Jack Bloom MPL
DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health:
Lifestyle audits should be considered to check whether elected representatives are being truthful when they declare their financial interests every year.
This is my proposal following the report of the Gauteng Legislature’s Privileges and Ethics Committee concerning my referral of the alleged undeclared interests of ANC Chief Whip Brian Hlongwa as detailed in court documents.
This report was adopted by the Legislature on Friday last week (click here to view).
According to the report, Integrity Commissioner Ralph Mgijima presented his report, arising from which the Committee noted “that the matter is ‘sub-judice’ in terms of South African law and that it will be prejudicial to the rights of Hon Hlongwa to require him to submit a specific and detailed response in relation to allegations raised in the complaint.”
The Committee acknowledged the status of the investigation as current and on-going pending the outcome of the case which is currently before the South Gauteng High Court, and recommended that the Integrity Commissioner should provide a progress report on the matter in due course.
In my view this highlights the weakness of the current system where little verification is done of the financial interests that are declared annually by each member of the Legislature.
My referral was based on court documents in which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) alleges inter alia that: “At no time did Mr Hlongwa declare to the Gauteng Legislature the holiday to Cuba, payments towards his new house at Eccleston Crescent, various home renovations, rent-free accommodation, cash, spa treatments or other benefits received from Mr Payne, Mr Smidek, Mr Pillay or their various entities.”(Note: Mr Heinz Smidek is the CEO of the Baoki consortium that won the tender from the Gauteng Health Department for a Health Information System).
It was submitted further that Hlongwa and two senior officials “did not declare these benefits because they were well aware they were not innocently given or received, involved contractors to the GDoH and would attract attention.” (see my letter to Integrity Commissioner Ralph Mgijima below for more details of the alleged undeclared interests).
The assets of the Baoki Consortium have now been forfeited to the NPA as they conceded that they could not provide a defence concerning the alleged role of Mr Smidek in purchasing Hlongwa’s former home at 16A College Drive in Bryanston for R4.6 million as well as other gratifications to Hlongwa in order for him to improperly influence the award of the tender to Baoki.
I am disappointed that the Integrity Commissioner did not ask Hlongwa to reply to any of the allegations which are extremely serious. If he is innocent he could surely have provided a response that would not have prejudiced his case in court.
Court proceedings are unfortunately extremely slow, so Hlongwa will continue to serve as ANC Chief Whip despite strong evidence that he was remiss in not declaring his full interests when he was previously MEC for Health.
I will be proposing that lifestyle audits are done in select cases where MPLs appear to be living well above their declared income.
This should have happened when Hlongwa declared in a story in the Sowetan newspaper in 2007 April headlined “I’m too rich for my job” that he had made 10 times his MEC’s salary from his businesses and could therefore afford a R7.2 million house.
Declaration of interests by politicians will only be effective in detecting possible corruption if they are properly verified. Lifestyle audits will be a valuable addition to methods of detecting unjust enrichment by politicians and civil service staff.