Parliament not appealing Travelgate ruling
Cape Town - Parliament will hand over documents listing the names of MPs linked to the "Travelgate" travel voucher scandal after deciding not to appeal an order by the Eastern Cape High Court in Grahamstown.
The court ordered in July that Parliament give the Centre for Social Accountability (CSA) access to schedules one and two of the sales of claims agreement concluded in February 2009 between the liquidators of Bathong Travel as seller, and Parliament as purchaser.
"These schedules list amounts owing and names of MPs allegedly owing those amounts," Secretary to Parliament Zingile Dingani told reporters on Monday.
However, Dingani said the individuals named in the schedules were not criminally culpable.
"In many instances members were not even aware that the travel agent has used their names to commit fraud against Parliament."
R12m still owed to Parliament
Of the 89 MPs listed on the schedule, only six had been criminally charged.
Dingani said "in most instances" it would be impossible to recover, through civil claims, the R12m still owed to Parliament.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated in a report that Parliament lost R17.2m in the Travelgate scheme. Some R5m of that was recovered by Parliament.
The cost of the recovery, Dingani said, would in all likelihood, exceed the value of the potential claims.
The sale of claims agreement allowed Parliament to buy, at taxpayers' expense, claims which were being pursued by the liquidators of Bathong against MPs implicated in the fraud.
This occurred despite Parliament being a majority creditor in the liquidation of Bathong.
"By buying the claims, Parliament was able to secure control over the collection of outstanding money and could decide whether to pursue MPs or not," CSA spokesperson Jay Kruuse said.
The court judgment followed a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) request for access to the agreement, which was submitted to Parliament by the CSA in March 2009.
Institutional democracy threatened
After Parliament refused to release the entire agreement, arguing among other things that it would amount to an unreasonable disclosure of MPs’ personal information, the CSA brought an application to court using Paia.
Kruuse said the judgment reinforced the obligations placed upon Parliament and other duty bearers by the Constitution and Paia, and noted that such laws sought to foster transparency and accountability in government and, by implication, within Parliament.
The judge noted the personal life a MP chose to live was of no concern to the state.
"But how they execute their duties as MPs, under what circumstances they claim payment in respect of travel vouchers, and whether or not they obey the rules of Parliament and act in accordance with the code of conduct which society expects from its MPs, all of this is the business of the state.
"The state has the right to know, and through the state, the members of society who have elected the MPs in an open and democratic society [have the right to know]."
According to Kruuse the judge noted that public interest was at stake when institutional democracy was threatened by a culture of "secretive and unresponsive" government.
Any conduct by MPs which was unlawful or irregular threatened institutional democracy, and warranted disclosure in the public interest, he added.