Johannesburg - IEC chairwoman Pansy Tlakula made an “honest mistake” in the procurement of new premises, the Electoral Court sitting in the High Court in Johannesburg heard on Wednesday.
“People can make mistakes. The fact that people make mistakes does not have a bearing on their integrity, their impartiality,” Daniel Berger, SC, for Tlakula, told the court.
He said she had acknowledged making an “honest mistake” when she tried to put the procurement of new office space for the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) out to tender.
Berger said the IEC ratified Tlakula's decision to do so.
“Advocate Tlakula tried to improve the position.”
He said that at the time Tlakula was not aware that Abland, the company that ultimately won the tender, would bid for it.
The Public Protector found Tlakula had a relationship - possibly of a romantic nature - with the chairman of Parliament's finance portfolio committee, Thaba Mufamadi. He was a shareholder in Abland, which owned the Riverside Office Park building in Centurion, Pretoria, the IEC's current premises.
The court is investigating Tlakula's conduct after an application by some opposition parties to have her resign as IEC chairwoman. It was brought before the May 7 elections in a bid to have her step down before the polls. The court however postponed it until afterwards.
The parties are the United Democratic Movement, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Congress of the People, Agang SA, and the Economic Freedom Fighters.
They argue that Tlakula's integrity had been compromised and that she should resign.
Their application followed a forensic investigation by the Treasury on the procurement of the Riverside Office Park building.
At the time of the complaint Tlakula was chief electoral officer.
The Treasury's probe found the process was neither fair, transparent, nor cost-effective. It found Tlakula did not give guidance or formally tell various people what was expected of them in the process.
Berger said: “There was a general understanding at the commission for years that rental of office space was not subject to tender.”
An initial deal for the leasing of office space led to a premises in Menlyn, Pretoria, being selected.
Tlakula subsequently called for “some sort of open process”.
“That was what she initiated and followed through with,” Berger argued.
Earlier Berger argued that the removal of a commissioner for misconduct could only be considered where that misconduct happened during their term of office. This was implicit in Section Nine of the Electoral Commission Act, he said.