Mahlangu mum after challenge from Baqwa

Time of article published Aug 25, 1999

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Hopewell Radebe and African Eye News Service

Mpumalanga premier Ndaweni Mahlangu on Wednesday refused to comment on recommendations by Public Protector Selby Baqwa that he be censured for stating that it was acceptable for politicians to lie.

Baqwa ruled that Mahlangu had breached standards of conduct prescribed by the constitution.

Baqwa's investigation into Mahlangu was prompted by the premier's comments, at his first press conference on June 22, in defence of his decision to appoint Jacques Modipane as MEC for finance.

The Heath Special Investigating Unit was still investigating whether Modipane had signed three illegal promissory notes worth R340-million last year.

Mahlangu said it would be unfair to punish Modipane as he had been acting in the interests of the provincial government.

Politicians the world over, including US president Bill Clinton, regularly lied, he added. The circumstances of denial were important.

Baqwa said on Wednesday the premier's remarks were improper and a violation of section 136(2) of the constitution, and the Mpumalanga legislature should strongly sanction Mahlangu.

The constitution orders premiers and MECs, among others, not to "act in any way that is inconsistent with their office or expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and private interests".

"The (premier's) statement is unbecoming of a member of an executive council. I find it to be inconsistent with the office of a premier in that it compromises the credibility or integrity of his office and of Government," Baqwa said.

He exonerated media reports, saying SABC recordings were not edited in such a way as to distort Mahlangu's statements.

"I am also of the opinion that no context in which such a public statement could have been made by a person in the position of the premier can either explain or justify what has been said.

"Mahlangu was given the opportunity to comment on or contextualise the statements he made to the media, but failed to do so in a manner which would persuade the public protector to accord a different meaning to the words quoted," Baqwa said.

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