Brown sits on evidence

By Time of article published Dec 23, 2009

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By Murray Williams

Staff Writer

Former Western Cape premier Lynne Brown has refused to hand over evidence of possible serious corruption to her successor, Helen Zille - a tape that contains allegations of secret cash payments to journalists.

The former premier admitted last month that a meeting between her and a former director of Hip-Hop Media, Vukile Pokwana, was recorded earlier this year while she was still in office.

The Mail & Guardian reported on November 13 that Pokwana had claimed in the marathon two-hour interview that an executive editor at the Cape Argus, as well as journalists at other media houses, had been paid cash through provincial government contracts to "manipulate the news".

In subsequent interviews, Brown confirmed that she had had the meeting recorded and that she was still in possession of a recording - eight months after she handed over the premiership to Zille.

She also initially told the Cape Argus that she would offer any assistance she could in a new investigation into the allegations.

The Cape Argus launched an immediate attempt to obtain the recording in terms of the Provision of Access to Information Act, which it submitted to the provincial government, as part of its investigation.

The request was for the recording and all supporting documentation pertaining to it.

Yesterday, the province's acting director-general, Brent Gerber, formally responded to the Cape Argus, saying the province had found neither the tape nor records, despite an extensive search.

He said they had approached Brown, knowing that she had a copy and that it had been made while she was premier.

However, the Cape Argus has learned that Brown has refused to hand over the recording. Her reasons are explained in a letter by her lawyer David Erleigh.

In a legal correspondence between Gerber and Erleigh, it has emerged that Brown claims that she made the recording in her "personal capacity" - neither as premier nor as a senior ANC leader - and that she therefore did not have to hand the tape over.

In response, Gerber challenged her: "We are surprised by your client's contention that the tape was made in her personal capacity. As you are no doubt aware, there was a contractual relationship between the provincial government and Hip Hop Media at the time the tape was made and all indications are that the subject matter of the tape relates to the contract between the provincial government and Hip Hop Media."

He also questioned her on legal grounds, pointing out that the Act defined a private body as "a natural person who carries or has carried on any trade, business or profession, but only in such capacity" and noting that Brown had been both premier and an ANC leader at the time.

Responding to the news that Brown was refusing to hand over the tape, Zille said today: "It's disingenuous for her to say now that she made the recording in her personal capacity, because she would never have made that recording if she had not been premier.

"This is a time of reckoning for her commitment to being transparent in exposing any kind of corruption," Zille charged.

In her letter, Brown also raised concerns about releasing the tape because of potential damage to third parties - such as Hip Hop, Pokwana and others.

Through Erleigh, she said she "wishes to release the tape recording but has been firmly advised that she cannot simply do so without being legally compliant towards all third parties".

Erleigh stressed that Brown had "nothing to conceal" but was concerned about the legal ramifications of releasing the tape.

Gerber reassured Brown that the province would indeed have to consider the rights of third parties before it ever released the tape too.

In its report last month, the Mail & Guardian reported that Pokwana had alleged that meetings to hand over "brown envelopes" containing cash to journalists had taken place in public places, including a city pub.

"Pokwana mentioned the names of journalists from other newspapers who, he alleges, are also implicated in receiving payments to manipulate the news. Radio journalists were also being recruited, he claimed," the report said.

Last week, the Cape Argus asked Pokwana if he was prepared to verify and substantiate the allegations he reportedly made to Brown.

Pokwana said he was waiting to hear what Brown's lawyers had to say about the tape.

The allegations of payments to journalists have also repeatedly been made by ANC MPL Max Ozinsky.

Ozinsky has been suspended by the ANC and has been forbidden to speak to the media.

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