Decision on fate of IEC boss to be made soon

ONE week before the country heads to the polls, the fate of Electoral Commission (IEC) head Pansy Tlakula lies in the balance.

Yesterday, the Electoral Court sitting in Johannesburg ordered a full inquiry into whether or not Tlakula is guilty of misconduct following a damning report by public protector Thuli Madonsela on Tlakula's role in a controversial lease. The inquiry will take place on Friday.

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

Madonsela found that Tlakula had acted improperly in awarding a 2009 tender for a long lease of the commission's Centurion headquarters.

In awarding the lucrative tender to Abland, Tlakula failed to follow a fair, transparent, competitive or costeffective tender process, resulting in the commission being overcharged by between R20.8-million and R110million over the 10-year lease, Madonsela found.

Tlakula was said to have an "undisclosed and unmanaged conflict of interest" in the form of a business relationship with Thaba Mufamadi, chairman of Manaka Property Investments, which owns 20% of Abland.

These findings, the parties argue, render Tlakula unfit for office.

Arguing for the parties, David Unterhalter SC told the court that the public protector's findings were confirmed in a report commissioned by the IEC and the Treasury.

Unterhalter cited a number of instances of alleged misconduct. One was that the fitting out of the offices was not subject to a tender at all.

"There was expenditure in excess of R58-million, none of which was subject to a tender at all," he said.

Tlakula had admitted to all salient facts, Unterhalter said.

"She does not deny she is shareholder and co-director with Thaba Mufamadi in a company. She had a business association with him.

"The only point she raises is that, in respect of the conflict of interest, she had no financial interest in Abland," he said.

"What she has sought to do is to cling to her office."

Ruling that the inquiry 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.

The judge gave Tlakula an opportunity to file another affidavit by tomorrow afternoon. - Ernest Mabuza