New row as IEC plans to pay Tlakula’s legal fees

ANOTHER row is brewing at the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) over chief electoral officer Mosotho Moepya’s ” irregular” decision to allow the commission to pick up the tab for chairwoman Pansy Tlakula’s legal fees.

Ms Tlakula is mounting a legal battle, in her personal capacity, against Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report that implicated her in an improper lease agreement. But it has now emerged that Mr Moepya had allocated funding of about R500,000 to Ms Tlakula’s case, plunging the IEC into another scandal on the eve of the general election next week.

Deputy IEC chairman Terry Tselane on Tuesday confirmed that Mr Moepya had decided without authorisation to provide funds to Ms Tlakula. The commission had called for a report on the matter.

“We have been informed by the chief electoral officer that he will be paying for the fees,” Mr Tselane said in an interview.

The commission was trying to establish the grounds on which this decision was taken.

But Mr Tselane said in his view it was a violation of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) as the commission had not been asked for the go-ahead. Mr Moepya had acted outside of his delegated powers.

“The view of the commission is that any expenditure related to this matter … is supposed to have been raised with the commission,” Mr Tselane said.

On Tuesday the Electoral Court sitting in Johannesburg ordered a full inquiry into whether or not Ms Tlakula is guilty of misconduct after the release of a damning public protector report on her role in a controversial lease. The probe will take place on Friday, just five days before the May 7 election.

The ruling came after opposition political parties including the United Democratic Movement (UDM), the African Christian Democratic Party, Agang SA, the Congress of the People and the Economic Freedom Fighters went to court in a bid to have Ms Tlakula removed from her post as chairwoman of the commission.

The public protector found that Ms Tlakula had acted improperly in the award of a 2009 tender for a long lease of the commission’s Centurion headquarters.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa has called for the immediate suspension of Mr Moepya, who he said was not an important figure in the management of next week’s general election. There are a deputy chief electoral officer, layers of management and subcontractors in place who could do the job adequately.

Mr Moepya was implicated with Ms Tlakula in concluding the improper lease agreement, Mr Holomisa added.

Ms Tlakula has applied to the Pretoria High Court for a review and setting aside of Ms Madonsela’s findings and recommendations on the leasing of head office accommodation for the IEC.

Ms Madonsela found that Ms Tlakula had an “undisclosed and unmanaged conflict of interest in the lease through her business relationship with Thaba Mufamadi, chairman of the company with a 20% stake in the company awarded the tender”. Mr Mufamadi is an ANC MP and chairman of the portfolio committee on finance in Parliament.

Ms Tlakula argued that many of the public protector’s findings were “simply wrong or based on a misunderstanding”. But the commission has accepted Ms Madonsela’s report, which found that the procurement process for the lease agreement was not fair, equitable, transparent, competitive or cost-effective.

Mr Holomisa and a host of smaller parties believe that the credibility of the election will be compromised if Ms Tlakula remains in office.

Arguing for the political parties on Tuesday, David Unterhalter SC told the court that the public protector findings were confirmed in a report the IEC and Treasury commissioned. He cited a number of instances in the reports to illustrate that the parties’ belief that Ms Tlakula was guilty of misconduct had a basis.

Ms Tlakula herself had admitted to “all salient facts” and had had a number of opportunities to respond to allegations against her, Mr Unterhalter added.

In ruling that the inquiry will be held on Friday, Judge Lotter Wepener said the matters requiring a response were not substantial and could be dealt with in a short space of time. This was after Ms Tlakula’s lawyer, Daniel Berger SC, said his client needed 15 days to respond to the reports.

Judge Wepener gave ms Tlakula an opportunity to file another affidavit by Thursday. © BDlive 2014

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