‘Parliament has no right to act against Ellen Tshabalala’

2014-11-03 15:01

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Embattled SABC chairperson Ellen Tshabalala’s lawyer has asked the Western Cape High Court to rule that Parliament was conducting a disciplinary inquiry against her and had no right to do so.

Norman Arendse today told the court that Parliament’s portfolio committee on communication failed to indicate the legal basis on which it was acting against Tshabalala for allegedly misrepresenting her academic qualifications.

But, he said, since the committee believed it had the power under the country’s broadcasting legislation to recommend to the National Assembly that she be suspended and potentially dismissed, it was running a disciplinary inquiry.

“We grapple with the chairperson [of the committee] saying this is a parliamentary process, not a hearing,” he argued.

Arendse said if the court were to agree with him that in fact his client was facing a disciplinary hearing, she had legal rights, including that of a presumption of innocence.

He added that it was therefore “astonishing” that committee chairperson Joyce Moloi-Moropa said the onus was on Tshabalala to produce copies of the degrees she claimed to hold.

Denzil Potgieter, for Parliament, argued that Arendse was mistaken in arguing the inquiry amounted to a disciplinary hearing, and that it was an ordinary administrative process.

It was one, he added, that had left the ordinary man in the street wondering why Tshabalala did not simply produce proof of her university qualifications and lay the matter to rest.

He said that to characterise it, as Arendse sought to do, as a disciplinary inquiry would “impose the nature of an adversarial inquiry, which this is not”, as that would give the committee the powers to impose disciplinary sanctions.

The committee could only make a finding, and it was then up to the National Assembly to make a recommendation to the president.

Potgieter argued that the principles of legal fairness still applied, regardless of the nature of the inquiry, and that therefore Tshabalala’s argument was not made in good faith.

“The dispute was simply conjured up by the applicant to prevent the inquiry from being held on 23 October, 2014,” he added.

Judge Elizabeth Baartman reserved judgment.

Tshabalala has been locked in a stand-off with MPs for months after it was reported in July that she had misrepresented her qualifications.

She stated on her CV that she had a BCom degree from the University of South Africa (Unisa) and a postgraduate degree in labour relations. Unisa has since stated that, according to its records, she had neither of these qualifications.

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