Fight brewing between public works and Scopa

2018-11-27 18:40
Thulas Nxesi. (Deaan Vivier/Netwerk24)

Thulas Nxesi. (Deaan Vivier/Netwerk24)

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A fight is brewing between the Ministry of Public Works and Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi accused the watchdog committee of instituting a "highly compromised" process which is part of a "fightback by corrupt syndicates" and the ministry is considering asking the court to review Scopa's investigation.

But the committee is not taking kindly to being threatened with a legal review, and said the department's employees were "in cahoots with external interests" and vowed "to relentlessly pursue these crooks".

The bone of contention is the investigation Scopa has been conducting into the appointment of Cox Mokgoro by the Department of Public Works.

Scopa chairperson Themba Godi said in a statement on Tuesday that the committee cancelled its meeting with the Public Service Commission (PSC), which was set to discuss the PSC's report on Mokgoro. 

Scopa was informed on Monday evening by the chairperson of committees in the National Assembly, Cedric Frolick, that the process Scopa followed in requesting the PSC report on Mokgoro was "flawed, illegal and against parliamentary procedures, and should be stopped immediately". 

Investigation declared 'unprocedural, illegal'

The only time that Scopa can request the PSC to investigate any matter is after it has been granted permission through a resolution of the National Assembly.

Scopa was also informed that legal advice from the parliamentary legal services, which had been requested by the Office of the Speaker of the National Assembly, agreed with this position, Godi said.

Godi said the committee would engage with Frolick on how to take the matter further.

In a statement, Nxesi said Parliament declared the investigation "unprocedural and illegal – and therefore void". 

"While we respect the decision of the Speaker's office to suspend today's planned Scopa briefing, this has disadvantaged the department and myself, as we have still not been afforded an opportunity to respond to highly prejudicial allegations made in the previous Scopa engagement," said Nxesi.

Nxesi said he, his deputy, Jeremy Cronin, and the department's officials at all times made themselves available and supplied comprehensive documentation to Scopa as early as June 2018 to clarify the matters raised. 

'Reputational damage'

"The process became highly compromised when, in a public session of Scopa, the director general of the PSC presented a preliminary report casting unsupported aspersions over the role of Mr Mokgoro and the minister, with wild speculation by members on the possibility of fraud and corruption," said Nxesi. 

"As the chair of the PSC pointed out at the time, this flouted the rules of the PSC, compromised the confidentiality of the process and opened the process to the possibility of judicial review. 

"While I respect the integrity of parliamentary and government institutions and their role in holding the executive and officials to account, I am concerned at the real and unfounded reputational damage to the department, myself as minister, and Mr Mokgoro – a committed professional credited with the improvement of the audit outcomes of public works in recent years."

In the light of the developments, they were considering judicial review, he said.

He labelled the move as having the "hallmarks of a fightback by the corrupt syndicates that operate within public works – what Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan refers to as 'Bell-Pottinger: Phase 2'."

In another statement, Godi said Scopa rejected "with contempt the unprecedented and empty threats" to take the matter on judicial review. 

Public works 'under siege'

"Mr Cronin accused Scopa of irregularities and of tarnishing the image of Mr Thulas Nxesi and controversial Department of Public Works employee Mr Cox Mokgoro. Mr Cronin threatened to take legal action against Scopa for this.

"Scopa will not be threatened or hindered in its work by anyone," said Godi.

"Scopa will not relent in its demand for transparency and accountability for public funds."

He said it was unprecedented that a member of the executive "placed on record" a threat to take Parliament to court for doing its work.

"The Department of Public Works remains a department under siege from corrupt employees working in cahoots with external interests. Scopa will relentlessly pursue these crooks," Godi charged.

Read more on:    themba godi  |  thulas nxesi
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