Lying Gigaba drags political institutions down with him

Malusi Gigaba has been retained in the Cabinet, following a reshuffle. (Themba Hadebe, AP, file)
Malusi Gigaba has been retained in the Cabinet, following a reshuffle. (Themba Hadebe, AP, file)

Yesterday I was watching Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba giving evidence to the parliamentary committee investigating state capture.

It was dragging on a bit and Gigaba seemed fairly comfortable and tried to drown any queries with an avalanche of numbers and long winded explanations in his over-earnest way.

Then he was asked about the Fireblade issue – the long standing battle with the Oppenheimer family about a private, luxury international arrivals facility. Gigaba wasn’t willing to answer, since according to him "it was under appeal and therefore sub judice".

Ah, the favoured response of politicians when they want avoid a tricky question.

Except it wasn't 100% true. The Constitutional Court had already dismissed the appeal with costs last week. Although it is true that the case can still be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal since it was simultaneously filed there, it would not have created a problem if he had answered some of the questions on the matter at a parliamentary inquiry.

Gigaba is running the risk of becoming one of the biggest liars in political history. On the Fireblade issue alone, two courts took the extraordinary step of calling him a liar. In the original judgment in December last year, Judge Sulet Potteril described Gigaba’s arguments as "disingenuous, spurious and fundamentally flawed, laboured and meritless, bad in law, astonishing, palpably untrue, untenable and not sustained by objective evidence, uncreditworthy and nonsensical".

She went further: "A court does not readily make findings that a minister’s version is untenable and palpably untrue, but in this matter, it had to be done."

In case you were wondering, that is legal speak for "liar, liar, pants on fire".

Gigaba appealed the judgment only to be "klapped" again. Judge Neil Tuchten said in his judgment in the Pretoria High Court that Gigaba had "deliberately told untruths under oath".

That was not all. He said that Gigaba had committed "a breach of the Constitution so serious" that he would "characterise it as a violation".

Again Gigaba appealed – this time to the Constitutional Court, which had no interest in hearing the appeal and dismissed it with costs last week.

To be fair, he might have missed this judgment since he was too busy making U-turns on the Guptas’ citizenship applications.

He is, of course, not the only minister found lying lately. The public protector ruled in February that Minister Des van Rooyen lied to Parliament when he denied visiting the Guptas' Saxonworld compound just before his 2-day appointment as finance minister. A few days later she also ruled that former minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown lied to Parliament about the relationship between Eskom and Trillian.

Eskom spokesperson Khulani Qoma clearly would have agreed since he had already said in November last year that "Minister Brown lies, she lies all the time and she thinks we can’t see it." Needless to say, she denied his assertion.  

On Sunday, fellow columnist and City Press editor Mondli Makhanya wrote a piece on "how our trust was broken". He quoted the results of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer which was released last week. According to the survey South Africans’ trust in the government (and presumably Parliament) as an institution is at an all-time low – a mere 14%. 82% of those surveyed felt that the political institutions are fundamentally broken.

Although it is not unique in the world, South Africans simply do not trust their politicians.

And how can they when politicians like Gigaba and others are lying through their teeth and nothing seems to happen to them?

Members of Parliament are meant to be the highest office bearers in the country. From amongst them Cabinet ministers form the elite group – they are meant to be the best of the best.

Like lawyers, their profession inherently requires of them to be trustworthy and NOT to lie – especially not to Parliament. Parliamentary privilege ensures that no member can be prosecuted for something that they say during a sitting of the House. The quid pro quo is that members (including Cabinet ministers) have to be truthful – i.e. they cannot lie. If they do, the system breaks down and as we are now seeing the citizens not only lose faith in the individuals but also in the whole system.

Of course it can happen that ministers are given incorrect information by officials. However, it should be a rare occurrence and must result in disciplinary proceedings. I don’t believe that this is what we are seeing of late. I am confident that in the vast majority of cases ministers try to sail too close to the wind.

In order to obfuscate the real truths, they play with words and then try and spin their way out. Gigaba’s "I meant only that I did not give the Guptas citizenship – it was a previous minister" is a good example.

If Ramaphosa is to stand any chance of creating a new political order he has to lay down the law to his politicians and especially Cabinet ministers. As always it is the simplest thing that can make the biggest difference, such as "thou shalt not lie!"

And if they then get caught doing it – he needs to act decisively. There is no other way if he wants the nation to have faith in him and regain trust in our political institutions again.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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