Debate on KZN SCOPA Resolutions
By Roman Liptak MPL

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: Thursday, 24 February 2011  

Honourable Speaker 

The report on SCOPA’s interaction with the law enforcement agencies is one of the most damning this House has ever been asked to debate. There appears to be a breakdown in communication between the government and the law enforcement agencies, which leads to inordinate delays in investigations. These delays also affect our access as a Legislature to forensic and other reports from government departments. 

The lack of access of this House to reports on investigations into fraud and corruption in government is preventing this institution from fulfilling its constitutional mandate. With our limited legislative mandate as a provincial Legislature, oversight is our main job and it is truly embarrassing to talk about clean governance when we have so little to show for it in practice. This does not reflect well on this particular Legislature, particularly when the release of forensic and other reports to committees which initiated them in the first place is common practice in most other legislatures in this country.  

Despite renewed commitment by the Hon. Premier to expediting disciplinary action against offending officials and the appointment of a former Judge President to oversee this, the initiative in the fight against corruption now rests with the Legislature, and specifically SCOPA, rather than the Executive. SCOPA has embarked on a close co-operation with the law enforcement agencies and its upcoming recommendations, if implemented, have the potential to overcome at least some of the challenges the government has so far ignored or even compounded. 

Our interaction with the law enforcement agencies has so far been revealing. On the one hand, we have government departments claiming that the inordinate delays in the publication of reports stem from tardiness of investigators. On the other hand, the law enforcement agencies allege that the very same delays are due to the lack of cooperation on the part of government departments. It is therefore vital to include both parties in specific SCOPA hearings to get to the bottom of these allegations.  

We also appreciate the recognition of these challenges from at least some Members of the Executive Council. There is generally more openness among the MECs about investigations into fraud and corruption in their departments today than before and I specifically wish to acknowledge the efforts of the MEC for Finance who has held several briefings with the relevant parliamentary committees and given them several progress reports in this regard.   

Our interaction with the law enforcement agencies may be trail-blazing in its intent but we have yet to see if we are ever going to interrogate some of the most notorious and politically sensitive investigations in this province. Firstly, there is a proposal that an ANC-chaired and ANC-controlled SCOPA considers motivation by the law enforcement agencies why release of sensitive information may harm investigations. Secondly, there is the provision for in-camera hearings in our parliamentary rules that is open to manipulation.  

I have no doubt that Members will respect the rules of engagement provided in-camera hearings do not become standard treatment for all investigations. This would effectively frustrate public scrutiny. There are already signs of this in the latest set of resolutions where seven outstanding reports on investigations in the Department of Agriculture are to be held in-camera. 

One important observation that came from the workshop is that criminal, disciplinary and civil proceedings, which may arise from the findings of a forensic or other investigation, can run simultaneously. We hope that this will put an end to practices where government employees who have been implicated in corruption in a forensic investigation have not only continued to work in the department but have actually been promoted as was the recent infamous case ??? griculture. The ultimate test in tackling corruption within departments even before criminal action commences is the political will to do so. No amount of interaction with the law enforcement agencies can make up for the lack of political will in the Executive.   

Considering the pressure from the joint committees of Finance and SCOPA to expedite disciplinary hearings, this House needs to ask if the Office of the Premier and Treasury have the capacity to implement the provisions that deal with disciplinary action in departments and if they currently do not, we need to be sure that the upcoming budget will make the necessary allocations in this regard. 

One last comment about the resolutions relating to the specific departments. Incidentally, the delayed hearings with Agriculture, Social Development and Public Works have produced resolutions on some of the most troublesome government departments whose political heads are facing calls for resignation, not least from the Leader of the Official Opposition. 

I would not ordinarily look for quotes in the ANC Youth League, but I could not resist one that labelled the MECs for Agriculture, Social Development and Public Works as dead wood and called for their redeployment. We have yet to see to what extent the outstanding reports from these departments due to be tabled in SCOPA corroborate this assessment.  

I thank you.   

Roman Liptak
078 302 0929