Dipuo Peters takes Parliament to court

Former Transport Minister seeks to have her suspension lifted. #UniteBehind opposes her bid.

By Tania Broughton

25 January 2024

Members and supporters of #UniteBehind outside Parliament in August 2022 when they laid an official complaint to the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests. Archive photo: James Stent

ANC MP Dipuo Peters has launched an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court seeking to lift her suspension from Parliament pending a review of Parliament’s decision to censure her. She has been suspended for state capture breaches at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) while she was Minister of Transport.

The hearing has been set down for Friday 26 January. It is being opposed by activist Zackie Achmat and #UniteBehind who lodged complaints against her following the release of the Zondo Commission’s report into state capture.

Peters, the deputy minister of small business development, was suspended from all parliamentary debates, sittings, committee meetings, functions and operations for one term of the parliamentary programme.

In “Part A” of her application, which she contends warrants the court’s urgent attention, she is seeking an interdict against the Speaker of the National Assembly from implementing the sanction imposed on 28 November 2023, which becomes effective on 30 January 2024.

This is pending “Part B”, a review of the suspension decision by Parliament and a review of all decisions taken by the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members Interests which led to the suspension.

The findings by the committee were that she was neglectful in her previous portfolio as transport minister by failing to appoint a group CEO of PRASA; she had irrationally dismissed the PRASA board chaired by Popo Molefe (seemingly because it had uncovered R14-million in irregular expenditure); and she authorised the use of PRASA buses for ANC events with payment from the party.

Peters now says that the process and outcome, as well as the sanction, are marred by irrationality, illegality, unconstitutionality, unreasonableness, procedural unfairness and errors.

The decisions need to be properly revisited by a court of law, she says. In the interim, she argues, she should not have to serve the sanction “which cannot be reversed even if I am subsequently vindicated”.

“The sanction puts a brake on my political representative capacity and political prospects going forward. This is irreparable,” she says in her affidavit.

Peters says it is a “matter of fact” that the committee simply relied on what the complainants stated which was a regurgitation of the State Capture Report.

She says she had advised the committee that she intended taking the report on judicial review to the extent that it related to her and that she was also waiting for the President to put in place a plan on how state capture matters were to be dealt with by Parliament.

When asked for submissions on sanction, she says, she pointed out that there was no finding or suggestion that she had stood to benefit personally from what had been found to be “shortcomings” on her behalf.

“I did not want to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

“I explained why I took the decision to dissolve the board of PRASA mainly because of the public spats between the chairperson and the CEO.”

She said the delay in the appointment of a permanent group chief executive was rooted in a desire for that person to bring about much-needed stability and not be sucked into factional and egotistical battles.

She denies having anything to do with the buses issue.

She says she has been duly elected by South Africans to represent them in Parliament.

“There is also the right to my good name. The findings made by the committee are damning and they besmirch my reputation. Unless these can be corrected fairly expeditiously, the stench will stay a very long time,” Peters said.

Opposing affidavit

Opposing the interdict, Achmat, director of #UniteBehind, said should Peters succeed in her urgent application, other MPs implicated in corruption or against whom such findings have been made would be emboldened.

“The rights of our people to justice and accountability for state capture, corruption, fraud, maladministration, mismanagement and nepotism at every level of government will be thwarted and the Constitution itself would become meaningless,” he says in his affidavit.

He says the matter should be struck from the roll.

Peters, he says, was found responsible on the same facts by several independent entities including high courts, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the State Capture inquiry.

Given the nature of the findings, he says, the sanction is relatively light.

“Moreover, nothing stops her from fulfilling her role as a deputy minister and she will continue to receive her full salary, despite facilitating state capture, corruption, mismanagement and maladministration at PRASA,” Achmat says.

Parliament had not filed any papers by Thursday lunchtime.