Mbete Warns Scorpions of MPs' Rights
Cape Town - National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has intervened in attempts by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to force MPs to testify in the fraud and corruption trial of businessman Schabir Shaik.
Mbete has cited the overriding Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act.
The former chairman of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Gavin Woods of the Inkatha Freedom Party, has been subpoenaed by the Scorpions to give evidence on a letter he received from Deputy President Jacob Zuma in January 2001.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille, who first raised the arms-deal corruption claims in Parliament in 2000, has also been subpoenaed.
However, both MPs have been informed that in terms of the act they need permission from the National Assembly before they can give evidence in a court of law about documents or evidence presented to Parliament.
Mbete last week wrote to acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Silas Ramaite, noting the legal requirements and pointing out that if MPs did not get permission, they would be guilty of contempt of Parliament.
She did not indicate when questioned yesterday what her response to applications for permission would be. Mbete said the intention of the act was "to ensure that Parliament is in control of its internal arrangements, proceedings and procedures, and the manner in which members and staff communicate these outside of Parliament".
It emerged that former speaker Frene Ginwala gave Woods permission in March this year to give evidence about Zuma's letter in the trial against Shaik.
This followed a request that was made to Ginwala for Woods to do so by Bulelani Ngcuka, the former national director of public prosecutions.
However, chief parliamentary legal adviser Eshaam Palmer has insisted that the current Parliament and its office-bearers were not bound by the decisions made by former members.
There was now a "different" Parliament in place, he said.
Palmer said Woods would have to ask permission from Mbete or the National Assembly to give evidence in court about parliamentary documents.
It is understood that both Woods and De Lille have asked for clarity about their positions, and if necessary for parliamentary permission to give evidence.
Woods said he was in a difficult position as failure to comply with a subpoena would constitute contempt of Parliament.
Zuma's letter to Woods was sent at a time when Scopa was investigating the alleged armsdeal irregularities.
He questioned Scopa's methods and powers, and asked for information it might have or acquire about the investigation.
With acknowledgements to Linda Ensor and the Business Day.