Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-10-14 Reporter: Donwald Pressly

Speaker says De Lille, Woods Can Go to Court



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-10-14


Donwald Pressly

Web Link


National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has granted permission for Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille and the former chairperson of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Gavin Woods, to appear in court as state witnesses in the trial of Schabir Shaik.

In a statement, Mbete's spokesperson Luphumzo Kebeni said this was after "they both requested permission to do so".

Earlier, a defiant De Lille said she would testify to the court even if Parliament did not allow her to do so. Woods said he had been placed in an invidious position - facing contempt either of Parliament or of the court.

Both have been subpoenaed to appear in court during the trial of the Durban-based businessman who is facing corruption charges relating to the arms deal.

The controversy arose after the speaker wrote to the national director of public prosecutions, indicating that MPs have to obtain permission to appear as state witnesses.

Noting that it was reported in the media that the two members had been called as witnesses, she said in general, members are not prohibited in law from giving evidence before a court.

However, if they give evidence on the records of proceedings or the evidence given or any document submitted to Parliament or any of its committees, Section 10 of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004 "provides that such members first obtain the permission of the House of Parliament concerned".

She noted that if the relevant House is not sitting - as is the case at the moment with the Assembly - the speaker of the National Assembly may grant such permission.

Mbete noted that failure to obtain permission may render a member guilty of contempt of Parliament in terms of the Act.

She said: "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."

De Lille said earlier: "I was never formally informed by Parliament that I should ask permission [to appear in court]."

She said she had been copied a letter sent by Mbete to the national director of public prosecutions noting that she would have to get permission to do so. De Lille had written back to Mbete asking for permission to appear.

Woods said earlier he had received a letter from former speaker Frene Ginwala in March - before the April elections - saying she had been approached by the then director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, who said he wanted Woods to be in court in the Shaik trial.

A letter written to him by Deputy President Jacob Zuma in January 2001 is expected to be examined during the trial. It questioned the motivations for Scopa's investigation of the arms deal.

Woods said he had sent a letter to Mbete on Wednesday evening, noting that it is likely the Zuma letter - written to him in January 2001 - will be examined and that he would like permission from her to refer to it.

With acknowledgements to Donwald Pressly and the Mail & Guardian.