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HomeNewsNzimande under-fire requesting MPs to treat skills fund report as confidential

Nzimande under-fire requesting MPs to treat skills fund report as confidential

Nzimande under-fire requesting MPs to treat skills fund report as confidential

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Cape Town – The standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) asked for legal opinion on Tuesday after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande requested that it keep confidential the National Skills Fund (NSF) forensic investigation report.

The committee was meant to receive the report after it gave the department an ultimatum over a week ago following missed deadlines in recent months.

The investigation was at the insistence of Scopa after it received a briefing on the annual performance plan and finances of the NSF in May 2021.

The entity obtained a disclaimer of audit opinion in the 2019-20 financial year after the Auditor-General Africa could not determine adjustments made in the financial statements.

On Tuesday, Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa informed the committee that neither Nzimande nor his deputy Buti Manamela would attend the meeting.

Hlengwa said he also received correspondence from Nzimande in the morning requesting that Scopa treat the NSF report as confidential in line with one of the parliamentary rules because implicated persons had not been engaged while the department was finalising its internal processes.

The Parliament rules provide for the portfolio committees, the Speaker and the House to decide if any report can be handled as confidential and considered in a closed session.

EFF MP Ntombovuyo Mente said the report related to public funds and that the A-G could not audit public funds at the NSF.

“We cannot be sworn to secrecy by the minister that the document is not to be made public. It is public information and pertains to public funds,” Mente said.

ANC MP Bheki Hadebe complained that the report was sent at the eleventh hour and that they did not have an opportunity to consult with the parliamentary legal services.

“We should state upfront that it is totally unacceptable and uncalled for. It is a deliberate attempt to prevent this committee from executing its work and mandate,” Hadebe said.

He noted with concern that the department had been sitting with the report for six months.

DA MP Alf Lees said it appeared that Nzimande was asking that the report be concealed because it contained people’s names or other processes.

“This document is submitted to us and we have not declared it as a confidential document. This document is not confidential and we should deal with it with immediate effect,” Lees said.

EFF Member of Parliament Sinawo Thambo took a swipe at the department for wanting the report to be treated as confidential.

“This is the same logic of Phala Phala farm. I don’t think we must subject the people of South Africa to that lack of accountability,” Thambo said.

Other ANC members were critical of the department, but wanted a legal opinion to be sought from the parliamentary legal services.

“It is not the first time we get documents at the last minute,” Nokuzola Tolashe said.

“Forever we get an excuse after another, or no documents or get them late or the minister does not pitch at expected time,” Tolashe said.

She charged that Nzimande should have discussed the matter with Hlengwa rather than have it discussed first in yesterday’s open meeting.

“Let us wait for the legal unit to hear more from them on how we deal with this matter. It is not acceptable. It could have been done differently,” Tolashe said.

Hlengwa said he found it unacceptable for the department to place them in “some trap” at the last minute.

“I don’t think the department is helping. I begin to suspect it is deliberate,” he said.

He expressed his fear that if Scopa treated the report as confidential, Parliament would conduct its business in the shadows.

Hlengwa ruled that Scopa would receive the legal opinion and decide on the matter on Wednesday.

Cape Times

Original Article

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