Thursday, March 22, 2012

DA Statement on Committee of Inquiry

This press statement was issued by the Democratic Alliance:

Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson yesterday announced that she will be instituting an independent inquiry into the procurement processes and procedures at the Fisheries branch of her department. Given that the move is an acknowledgement of alleged irregular processes, the DA welcomes the initiative. As the minister is politically accountable for the department, the announcement essentially constitutes an admission of guilt. The DA is encouraged by the Minister's humility.

In order for the inquiry to be credible, however, its legitimacy should be secured in the following manner:

· The minister should appoint an opposition member of parliament, preferably myself, to serve on the committee. This act of good faith is a strong signalling device that the minister takes the investigation seriously. It has also served the DA well in similar contexts in Cape Town, giving teeth to inquiries which may otherwise be mere political point-scoring exercises.
· The terms of reference and/or scope for the inquiry must be made public, including a reassurance from the minister that she intends to take appropriate action in light of the investigation's outcomes and recommendations.
· The minister must ensure that the results are made public. Ultimately, taxpayer's money is at stake in any tender process, and tenders to the value of R800 million, for instance, must be impeccably administered.

Independence is indeed a necessary condition for credibility, and the minister's emphasis to that end is to be commended. However, it is not a sufficient condition. Following the above recommendations will indeed make the inquiry credible. As the minister has previously taught us, persuasiveness is impossible without credibility.

In the same vein, then, the minister should retract her assertion that 'from now until the Committee concludes its investigation, [the department] will cease to respond to or entertain any further allegations or queries as those would now be in the jurisdiction of the Committee'. Both the public protector and the competition commission will be investigating the department's tender processes. The minister should clarify that her department will be cooperating fully with both these endeavours.

Finally, the minister argued that Sekunjalo is an 'innocent company'. Sekunjalo is a politically connected consortium that won the R800 million tender which sparked this whole debacle in the first place. Thanks to DA pressure, the contract has now been withdrawn. The minister has no legitimate grounds on which to declare Sekunjalo's innocence, though. Its decision to not take legal action against the department is hardly evidence of innocence. If anything, the company's failure to sue suggests otherwise.

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