Probe called for after official calls parliament’s justice committee ‘boring’

The bust of former president Nelson Mandela can be seen outside the parliament building in Cape Town ahead of the State of the Nation Address on 19 June 2019, Cape Town. Picture: Jacques Nelles

‘You might not like the MPs, but they should be respected, as they represent the people of South Africa,’ said portfolio committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe.

The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services is “outraged” after it was called “boring” by the chairperson of the audit committee of the Department of Correctional Services.

The comment came after a meeting in which the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) explained why the department got a qualified audit.

The committee unanimously agreed on Wednesday that a proper investigation is required into a video that went viral, in which JS Masite, the chairperson of the audit committee, is heard making the comment the portfolio committee considers insulting.

According to a statement, portfolio committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe said the video gave the impression that the utterances were made about MPs serving on the committee.

Members of the portfolio committee saw this as an irritation to its oversight work.

“In the video, an utterance in a vernacular language, referring to the DCS, was made after a briefing yesterday from the office of the Auditor-General (AGSA), loosely translated to mean ‘these people are boring’,” reads the statement.

Insulting

Several members of the committee, fluent in the vernacular, said while the loose translation is subtle, the actual words are more insulting.

Masite has since explained that the utterances refer to a different meeting.

Committee members have, however, maintained that a certain decorum is required when officials or presenters are in virtual meetings because it is on the same level as being in parliament.

MPs also took issue with her comments that it is unfortunate the video went viral.

It was agreed that, as a leader, she is expected to behave in a professional manner.

“The committee has resolved that an urgent investigation is required. It is important that parliament is respected. You might not like the MPs, but they should be respected, as they represent the people of South Africa. We therefore require that the Commissioner of Corrections respond to us by Friday, including remedial actions,” said Magwanishe.

Commissioner of Correctional Services Arthur Fraser said in response that Masite is not an official of the department.

She is an independent, appointment by Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola.

He, therefore, thinks the minister should be responsible for the investigation.

Magwanishe said the minister had already been made aware of the issue.

“As long as the deadline of the report regarding the investigation is met, it does not matter who does the investigation. Furthermore, we require the proof and details of the meeting she claimed that her comments refer to,” said Magwanishe.

Fraser has to report back to the committee on Friday morning.

Fraser and the department also have to answer further questions from the committee with regard to the department’s annual report.

At Tuesday’s meeting, AGSA reported that the department did not have an adequate system for identifying and disclosing all irregular expenditure incurred.

As a result, AGSA could not confirm the completeness of irregular expenditure disclosed in the financial statements.

The department received a qualified report the previous year for the same reason.

The department also has findings reported on reliability and usefulness of performance information and compliance with key legislation.

In the 2018-2019 financial year, the department recorded irregular expenditure of R159 million.

This ballooned to R1.044 billion the following year.

However, about half of this expenditure relates to cases that have only been identified in 2019-2020, but relating to the previous year.

Fraser told the committee on Wednesday the department compiled its irregular expenditure register based on National Treasury’s framework.

He said most of the cases of irregular expenditure are “legacy issues dating back from 2009-2010”.

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