Members' ethics bill to be published
Cape Town - The executive members' ethics amendment bill will be published for public comment soon, but the long-awaited review of the ministerial handbook is still underway, the government said on Thursday.
The Members' Ethics Act, which dates from 1998, governs the conduct of the president, deputy president, ministers, deputy ministers, premiers and MECs.
Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi said the government would feed the public comment on the amendment bill into its work on the ministerial handbook, which guides executive spending.
He said the review was taking a long time because of the complexity of issues concerned.
"When you develop a control instrument you can't afford to deal with it piecemeal. You have to look at the totality of the environment where that instrument is to be applied," he told a briefing on Cabinet's regular fortnightly meeting on Wednesday.
"The ministerial handbook has jurisdiction and relates to so many activities that we have to look at. At this moment we are consolidating the views that we have received."
Once comment on the bill had been received, there would be "a tacit alignment" between that and aspects of the handbook with which it overlapped.
The government promised a review of the handbook last year before the FIFA Soccer World Cup kicked off.
The issue of members' ethics and benefits has plagued the Zuma administration.
In 2009, the government faced an outcry over the money spent on luxury ministerial cars.
Next, President Jacob Zuma himself landed in trouble when it emerged that he missed the deadline to declare his financial interests by more than eight months.
In April last year, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that Zuma had breached the executive code of ethics and that there was "a systematic pattern of non-compliance" by a significant number of Cabinet members in declaring their interests correctly.
Madonsela's report pointed to shortcomings in the ethics' act and called for penalties for Cabinet members who committed breaches, ranging from a reprimand to a maximum fine of a month's salary and a 15-day suspension from the National Assembly.
The legislature missed Madonsela's call to report back to her by July last year on the steps it had taken and Baloyi on Thursday declined to say whether the amendment bill had taken into account her recommendations.
He promised that "the public will not be waiting longer" for an update on work on the ministerial handbook.
The issue came to the fore again this month when it was reported that Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka had spent nearly R1m on private hotel stays and travel tickets for himself, staff and family in breach of the ministerial handbook.
Parliament’s joint standing committee on ethics and members’ interests last week referred Shiceka’s alleged misuse of state funds to the public protector for investigation.
It marks the first time since the end of apartheid that such a step has been taken against a minister.
Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi refused to answer questions on the Shiceka case, saying the matter was not discussed at Cabinet.