Phala Phala: “It was a complex matter” says panel as it delivers report to Parliament

By Michael Appel

While South Africans are sure to be champing at the bit to have sight of the three-volume Phala Phala report of the Section 89 independent panel, they’ll have to wait until late on Wednesday.

If Parliament’s website doesn’t crash, an electronic copy of the report should be downloadable here. The voluminous text was on Wednesday morning officially handed over to the Speaker of Parliament by the panel’s chairperson, former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo. The independent panel consisted of Ngcobo, former judge Thokozile Masipa, and Advocate Mahlape Sello.

The panel was established after the African Transformation Movement (ATM) on 14 June submitted a motion to the Speaker requesting the house initiate an inquiry into the removal of the president on specific charges. While the request was initially denied, after further discussion with the ATM, an amended version of the motion was approved on 18 July. The motion stemmed from charges of money laundering, kidnapping and corruption being laid against President Cyril Ramaphosa by former spy boss Arthur Fraser in early June.

Arthur Fraser

The panel’s main task was to consider a preliminary inquiry relating to a motion proposing a section 89 enquiry. Section 89 of the Constitution makes provision for the removal of a sitting head of state from office. It needed to make recommendations on whether sufficient evidence exists to show that Ramaphosa committed a serious violation of the Constitution or law, or committed serious misconduct in relation to the theft of a substantial amount of foreign currency at his Limpopo farm in February 2020. The panel was given 30-days in which to conduct its business and compile a report for Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula for her to table before the National Assembly. One extension of 13 days to the 30-day deadline was granted by the Speaker.

Mapisa-Nqakula told the media that: “In line with the applicable Rules, I referred the submission, with supporting documents, to the independent panel, which I appointed after nominations by political parties. Indeed, the involvement of political parties in the constitution of the panel forms an essential element of checks and balances to jealously guard its independence, to remove any perception of bias, so that the integrity of its outcome is not brought into question.”

Addressing media following the handover of the report, Ngcobo said there were many who prejudged the outcome of their findings without taking the ambit of their powers into consideration. “The rules require us to only consider the information that is presented to us. There is no room for us to pick and choose whom to call [as witnesses]. If you don’t present the information to us, we can’t look at it. Those are the rules of engagement.

“It’s the first time I’ve had to consider a matter of this nature. It was a complex matter. Complex because it is a parliamentary process which belongs to Parliament as the representative of the people. Dragging the president before an impeachment process is a huge decision. It cannot be done on flimsy grounds. There has to be something tangible that you can hold on to before you take that decision,” said the former chief justice.

The Speaker said 6 December has been set aside for the consideration of the report by the National Assembly. “The role of the National Assembly pertaining to this report is articulated in the rules. The house will consider the report, its findings and recommendations and adopt a resolution, through a simple majority [50% plus one] vote, whether a further action by the house is necessary or not,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

Should a majority of the National Assembly decide there is prima facie evidence warranting the president’s impeachment, to actually remove him, that bar is set even higher requiring a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Regarding the cost to the taxpayer of the panel’s work, at least R5.3m was made available by Parliament, but the final tally on the actual costs must still be made.

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