Yengeni escapes public rebuke

2003-03-04 14:13

Cape Town - The ANC has used its majority to force through its view on how the national assembly should deal with former party chief whip Tony Yengeni, saving the disgraced MP the public embarrassment of making a statement to the House.

In another indication of strained relations between the ANC whippery and national assembly speaker Dr Frene Ginwala, the party on Tuesday rejected her proposal on how to deal with Yengeni who admitted in court that he had misled parliament.

The ANC wants a special mutli-party committee - in which it has a majority based on proportional representation - to be established. Yengeni would be afforded the opportunity to address the committee either in person, in writing, or through a representative and it would then report back to the national assembly.

ANC members said a precedent had been set when a special committee was set up to deal with claims that Minerals and Energy Minister Penuell Maduna had misled the House.

Opposition parties opposed this on Tuesday, favouring Ginwala's proposal that Yengeni should be asked to make a public statement to the House in the first instance.

Azapo MP Pandelani Nefolovhodwe noted that while the Maduna committee had investigated whether the minister had misled the House, Yengeni had in fact admitted in court that he had lied to parliament.

Facing allegations of corruption, Yengeni on March 28, 2002, made a special statement to the National Assembly where he claimed he had "legitimately purchased" a luxury 4x4 vehicle.

However, Yengeni has since pleaded guilty to fraud and admitted he received a 47 percent discount on the vehicle from the head of a company involved in the arms deal. He also acknowledged that his misrepresentation was made with the intent to defraud parliament.

He will be sentenced later this month.

At a meeting of Tuesday's National Assembly rules committee, opposition MPs clashed with their ANC counterparts over how to deal with a member who misled Parliament.

Opposition parliamentarians also used the opportunity to criticise the ANC for not taken action against Yengeni by forcing him to resign. The party has deferred any decision on Yengeni's political fate until his sentencing.

DA Chief Whip Douglas Gibson noted that Ginwala herself, in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday, had said Yengeni should resign for lying to parliament.

MPs from Azapo, the UCDP, ACDP, DA, NNP and IFP, stressed that parliament's integrity needed to be upheld and that the assembly should be seen to be taking strong action against Yengeni.

ANC MPs, while agreeing it was a serious matter which needed to be dealt with quickly, argued that a proper process had to be followed. The committee's proceedings would be open to the public and the media.

"Whether Tony Yengeni will appear at the National Assembly or not, will be a product of that committee," ANC MP Mluleki George said.

Ginwala told MPs: "Since Mr Yengeni made the statement to the House, and to the public through the House, he should be given the opportunity to speak on the issue in the House."

"The House is the one he should be asked to speak to. If he does not come, the House can decide what it wants to do."

It was her personal view that by excluding the public in the first instance, "we are going the wrong way".

In a related matter, parliament's ethics committee will meet on Wednesday to resume its inquiry into whether Yengeni failed to disclose the discount in the register of members' interests.

Yengeni has been summoned to appear before it.

Last week it emerged that Yengeni could face nothing stronger than censure for misleading the national assembly, since its rules do not provide for stricter sanctions.

A draft resolution of the National Assembly, which was circulated to political parties but which has since been shelved, stated merely that "the House pronounces its strongest disapproval of the honourable Yengeni's conduct, and censures him accordingly".