answer before the committee,” she said.

Mahlalela passed a motion that the sitting be postponed until further notice.

He added that he had invited the MEC so he could get a "clear picture" of how his department operated.