Cape Town - Wednesday marked the start of deputy speaker of the Western Cape legislature Beverley Schäfer's appeal on findings that she misused government property.
The legislature’s conduct committee found her guilty of violating the code of conduct by misusing a BMW X5 SUV, costing the state over R150 000.
However, a twist to the appeal is that DA members have voted for it to be held in camera.
The committee report contains findings of fruitless and wasteful expenditure by Schäfer after investigating complaints that she refused to downgrade her luxury state-funded BMW X5 when her six-month stint as MEC ended in May 2019.
Schäfer was found guilty and fined R17 800. The committee suspended her privileges as deputy speaker and her right to a seat in parliamentary debates or committees for seven days.
She, however, appealed the conduct committee’s verdict, and an appeal’s committee was established. On Tuesday, the committee met to begin the appeal process nearly five years after this case started.
Using its majority, the DA, whose members dominate the appeals committee, voted for the hearing to be held behind closed doors, overruling the ANC and EFF. This meant that the public or the media wouldn’t be able to listen to the deliberations of the committee in the upcoming days.
The EFF called for an open meeting and for it to be live-streamed as it was in the public interest. But certain DA members felt they were not being heard and wanted the meeting closed. This led to a mini-break to allow the DA to caucus. When they returned, the media were asked to leave after the DA’s majority vote to close the session.
The EFF’s Aishah Cassim said:
“There have been more sensitive cases of black DA public representatives that have been made public at the time of their disciplinary hearings.
“But this is a white public representative, and it is obvious that this would have happened. It is actually a disgrace as to how the DA handles such matters.
“This matter has been delayed for a very long time. More than five years is a very long time. Any member who is found to be guilty should be held accountable, and there should be no delay.”
ANC leader in the legislature Cameron Dugmore said: “I think everyone is aware of the fact that there are provisions in our national Constitution that committee meetings are open. And at a national level, the only committee that is closed is the Committee on Intelligence. So there needs to be a reasonable and justifiable reason to close a meeting.”
He said there was a lot of public interest in this matter, and it had been dragging on for five years. “Initially the committee had been comfortable with opening, and then the most bizarre thing happened in the meeting where one of the members asked for a DA caucus, which now immediately politicises the matter, and when they came back after the caucus, they suddenly changed their position to say that the meeting should be closed,” said Dugmore.
Committee chairperson Andricus van der Westhuizen also voted in favour of the appeal to be held behind closed doors, saying they had to balance two rights - the public interest and those of Schäfer, who also needed to be protected as an individual.
“This decision is taken on the basis of this. We are not preventing the public from hearing, because eventually the public will have access to the recording and reports,” said Van der Westhuizen.