Publication: Sunday Times Issued: Date: 2004-07-18 Reporter: Brendan Boyle

New Speaker Worries About Harsh Spotlight on Corruption



Sunday Times

Date 2004-07-18


Brendan Boyle

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Parliament's new Speaker, Baleka Mbete, says she is so sensitive to potential charges of corruption that she reports gifts as small as a disposable pen or a teaspoon.

But she worries that the spotlight on abuse of office is too harsh for some.

Mbete was named in a 1997 scandal about fraudulent driver's licences in Mpumalanga. Hers was issued in a special after-hours meeting with officials. She handed it back after a judicial commission found it had been improperly issued, but found that she had not done anything wrong herself.

She told the Sunday Times she still believes she did nothing improper and that her only mistake was to speak too frankly to reporters.

But she said she had been so upset by the incident that she had never applied again for a driver's licence, adding: "My children drive me anywhere I need to go."

As Speaker, she has an official car and driver permanently at her disposal.

Mbete said the focus on corruption in government was appropriate, but the importance of record-keeping could be difficult for some members from rural backgrounds who had no experience of administration.

She said some of the most valuable representatives were sent to Parliament by communities who knew and trusted them.

"They know the integrity of this person in terms of the setting from which that person comes, so you mustn't set standards that have nothing to do with that reality to judge the person."

New MPs were briefed on their arrival at Parliament in May on the rules that require them to report any gift worth more than R350 and were given advice on how to spend allowances to equip their homes.

Mbete said she was not directly involved in the investigation of alleged abuse of parliamentary travel vouchers, but was being kept informed.

The Sunday Times reported last week that high-profile legislators and even Cabinet ministers were being investigated for the abuse of airline vouchers intended for official travel.

"Where a crime has been established, the law must take its course - we will never stand in the way of that," Mbete said.

But she said her first concern was to recover the money that was fraudulently claimed by travel agencies.

With acknowledgements to Brendan Boyle and the Sunday Times.