Why opposition parties want Pansy Tlakula to go

2014-04-18 11:59

The Electoral Court should instruct Parliament to set up a committee that will determine whether embattled Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Pansy Tlakula should be removed from her position for misconduct related to the R320 million lease scandal.

This is the relief being sought by five political parties that have lodged court action against Tlakula on the basis of damning findings by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and a forensic probe by PwC, which found Tlakula partly responsible for the scandal.

The five parties – Cope, ACDP, UDM, EFF and Agang – lodged the court action yesterday and have asked the court to have Tlakula removed before the May 7 polls. But it is unclear when the matter will be heard.

Two weeks ago the parties gave Tlakula an ultimatum to resign within a week or face legal action aimed at removing her.

City Press has received a copy of the 41-page affidavit in which the parties contend that Tlakula’s continued involvement in the planning and execution of the elections “will seriously harm the credibility of the commission and, by extension, the public’s confidence in the outcome of the elections”.

Of the eight parties that initially threatened to take legal action, three – Azapo, the UCDP and the IFP – are not named as applicants in the matter.

The five parties want Tlakula to be removed for failing to disclose to the IEC her business relationship with ANC MP and Parliament’s finance portfolio committee chairperson Thaba Mufamadi as co-directors of Lehotsa Investments, which owns 20% of Abland, the company which was awarded the tender to lease the commission’s new offices in Centurion, Gauteng.

The PwC forensic investigation into the tender also found that Tlakula and her former office manager, Stephen Lantry, should be held responsible for the grossly irregular manner in which the tender was awarded.

The court action comes in the wake of another legal battle concerning the lease in which Khwela City, the company that was identified by the PwC probe as the one which should have been awarded the tender, has filed a law suit against the IEC, claiming R80 million in lost revenue because of losing the tender to Abland on dubious grounds.

The parties contend that, according to the Constitution, a member of the commission may only be removed if they are found to have committed misconduct or “incapacity of incompetence” by a committee set up by the National Assembly.

The president may only consider the removal of a member of the commission if the electoral court recommends a member’s removal to the National Assembly and instructs it to have the matter discussed by a Parliamentary committee.

The parties argue that Tlakula was too close to the tender and benefited from it because she “countermanded the commission’s original tender award, and before it was rescinded, invited potential bidders to submit proposals in a new procurement process without authorisation by the commission to do so”.

They argue that Tlakula’s conduct amounted to “improper conduct and constituted maladministration”.

Madonsela and the PwC had also found that the procurement process was “grossly irregular”.

In the affidavit deposed by UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, they argue that despite a glaring conflict of interest, Tlakula was “closely involved in the initiation of the procurement process, as well as the evaluation and adjudication of the bids for the procurement of the building in her capacity as the (then) CEO and chairperson of the executive committee”.

The affidavit also points out that Tlakula has never denied being visited by Mufamadi at the IEC’s previous offices where she introduced him to staff members as her business partner.

The parties are unhappy that Mufamadi is a candidate for the ANC in next month’s elections and argue that his involvement with Tlakula in business will affect her objectivity when adjudicating on electoral matters.

“We submit that Tlakula’s conduct has resulted in a reasonable perception that she has failed to exercise her duties in a manner that is impartial and independent. Tlakula has been found in two credible and independent reports to have conducted herself in a manner which flouted the applicable legislative and policy framework in relation to procurement of goods and services by a public entity, with results that favoured Mufamadi,” said the parties in the affidavit.

The parties argue that Tlakula’s explanation that she did not disclose her business relationship as a conflict of interest because she would have only needed to do so if she benefited “financially” does not “ameliorate” concerns regarding her duties.

They argue that her refusal to temporarily step down from her position until after the elections continues to “harm the credibility and integrity of the commission”.

They said the independence of the IEC was essential to foster public confidence in the work of the commission and that Tlakula’s continued involvement with the elections was not good for democracy.

The parties have asked the electoral court to dispense with the matter as “expeditiously as possible” since the elections are less than three weeks away.

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