By Mhlonishwa Hlophe | 2020-10-18
Could the House of Parliament Select Committee have acted beyond their mandate by instituting a probe at Eswatini Television Authority (ETVA)?
It turns out the latter’s legal team had allegedly warned the House of Assembly Select Committee against carrying out the probe, stating that it was unlawful as they were operating beyond their scope.
Attorney General (AG) Sifiso Khumalo calmly asked not to comment on parliament matters outside parliament.
According to a copy in possession of this newspaper, L.R Mamba & Associates served the Speaker of the House of Assembly and clerk to Parliament with a letter dated February 24, 2020, indicating that Parliament’s powers to set up select committees and investigate are limited to the investigation of ministries and departments of government.
The letter stated that such powers do not extend to statutory boards, of which Eswatini Television Authority is one.
Chairman of the Select Committee MP Musa Kunene acknowledged receipt of the letter from the television station.
He stated that the station was ill-advised, adding that as long as they were subvented by government they would have to account for their operations, hence they later withdrew the letter, alluded Kunene.
The select committee presented the report to the House of Assembly on Monday and it still remains allegations while the individuals implicated are presumed innocent as it is yet to be adopted by the legislature. “During the week ending on February 14, 2020 our client received an email dated February 13, 2020, inviting our client’s chairperson and ‘all members of the Board to appear before a Probe Select Committee’ on February 19, 2020.
“This followed an appearance by our client’s chief executive officer before the Select Committee earlier that week,” stated the letter. The letter mentioned that during those proceedings, the chief executive officer had requested that he be furnished with terms of reference.
However, it asserts that the committee was unable to furnish specific terms of reference, but only made reference to a motion which had been passed by the House. It states that following much internal deliberation, the chairman, out of respect for the House and its processes, attended the proceedings. “A request was made for the terms of reference. The Select Committee again only made reference to the motion.
“The purpose of this letter is to draw your attention to what is, in our opinion, a misdirection by the Honourable House, both in its passing of the motion in the form and manner in which it was passed and also the Select Committee in its conduct of the proceedings.
“Parliament is one of the three pillars of government as set out in the Constitution of the Kingdom.
The powers and duties of the House are set out in that supreme law. “The primary function of Parliament is to make laws and exercise oversight over the Executive,” reveals the letter.
It went on to state that Section 129 gives the House the power to appoint seasonal committees and other committees for the effective discharge of its functions.
It averred that the functions of such committees (including select committees) are inter alia the investigation and enquiry into the activities and administration of ministries and departments as parliament may determine the investigations. “Parliament is a creature of the Constitution and cannot act outside the realms of such.
Where it purports to do so, it acts unlawfully and the actions are invalid. “The powers to set up select committees and investigate are limited to the investigation of ministries and departments of government. They do not extend to statutory boards, of which our client is one, or other private entities,” states the letter. It alludes to the fact that where there is a need to investigate the functioning of statutory bodies such as the Eswatini Television Authority, Parliament has itself created an extensive body of laws, one of which is the PEU Act.
“The courts have on previous occasions issued interdicts against Parliament in similar cases where it has embarked on similar processes.
“It is respectfully clear to us that the processes embarked upon are unlawful and find no support in the Constitution and the pronouncements of the courts. Our client has great respect for the institution of Parliament. It has no wish to opportunistically sensationalise this matter by bringing an urgent application to the High Court for an interdict.
“However, our client’s board and chief executive officer have a duty to it, which extends to the duty to take all lawful steps to prevent the commission of unlawful conduct against our client or unlawfully interfering with its business,” explained the television station lawyers.
Director of PEU Act Busangaye Mkhaliphi, when sought for comment referred all questions to the relevant ministry, which is the ministry of ICT. Management of both ETVA and EBIS have been called to resign or be punished should they be found guilty of the allegations levelled against them.
According to the report, some of the allegations levelled against the television station’s chief executive officer include that he sometimes referred to himself as a ‘god’ and that akabopheki (beyond the reach of the law). There is also a witness who alleged he was fired because he refused to air the CEO’s traditional wedding (umtsimba) during a news bulletin as it clashed with the funeral of a senior member of the royal family. A former female employee, according to the report, alleged that the station’s Corporate Affairs Manager Mncedisi Mayisela once made sexual overtures on her during a staff retreat. Evident in the report is the non-appearance of ETVA employees before the select committee, as opposed to EBIS staff, who provided testimonies anonymously. The veracity of these allegations are still to be tested before the committee, for now they are just mere allegations without tangible proof.
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