Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa wants the National Assembly to withdraw or rescind a report by the portfolio committee of environmental affairs that she should fire the board of the South African Weather Service over alleged fruitless and wasteful expenses worth R2 million.
In a letter to Speaker Baleka Mbete last week, Molewa said the committee was encroaching on her territory as the executive member in charge of the weather services and she was prepared to take the fight all the way to court if her request for intervention did not yield the expected results.
“Any attempt to elevate the disputed resolution to the order paper of the National Assembly for decision will leave me, as executive authority of the Weather Service, with no other option than to seek legal redress,” she said.
But those close to the committee have accused Molewa of being defiant and refusing to account to Parliament as a Constitutional body with oversight powers.
“What we have here is a minister who simply does not want to be answerable to the committee,” said an insider.
Molewa said in her letter that the termination of the employment of the former chief executive of the Weather Service, Dr Linda Makuleni, was at the centre of the dispute, dating as far back as May last year when the committee wanted the board to “provide reasons why Parliament should not demand that members of the board personally and individually pay for the fruitless and wasteful expenditure allegedly incurred as a result of the premature termination of the employment of the former chief executive”.
A subsequent report by the board outlining the relationship breakdown between the board and Makuleni, which Molewa concurred with, did not satisfy the committee and last October it resolved that those board members who participated in the agreement for a R2-million payout to Makuleni “must pay back such expenditure to the state”.
The committee – led by ANC MP Philemon Mapulane – deemed the spending to be fruitless and wasteful.
It also resolved that Molewa fire the chairperson and other members of the board in line with the Weather Service provisions.
Molewa said she had received legal advice that the resolution would “only have the status of a recommendation to the National Assembly and becomes a legally binding decision of Parliament only if passed by the National Assembly by the requisite majority”.
She said that the recommendation had not reached the House in terms of the order paper, and therefore it would be possible for it to be reversed as it was “unlawful and illegal” because the committee, and by extension Parliament, were not authorised in law to perform the powers and make the decisions which the committee has purported to do.
“In this resolution and by doing so, Parliament would be encroaching on the legal domain of a minister, as part of the executive authority and under no circumstances should or could the resolution be passed by the National Assembly and become legally binding”.
She said that as a “a senior and experienced” member of Parliament she was keenly aware of what was expected from her and had no problem accounting.
“However, where the committee and the organs of state involved in the present dispute seem to have different understandings or interpretations is in respect of the constitutional and legal parameters within which the committee must exercise its powers and perform its functions and the possible constitutional and legal limitations within which the committee must operate”.
Molewa said that her understanding of the law was that in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, fruitless and wasteful expenditure meant “an expenditure which is made in vain and would have been avoided had reasonable care been exercised”, adding that even the Auditor-General had not made such a finding.
She said that, as minister, she had the authority to initiate an investigation of financial misconduct into any credible allegation of financial misconduct against the board, and if the allegation was confirmed, her duty was to take disciplinary steps.
In the event that the disciplinary process found the board committed financial misconduct, “then the only sanction or punishment which is authorised is possible dismissal or suspension as board members, or a generalised unspecified sanction”.
She said the committee and Parliament had “no legal power … to order the minister, the executive authority of Weather Service, to remove the board and to replace it with a new board”.