Parliament rallies around Eskom inquiry evidence leader Vanara

Cape Town – Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises on Wednesday slammed the state attorney for trying to intimidate members of Parliament and the institution’s evidence leader Ntuthuzelo Vanara.

At issue was a letter the state attorney sent to Vanara on behalf of the Department of Public Enterprises in October, threatening to report him to the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.

In the letter, the state attorney suggested Vanara’s “manner and style of conducting the leading of evidence” are of concern and that the “objectives of having a fair and procedurally administrative hearing” are not being adhered to.

The state attorney also alleged that Vanara is not upholding the Constitution and the professional ethics and standards of the “advocacy profession”.

Parliament subsequently obtained a legal opinion from adv Wim Trengove (SC) who advised that the portfolio committee on public enterprises is indeed conducting the inquiry in accordance with the Constitution.

READ: Brown's deputy says Eskom state capture inquiry is unfair 

He said the committee is entitled to determine its own procedure and arrangements in the way it conducts an inquiry.

During deliberations on Wednesday, the DA's Natasha Mazzone laid into the office of the state attorney, saying that she finds the entity’s interpretation of the Constitution both appalling and concerning.

“Perhaps if this office spend as much time on inquiring state capture as it did trying to intimidate MPs it would be much more helpful to South Africa," she said. 

“It’s important to put on record that the executive of South Africa is accountable to Parliament – not the other way around. The state attorney’s office should familiarise themselves with the Powers and Privileges Act of Parliament – if they did they would know what privileges we enjoy.”

The ANC’s Mondli Gungubele said it is “embarrassing” that the state attorney does not understand the powers bestowed upon Parliament.

“He is supposed to advise the Minister (of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown) on how to respond to these things. But it is clear that the executive is not used to this kind of vigour from Parliament. We’re doing our work in an unwavering and united manner,” he said.

Steve Swart from the ACDP said the legal opinion received from Trengove is a welcome endorsement of the work the committee is doing.

READ: Brown: Eskom liars will be charged 

“This committee will not be intimidated. We’ll do our oversight fairly and those implicated will be given the opportunity to respond.”

Vanara concluded the deliberations, saying he rejected the state attorney’s allegations with “the contempt it deserved”. He requested Parliament however to also respond to the state attorney’s allegations in a letter.

Meanwhile, the committee issued a media statement on Wednesday, confirming its confidence in Vanara’s abilities as an evidence leader.

The statement follows Brown and her deputy Ben Martins implying on Wednesday that the committee is conducting its hearings like a “kangaroo court” and that its procedures are unfair.

In its statement, the committee said the Ministry’s comments in the public domain on its work, as well as the comments about Vanara are “an attack on Parliament” and “unjustified”.

“The committee rejects the insinuation that the inquiry is a kangaroo court – these insinuations are false. The Committee is doing its work based on the terms of reference set out in the Constitution,” the statement read. 

ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu also weighed in on the matter, saying he was assured that the committee was doing its work fairly. He said he was satisfied that all individuals mentioned, accused or implicated by any testimony during the inquiry would be afforded an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

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