Helen Suzman Foundation wants to stop Parliament from looking into McBride reappointment

Robert McBride (Jenni Evans, News24)
Robert McBride (Jenni Evans, News24)

The Helen Suzman Foundation wants to prevent the Portfolio Committee on Police from dealing with the renewal of Robert McBride's contract as executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

In what can best be described as a meeting about a future meeting, the committee readied itself on Friday to deal with the matter on Monday.

Last week, the committee requested written submissions from McBride, Police Minister Bheki Cele and the Helen Suzman Foundation.

This, after a settlement agreement was reached on Tuesday last week in legal proceedings McBride had instituted against Cele, to which the committee was also a party. The Helen Suzman Foundation joined as an amicus curiae (friend of the court).

In a draft order handed to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, the parties agreed that the decision Cele had taken to not renew McBride's term as IPID executive director was a preliminary decision that still needed to be confirmed or rejected by the committee.

At Friday's meeting, after committee chairperson Francois Beukman ensured that members had all the required documents, he turned to the Helen Suzman Foundation's submission.

"Any decision by the portfolio committee will be unlawful and is vulnerable to challenge on review. The fact that the settlement agreement was made an order of the court does not, by itself, render it lawful," the foundation's submission read.

According to the foundation, the only "constitutionally compliant interpretation" of the IPID Act would be to allow McBride's term of office to be extended.

The foundation also said it intended appealing the court order.

Beukman said he had obtained a legal opinion, and since there is a court order, and the matter has been referred to the committee by the speaker of the National Assembly, the committee must continue with its work.    

"The committee welcomes and appreciates the submissions from the Helen Suzman Foundation and Corruption Watch. The HSF has in its submission raised that they intend taking the court order under review. While the committee appreciated the fact that the foundation is well within its right to seek a review, the committee was advised, and has taken a view that its process must continue as per the agreement between the parties in the matter," Beukman said in a statement issued after the meeting.

Beukman and the members of the committee said the process must be procedurally sound and fair and future legal challenges should be avoided.

"We are not a rubber stamp of the executive. We are not a rubber stamp of any department," Beukman said.

The committee has requested further information, such as McBride's performance contracts, performance assessments and security clearance, as well as documentation from the Auditor-General, which it expects by the end of business on Friday. 

The committee will reconvene on Monday and members have indicated that they are willing to work until midnight.

The ANC contingent on the committee seemed insistent on finishing the work by the court-ordered deadline of February 28, while opposition MPs, particularly the DA's Zakhele Mbhele and Dianne Kohler Barnard, seemed willing to take their time and to ask the court for an extension if required.

ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane, supported by his ANC colleagues, said they shouldn't have oral submissions to which opposition MPs objected.

Beukman said he would obtain a legal opinion on the matter and the committee would make a decision on this at the start of Monday's meeting.

In his submission to the committee, Cele said there was "prima facie evidence" that McBride was not fit to be executive director.

But McBride said Cele's allegations were "feeble". In response to Cele's submission, he added that the minister's decision to not extend his term for another five years was political. Putting an acting head in his place would be bad for ongoing investigations into powerful people, he said.

At several previous appearances before the committee, McBride spoke of attempts to intimidate him and his staff or derail their investigations through bogus investigations. 

In a statement released after the meeting, Mbhele said Cele's reasoning seemed "shaky".

He said the central consideration that must occupy the minds of the committee members is the substantive fitness-for-purpose and eligibility of McBride to continue.

According to Mbhele, this hinges on two questions: "Has McBride been found conclusively guilty of any misconduct or incompetence that would be egregious enough to warrant removal from office and thus, by extension, would disqualify him from contract renewal?" and "Has McBride's performance as executive director and or that of the IPID under his leadership been so chronically deficient that he is clearly unfit for that office?"

Mbhele isn't convinced that these questions can be answered in the affirmative. 

"While we acknowledge that there have been allegations levelled against McBride, these allegations are as yet untested and unproven," said Mbhele.

"Would Minister Cele have taken the same line of reasoning to motivate for removal from office when Minister Pravin Gordhan was the target of the Hawks-led witch-hunt in 2016 relating to allegations of his involvement in the so-called SARS 'rogue unit'?" Mbhele wondered.

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