Activists take Parliament to court over PRASA
#UniteBehind says Ethics Committee has failed to act
- #UniteBehind has launched court action against Parliament’s Ethics Committee for failing to act on its complaints.
- Six months have passed since the commuter activist group submitted complaints against six ANC MPs for their role in state capture and maladministration at PRASA.
- #UniteBehind wants the court to compel the Ethics Committee and its Registrar to act, and to declare provisions of Parliament’s Code of Conduct unconstitutional.
Six months ago, #UniteBehind submitted complaints to the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests against six ANC MPs for their role in the collapse of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). With no sign that the Ethics Committee is taking action against the subjects of their complaint, on Monday the commuter activist group launched an application in the Western Cape High Court to spark action.
On 31 August last year, #UniteBehind laid formal complaints to the Ethics Committee against Members of Parliament Sfiso Buthelezi, Dipuo Peters, Joe Maswanganyi, Dikeledi Magadzi, Fikile Mbalula, and Mosebenzi Zwane (Mbalula resigned as an MP in March as he took up the position of ANC Secretary-General, as did Magadzi in the same month).
Each of these MPs, said #UniteBehind in its complaints, “facilitated and enabled state capture and corruption through a failure of their ethical and legal duties of care”. Buthelezi, the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Appropriations, is alleged to have directly benefited from corruption at PRASA.
#UniteBehind says that the Ethics Committee and the acting Registrar of Members’ Interests, advocate Anthea Gordon, have taken too long to investigate its complaints and have not acted in accord with the Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interest for Assembly and Permanent Council Members. This, #UniteBehind says, is unlawful and unconstitutional.
Despite numerous letters and requests for information from the Ethics Committee about its complaints, #UniteBehind says, the Registrar and the Committee “have failed to provide any effective updates”, and “repeated requests have effectively been ignored”.
On 9 February 2023, the Co-Chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, Bekizwe Nkosi and Lydia Moshodi, wrote to #UniteBehind in a formal letter to say that the activists were making “counter-productive comments” and drawing “unfounded negative conclusions” about the committee’s work. #UniteBehind did not “appreciate that there are other matters as well before the Committee”.
But #UniteBehind director Zackie Achmat says in his founding affidavit that the group has “simply sought to hold the Committee to the requirements and periods prescribed by the Code, no more”.
“The Committee has not provided even the most cursory information pertaining to its work and workload: for example, how many complaints it is currently processing and deliberating on and the timeframes in which it expects to do so,” says Achmat.
The commuter activists have asked the court to declare the seeming inaction from the Ethics Committee unlawful and unconstitutional, and to direct the committee’s Registrar to “process, investigate and decide the complaints” according to a schedule determined by the court. They also want to be able to return to court if the committee and Registrar do not comply with the court’s timetable.
#UniteBehind also wants the court to declare confidentiality provisions in Parliament’s code of conduct unconstitutional.
These allow the existence of complaints against MPs to be kept confidential by the Registrar until a recommendation is made to the Committee whether to proceed, and the proceedings of the Ethics Committee to be kept confidential until after the committee has met and made a decision about the recommended complaints.
Comment was sought by GroundUp from the Co-Chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, the Registrar, and the MPs, Sfiso Buthelezi, Dipuo Peters, Joe Maswanganyi, Dikeledi Magadzi, Fikile Mbalula, and Mosebenzi Zwane. No reply had been received by time of publication.
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