NPA Believes Permission Secured for Woods Testimony
The National Prosecuting Authority believes it has already obtained permission for former public accounts committee chairman Gavin Woods to testify at Schabir Shaik's fraud and corruption trial.
"As far as we know we do have permission. He is coming here in terms of what happened in the last Parliament and our understanding is that permission allows him to do so," NPA spokesman Sipho Ngwema said in Durban.
This follows a warning by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete that two MPs due to give evidence at Shaik's trial at the Durban High Court will need Parliament's permission.
Woods had already been given permission by former speaker Frene Ginwala before this year's April 14 election, after a request by former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka.
But chief parliamentary legal adviser Eshaam Palmer said the current Parliament and its office bearers were not bound by the decisions made by former members.
He said there was a common law rule that the decisions of a previous Parliament could not bind a new Parliament.
He said Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille had already applied for permission to testify in the trial, but he could not confirm whether Woods had done so yet.
In general, MPs were not prohibited in law from giving evidence before a court or administrative tribunal. However, if they gave evidence on the records of proceedings, or the evidence given before, or any document submitted to Parliament, or any of its committees, certain legislative provisions came into effect, Mbete said.
Section 10 of the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act provided that such members first obtain the permission of the House of Parliament concerned.
If the relevant House was not sitting, the Speaker of the National Assembly or the Chair of the National Council of Provinces, as the case might be, or a person delegated by them, could grant permission.
"Failure to obtain permission may render a member guilty of contempt of Parliament in terms of the above act.
"The purpose of this provision is 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, as provided in the Constitution," Mbete said.
Asked if the NPA would reapply for the permission, Ngwema said: "We will if we have to but we think that Parliament is going to co-operate fully because this process was brought to us by Parliament and Parliament is not going to raise any obstacles."
Ngwema explained that Woods needed permission because he would be testifying about documents that were connected to Parliament but De Lille's testimony would be about information which came to her independently.
Themba Sono was also expected to testify about matters which arose before he became a politician.
With acknowledgement to Sapa.