An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.
The Internet can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a bit of a bother. The thing is, a quick search on Google can recall statements and information published several years ago which some would want us rather to forget. Mr Paul Ngobeni, for example, did not contend with the power of the Internet when he made statements about his legal troubles in the US which later turned out to be about as accurate as anything Leonard Chuene might have said during the height of the Caster Semenya scandal.
I was reminded of this when I read that former ANC Chief whip, Nyami Booi, yesterday pleaded guilty to theft for abusing Parliamentary travel vouchers. Booi, who now chairs the National Assembly’s defence portfolio committee, was fined R50 000, or five years in jail, and given until January 2014 to pay the money in monthly instalments of R1 000. He was the last MP to face charges for the Travelgate scandal which have sullied the good name of our Parliament.
What will happen now?
Well, a quick search on Google reveals that both the ANC and Parliament have promised that as soon as all the Travelgate cases were finalised, action would be taken against MPs and party members convicted of theft for the travel fraud. On 19 September 2004 the ANC National Executive Committee released a statement dealing, amongst other things, with the Parliamentary Travelgate scandal. I quote:
The NEC noted the ongoing investigation into the alleged misuse of parliamentary travel vouchers. The meeting reaffirmed its support for a full and thorough investigation. It reiterated the approach of the ANC that:
the law must be allowed to take its course without let or hindrance, and that no person should be considered above the law; the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty should be observed; the ANC will institute disciplinary action against any of its MPs or other members found guilty of wrongdoing.
On19 March 2005, after the first five ANC members were convicted of fraud because of the Travelgate scandal the ANC said it noted the conviction and sentencing of its five MPs “with seriousness” and intended initiating “relevant organisational disciplinary processes regarding all its convicted members”.
This would only be done when “the due process of law was completed on all ANC members”. Luwellyn Landers, chairman of the ethics committee at parliament, was quoted as saying he did not believe in “parallel investigations” and would prefer the justice system process to run its course before his committee decided whether or not to become involved in probing MPs’ conduct.
As the matter has now been concluded and the “due process of law was completed”, one would obviously expect both the ANC and Parliament to keep its word and to deal with the thieves in their midst in an appropriate manner. I for one take no delight in the Travelgate scandal and feel rather sad and distressed by the whole affair and the way it has tarnished both the ANC and our Parliament.
Parliament and the ANC are both important institutions that play a pivotal role in our democracy. Parliament does not only function as our legislature, but also has a constitutional duty – in terms of section 55(2) of the Constitution – to hold all organs of state accountable and to exercise oversight over the executive and all organs of state. The ANC, in turn, is by far the strongest party in Parliament and, at present, forms the government of the day and has a majority on the various Parliamentary committees tasked with oversight over the executive and holding organs of state accountable.
It is therefore important for all of us that both Parliament and the ANC remain credible and trusted institutions who could command respect from ordinary South Africans. It is in no one’s interest that either the ANC or members of Parliament become known in the popular imagination as crooks and charlatans. If we lose all trust and respect for these venerable institutions, we will, in effect, lose trust in the ability of Parliament to fulfil its oversight and accountability functions. This will weaken our democracy because lack of respect for our democratic institutions and the organisation that currently leads it may well lead to general disengagement from those institutions.
Instead of a loved and revered institutions (or at least respected and trusted institutions) we will have institutions that can only command authority through threats and abuse of power, relying on the might of the police and the army to enforce decisions taken by unpopular and distrusted people seen as serving only their own interests. Or, almost as bad, we will stop taking notice of these institutions – except around braaivleis fires and at comedy festivals where we will laugh at our representatives and mock their criminal ways.
That is why I applauded the statements quoted above at the time they were made, and why I sincerely hope that the ANC and Parliament will keep their word and will take swift action against the thieves who stole our money. I would imagine one way of restoring trust in both Parliament and the ANC while acting in a fair and humane manner would be for the ANC to take effective disciplinary action against its members found guilty of theft.
If I were an ANC disciplinary committee member I would have proposed a one year suspension of the membership of all ANC members found guilty of stealing taxpayer’s money. The ANC members found guilty of theft who still sit in Parliament will then automatically lose their seats in Parliament, but the harsh effects will be tempered by the fact that they could be readmitted to the party in one year’s time. This would demonstrate a forgiving spirit towards the MPs, while also sending a strong signal to ordinary voters that the ANC does not condone theft and dishonesty amongst its members.
If this happens, we may be able to move on; not in a spirit of I-told-you-so vengeance, but rather proud that our institutions are working as they should. Personally, I will be very happy to forgive all the thieves currently sitting in Parliament (as well as the party they serve), if such appropriate action is taken against them. This may then also allow us to begin to rebuild the trust in both the ANC and in the Parliament it currently dominates.BACK TO TOP