Any­thing to de­clare to Par­lia­ment?

Regis­trar of fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests says things have changed since the tran­si­tion years as more MPs ac­cu­mu­late prop­erty, shares and other forms of wealth

CityPress - - News - AN­DISIWE MAK­I­NANA an­disiwe.mak­i­nana@city­press.co.za

The par­lia­men­tary reg­is­ter that records the fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests of mem­bers of Par­lia­ment has changed dra­mat­i­cally over the past 18 years as MPs ac­cu­mu­late prop­erty, shares and other forms of wealth.

This is the view of Fazela Mo­hamed, who has run Par­lia­ment’s reg­is­ter of mem­bers’ in­ter­ests since its in­cep­tion.

“It was very in­ter­est­ing in the tran­si­tion years,” she told City Press dur­ing an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view this week.

“The ma­jor­ity of MPs were from the lib­er­a­tion move­ment and no­body re­ally had busi­ness in­ter­ests, very few had prop­erty, so there was re­ally very lit­tle to de­clare,” she said.

Back then, things were very dif­fer­ent. Mo­hamed re­mem­bered how the ANC once barred all MPs from ac­cept­ing free satel­lite TV sub­scrip­tions from a com­pany whose broad­cast­ing li­cence was up for re­newal.

“That year, the Icasa [In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity of SA] li­cence was up for con­sid­er­a­tion and the gov­ern­ing party felt it could un­der­mine the in­tegrity of Par­lia­ment as an in­sti­tu­tion. So those were dif­fer­ent times.”

For the past 18 years, Mo­hamed has played an ad­vi­sory and con­sul­ta­tive role to MPs on the re­quire­ments of the code of eth­i­cal con­duct.

She also com­piles the reg­is­ter of dis­clo­sures of fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests for mem­bers.

“The im­por­tance of the code is that it per­mits busi­ness ac­tiv­ity. It says there is a recog­ni­tion that MPs are not here per­ma­nently. It’s a check and bal­ance in a democ­racy.

“It says you are al­lowed to have fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests be­cause you re­alise peo­ple move in and out of pol­i­tics, and that when you leave, there is an­other life for you out there,” she said.

Among the 60 cases brought against MPs for breach­ing the code of eth­i­cal con­duct, those in­volv­ing for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Dina Pule and for­mer ANC chief whip Tony Yen­geni stand out.

Dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Pule’s breach of the code of con­duct, Mo­hamed and her co-chair­per­son of the joint com­mit­tee on ethics and mem­bers’ in­ter­ests at the time, Ben Turok, were as­signed body­guards be­cause they were re­ceiv­ing anony­mous threats.

“There have been some in­ter­est­ing mo­ments in this job and it’s usu­ally around what I would call im­ple­men­ta­tion of the code,” she said.

Pule had the book thrown at her for fail­ing to de­clare her ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with busi­ness­man Phosane Mngqibisa.

He had ben­e­fited from her de­part­ment while she was com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter. This in­cluded a lu­cra­tive sub­con­tract for the ICT Ind­aba in Cape Town. Mo­hamed said she al­ways ad­vised MPs to think about the con­se­quences for them­selves and their ca­reers if there was a ma­jor breach of the code of con­duct, es­pe­cially in fail­ing to de­clare ma­jor fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests or con­flicts of in­ter­est.

“One can’t make a pre­sump­tion about any­body’s un­der­stand­ing of ethics. It’s dif­fi­cult, but I al­ways tell mem­bers in the work­shops to think about the head­line in a news­pa­per on Sun­day. What will it say?

“Think about your name and the head­line next to it, and make a de­ci­sion based on that, be­cause when you choose pub­lic life, you have to make a sac­ri­fice as it is a choice,” she ex­plained.

While MPs were pre­vi­ously al­lowed to bid for con­tracts from the state, the new code of eth­i­cal con­duct, which came into ef­fect in Novem­ber 2014, now pro­hibits them from do­ing busi­ness with the state.

“We are try­ing to man­age im­proper in­flu­ence in achiev­ing [state] con­tracts and to en­sure that we don’t un­der­mine the kind of just ad­min­is­tra­tion in award­ing ten­ders. That’s what we are try­ing to do, and to pre­vent a con­flict of in­ter­est.”

Mean­while, one of the long­est-serv­ing MPs said the chaos ex­pe­ri­enced in Par­lia­ment this year made this the ideal time to change the rules.

Nyami Booi, a mem­ber of the sub­com­mit­tee on rules, said at the top of the list should be the clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the roles and pow­ers of the Speaker.

“A re­view of the rules has been tak­ing place for some time, but the most im­por­tant thing we need to es­tab­lish is the ex­tent of the Speaker’s au­thor­ity.”

Speaker Baleka Mbete has come un­der fire for call­ing in ex­tra se­cu­rity per­son­nel, and for boot­ing out dis­rup­tive Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters MPs from the Na­tional Assem­bly this year. Op­po­si­tion par­ties have called for Mbete’s re­moval, say­ing she is bi­ased to­wards the ANC.

“Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment need to be able to ex­press them­selves, but it’s dif­fer­ent when they start hold­ing Par­lia­ment to ran­som in terms of points of or­der. To achieve that bal­ance is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult,” Booi said.

Other par­lia­men­tary rules that are up for re­view are: a dress code for MPs; time lim­its for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and his min­is­ters’ oral replies to ques­tions; and al­low­ing for mini de­bates when burn­ing is­sues arise.

– Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Liesl Peyper

PHOTO: JACO MARAIS

FULL DIS­CLO­SURE Fazela Mo­hamed, who runs Par­lia­ment’s reg­is­ter of mem­bers’ in­ter­ests, is in charge of mak­ing sure that MPs un­der­stand their code of ethics and that they com­ply with it

Nyami Booi

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