Anti-Corruption Bill Sets New Rules for Parliament
Cape Town - Parliament's mixture of new and long-term MPs were on Friday advised that the tough new anti-corruption bill passed earlier this year applied to them as well - and they could not use their parliamentary privilege to malign anyone outside parliament itself.
Anton Meyer, parliament's chief legal adviser, was taking the MPs through the rules and regulations that affect them as office bearers as much as they do ordinary members of the public.
The new Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, passed by the previous parliament before the April elections, applied to all South Africans and indicated that government was "very, very serious" about rooting out corruption at all levels of society, Meyer said.
It was, however, written in very complicated legalese and the different political parties should consider holding special meetings for their members and the public about what it really meant.
The penalties imposed for those found guilty of corruption under the new act were generally harsh, and could extend up to life imprisonment.
Members agreed that although corruption was "a worldwide phenomenon", South Africa should do all it could to discourage it.
This meant that they had to be very careful about accepting invitations for lunches and dinners - "There is no such thing as a free lunch," said one MP - or any gifts in return for influencing any laws being considered by parliament.
Accepting an invitation to lunch was, in itself, not a measure of corruption. But if the contacts made during that lunch were later used to try to influence decisions, then that was "definitely corruption".
Meyer said MPs could also not accept gifts or payment from the media, for example, in return for leaking confidential information or from former employers to lobby for certain changes to government policy.
Meyer said although MPs did have powers and privileges that members of the public did not enjoy, such as openly naming people involved in alleged corrupt activities, they could only do so without fear of prosecution for libel while they were inside parliament - and then only if it involved issues serious enough to be aired in parliament.
The Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Bill, due to be passed by the new parliament soon, tended to create the impression that MPs had powers and privileges that ordinary citizens did not have, which was not true, Meyer said.
With acknowledgements to Lynda Loxton and the Business Report.