Cape Town – A committee of Parliament has distanced itself from remarks made by member and EFF MP Floyd Shivambu in which he accused top Treasury official Ismail Momoniat of being "non-African", saying they were a "crude attack".
And it has come to Momoniat's defence, calling him "extremely hardworking, honest [and] skilled".
The Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday issued a statement following a report in Business Day that Shivambu questioned why Momoniat was at committee meetings instead of Treasury’s Director-General Dondo Mogajane. According to the report, Shivambu accused Momoniat of having a superiority complex which would not allow him to take orders from African seniors.
Shivambu later repeated similar statements on social media, alleging that Momoniat "undermines and disregards black, particularly African leadership".
When the committee met on Wednesday to vote on the Money Bills act and the PIC Bills Act, Shivambu was not present.
In Wednesday's statement, the committee condemned Shivambu’s questioning of Momoniat's right to be at the meeting.
"The committee invites Mr Shivambu to engage further in these debates, but maintains that his crude attack on Mr Momoniat yesterday was unwarranted and inconsistent with the non-racial principles necessary for a transformative agenda that addresses race, class and gender inequalities in South Africa," the statement read.
No evidence against Momoniat
The committee also said it does not have evidence that Momoniat is corrupt, as Shivambu claimed. "In fact, the committee knows him to be an extremely hardworking, honest, skilled and experienced official who served both the anti-apartheid struggle and the new democracy selflessly," the statement read.
"We don’t have to compromise one iota on the need for African leadership, while accepting the role of outstanding public servants like Mr Momoniat," said its chair Yunus Carrim.
Carrim said that MPs should not abuse the right to speak freely in terms of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities Act.
It is concerning to the committee that MPs can "attack any member of the public as being corrupt" without the person in question having the right of reply. The person instead has to go through a petition process through Parliament’s Secretary, Carrim said.
"Although officials can reply within a committee to attacks on their integrity, they are restrained because they are not covered by the Immunities Act, and also because of the balance of power between them and Members of Parliament," the statement read. The committee will write to Parliament’s Speaker about this, it has done so in the past.
Non-racial, transformed Treasury
The committee urged MPs not to fuel growing racial polarisation in the country. It also called on the finance minister and Treasury to ensure "greater racial and gender representivity" within the department’s senior ranks – as well as the development of a new generation of leaders that can draw on the experiences of veterans.
The EFF on Tuesday evening issued a statement in support of Shivambu, in which it slammed Momoniat for acting in the role of "de facto minister of finance", "dictating everything that National Treasury does" and "micromanaging its entities and also trying to micromanage parliamentary process", as News24 reported earlier.
Treasury’s Director-General Dondo Mogajane defended Momoniat on the Karima Brown show on 702 on Tuesday.
He said that Shivambu’s comments had taken him by surprise. Mogajane explained that he was not at Scof as his presence as required at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Mogajane said that within Treasury, Momoniat is referred to as “the father” of the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act), legislation which is world-renowned. Momoniat is a “client” of the Scof committee given his expertise in legislation, which is why it seems that Momoniat is always appearing before the committee, Mogajane explained.
“There is nothing wrong if Momoniat is there and I am not there. The committee is focused on passing various legislation,” said Mogajane. He also said that it is not “humanly possible for him to appear before all committees and that Momoniat acts on his direct authority and instruction. The pair discuss matters and plan for meetings with Parliament, Mogajane assured.
He recalled starting his career at Treasury in the 1990s,
when Momoniat was his superior. “I always looked up to him as my boss and
colleague,” he said of Momoniat.
“The way Momoniat has conducted himself in the 18 years I have known him – he is not racist, he is a professional. I support him, everyone supports him. He has guided us in many ways. He is an asset to government, he is an asset to South Africans.
“He plays a major role in what Treasury has become – an institution of note,” Mogajane said.
He also rejected Shivambu’s comments that Momoniat undermined his office, and that of the deputy minister and minister. “Treasury is an institution with professionals who work hard and who put their lives on the line on behalf of South Africans to keep the integrity of the system in tact. The comments of Shivambu are unfortunate.”
Efforts to reach Shivambu were unsuccessful.
Update: This article was updated at 17:30 on June 6, 2018 to reflect comments by Treasury's Director-General Dondo Mogajane.