Parliament has authority to launch inquiry into IPPs and Karpowership, say legal advisors

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A parliamentary committee would like to get closure from Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on the Karpowership debacle.
A parliamentary committee would like to get closure from Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on the Karpowership debacle.
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  • Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy heard that it could conduct its own inquiry into the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Programme.
  • Parliamentary legal advisors said the committee could summon bidding companies to brief it.
  • The committee said it would like to get closure from Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on the Karpowership debacle.

Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy has been advised that it has the authority to hold its own inquiry into problems around the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP), as well as the ill-fated Karpowership deal.

The committee received a briefing from parliamentary legal advisors about the options it had when it came to investigating challenges associated with the RMIPPPP, as South Africa continued to contend with load shedding.

In June, the R225 billion powerships deal with Turkish-led consortium Karpowership SA suffered a false start when the Department of Environmental Affairs rejected its application for projects at the ports of Saldanha, Coega and Richards Bay. 

In March, Karpowership was named the preferred bidder to supply much of the 2 000 MW in capacity the government is procuring to reduce load shedding.

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, Karpowership's environmental consultant, Triplo4 Sustainable Solutions, failed to conduct a proper public participation process or heed experts who said additional studies were needed to quantify the potentially destructive impact the powerships could have on birds, fish and fishing communities.

Karpowership has indicated that it plans to appeal the department's decision.

Committee chair Sahlulele Luzipo asked Parliamentary legal advisors to provide clarity on portfolio committee's ability to conduct its own inquiry into the programme while other institutions look into the matter.

"In the process of what you submit you might have to deal with the committee's power to subpoena. But if you have nothing to say on that, leave it and the committee will deal with it," said Luzipo.

Parliamentary legal advisor Andile Tetyana said the department was still seized with the tender process, and there is some litigation because one of the bidders was not happy with the process.

"The procurement on the facts has been concluded. It is only on the implementation where it needs conclusion. The process was conducted by the department and once an adjudicator renders a decision on an issue, it lacks any power to re-examine that issue," said Tetyana.

Tetyana said no rule precludes Parliament from launching an inquire on any issue, even if it is pending before the courts. The committee is not restricted if it wants to hold an inquiry and the committee is not precluded in any way from its actions merely because of an overlap in functions.

When it comes to getting witnesses to brief such a parliamentary inquiry, Tetyana said while subpoena is an option, it is known to be a tedious process and is widely considered as a last resort.

Frank Jenkins, also from Parliamentary Legal Services said there were success stories of Parliamentary subpoenas, if the committee wished to use the mechanism to call witnesses.

Committee member for the DA James Lorimer while the committee can investigate the procurement programme as a whole, it should still ensure that the department comes before Parliament and reassures the committee that the Karpowership deal is off the table.

"The Karpowership deal might still get another chance. Even if that is the case and Karpowership's deal is no longer on the table and it's a matter of bad construction of the tender, we should still go ahead and investigate," said Lorimer.

Luzipo said it was the committee's intention to set up an investigative inquiry and invite the minister present on the RMIPPPP and for companies in the process could also be called to present to Parliament.
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