AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Ethics committee recommends sanction against ex-transport minister Dipuo Peters over Prasa debacle
ANC MP Dipuo Peters is the third minister from the State Capture years to be found guilty and face sanction after civil society complaints to Parliament’s joint ethics committee.
Ex-minister and now backbencher Dipuo Peters joins fellow ANC MPs Mosebenzi Zwane and Joe Maswanganyi in being found guilty of breaching Parliament’s code of conduct.
While Zwane, the former mineral resources minister, was found in breach of the conduct code in March 2023 for, among other things, his role in the Tegeta coal deal with Gupta associates, Peters – like ex-transport minister Maswanganyi in June 2023 – was found guilty in relation to State Capture at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).
Prasa rolled into State Capture over the controversial locomotive tender involving Swifambo – also the subject of the 2015 Public Protector report Derailed – and systemic maladministration and corruption that ultimately decimated rail passenger services that had been the transport backbone for millions of working-class and poor South Africans.
What the Zondo State Capture Commission found at Prasa led to its recommendation for a special inquiry for the agency. It’s understood a presidential proclamation is pending for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to probe the agency.
In a statement on Thursday, Parliament’s joint ethics committee found Peters’s failures as transport minister sufficiently egregious to up the maximum sanction of a month’s suspension. Instead it recommended a term’s suspension, effectively three months, from the national legislature. This sanction becomes effective once the House adopts the ethics report.
“The Member failed to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in her, and discharge her obligations, in terms of the Constitution, to Parliament and the public at large,” the committee found in finding Peters guilty of:
- Dismissing the Prasa board in March 2017 after it started investigating R14-billion in irregular expenditure and corruption (Note: this happened with immediate effect while the board was briefing MPs on the transport committee);
- Failing to appoint a Prasa CEO following the board’s recruitment process, resulting in a loss of R1,767,000; and
- Requesting Prasa buses for the ANC’s 8 January 2015 celebrations, but the buses were not paid for. The complaint, like the one against Maswanganyi, was brought by veteran activist Zackie Achmat and Zukiswa Fokazi, both of #UniteBehind.
Parliament’s joint ethics committee statement outlined, but did not express a guilty verdict on the part of the complaint that Peters also failed to investigate claims of “R79-million of Prasa money paid by Swifambo to other people for alleged distribution to the ANC” despite a duty to ensure to root out corruption.
What would have influenced the committee deliberations, which take place behind closed doors, is the 2017 judgment following dismissed board chairperson Popo Molefe’s court action that found Peters’s dismissal of the board was irrational, unreasonable and unlawful.
Peters lost her job in 2017 in one of the umpteenth Cabinet reshuffles by then president Jacob Zuma. Her successor Maswanganyi, after another #UniteBehind complaint, was found guilty in June 2023 of not appointing a Prasa board. His proposed sanction for breaking public trust was suspension from the House from 10 October to 1 December 2023.
But as the joint ethics committee report has not yet been adopted in the House, the sanction has not come into effect – and Maswanganyi continues to chair the Standing Committee on Finance and also voted in the approval of the new Public Protector, Kholeka Gcaleka, on 11 October.
The question now is whether the proposed sanction lapses, given that it’s already late into October – effectively undermining the joint ethics committee’s findings.
Peters, Zwane and Maswanganyi, like Deputy Minister in the Presidency Pinky Kekana, have undergone parliamentary ethics proceedings for their role in State Capture, but others have not.
The process of parliamentary ethics may yet unfold further. The process of presidential action on those in his executive named as State Capture implicated in the Zondo Commission report, remains pending. DM