No conflict of interest in Zille's son's involvement in education project - Angie Motshekga

2018-12-20 13:18
Angie Motshekga. (Nico Gous, Netwerk24)

Angie Motshekga. (Nico Gous, Netwerk24)

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There was no conflict of interest in Western Cape Premier Helen Zille offering assistance to an educational workshop programme involving her son in 2014, says Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

The minister came out in support of Zille following a finding by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on Wednesday that Zille had violated the executive members' ethics code.

ANC member of the Western Cape legislature Cameron Dugmore laid a complaint with the Public Protector in 2017, claiming that Zille had breached the provincial government's code of ethics by influencing officials to allow her son, Paul Maree, access to tablets purchased by the Western Cape Department of Education.

Mkhwebane noted that, while the project benefited many pupils, the premier had "exposed herself to a risk of a conflict of interest between her official responsibilities and her private interests".

'No financial benefit'

But Motshekga disagrees. The minister told News24 on Thursday that she and the national education department had been aware of the project since its inception, and that there was no financial benefit, and consequently no conflict of interest.

"The ethics committee has to be guided by the law and the definition of 'conflict of interest'. If there's no personal benefit, then there can't be a conflict of interest.

READ: Public Protector finds Zille 'violated Constitution' over involvement in son's teaching project

"[The department] gets support from lots of different people in the education sector. Does this mean if such a person is a politician's child there is a 'conflict of interest', when there is no personal benefit?"

News24 reported earlier that Zille claimed Maree had offered to tutor matric pupils at schools in poor areas while he was a mathematics teacher in Khayelitsha in 2014. She says he offered his services and time for free.

The premier claims she followed the necessary procedures in dealing with the matter, so as to avoid a conflict of interest or the perception that she was unduly influencing provincial government staff.

Zille has also rejected Dugmore's claim that the education department purchased 150 tablets to benefit her son's project, saying the tablets were part of a batch of 480 pre-approved devices to be used in "after-school e-Learning programmes". She says the supplier released the 150 tablets early as it had them in stock.

'Happy with the project'

Motshekga told News24 she was happy when Maree started the project because the department was in need of ICT solutions for underprivileged learners.

"We [Motshekga and Zille] were talking about it all the time since 2014/15. I said to Helen, let him [Maree] test it on as many learners as possible so that the lessons we learn from there we can share our experiences with other provinces. We encourage innovation. So, this is something we have been discussing all along – it was helpful for the education sector."

Motshekga said her department interacted with Zille regularly to deal with challenges in the education sector.

"We were completely supportive of this project," Motshekga said, adding that she was "surprised" by the Public Protector's finding.

"There is this perception that we politicians are all thieves. So anything we do is regarded as thuggery. What makes Paul's work different from any other assistance we get from other people? So now, just because he is Zille's child, it becomes a 'criminal' act. Anything we do as politicians is seen as 'criminal'," Motshekga said.

The minister said it didn't matter whether it was an ANC member who laid the complaint.

"It's neither here nor there. It's the Public Protector's responsibility to interpret the law – not the ANC's. That is what I have an issue with."

Zille said she would take the Public Protector's findings on review.

ALSO READ: An insult to the Office of Public Protector - Helen Zille

Read more on:    helen zille  |  angie mo­tshekga  |  cape town  |  education  |  politics
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