North West premier Thandi Modise. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

The North West's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) was “grossly unfair” in not accepting education MEC Louisa Mabe's apology for failing to appear before the committee, her department said on Wednesday.

“She was only given one-day’s notice to appear before the committee,” said department spokesman Gershwin Chuenyane in a statement.

“She had prior commitments which she could not postpone as they were agreed a while ago.”

Mabe was asked to appear before the committee to address media reports stating she and finance MEC Paul Sebegoe had spent R13

million on a disciplinary hearing.

The North West legislature said in a statement on Tuesday the disciplinary hearing concerned suspended department head (HOD) Johannes Mohlala.

Chuenyane said: “MEC Mabe will not respond to the allegations pertaining to the disciplinary hearing of the department of finance head of department 1/8due to the disciplinary hearing still in progress 3/8.”

Sebegoe's department said on Tuesday the newspaper report alleging he and Mabe spent R13 million on legal fees for the hearing was wrong.

“The information published by the newspaper in question is gross misrepresentation of facts,” department spokeswoman Kesalopa Gill said in a statement.

“The MEC submitted an apology for not attending the Scopa meeting as he was not available due to prior commitments. It is unfortunate that no arrangements were made to determine 1/8his 3/8 availability.”

The department had taken up the matter with the editor and was awaiting a response.

Gill said that with the matter still under review, the department could not comment further on the case.

On Tuesday, Scopa called for the expulsion of the two MECs.

This came after Sebegoe and Mabe failed to appear before Scopa to address media reports relating to the disciplinary hearing.

Acting HOD Geo Paul reportedly wrote to Mabe asking if she was going to avoid standard practice and appoint a law firm on contract for the hearing, the cost of which was not allowed to exceed R500,000.

However, according to media reports an invoice from the law firm Mabe appointed showed the department paid nearly R2 million for a single invoice, spending R13 million in total.

It was reported that Mabe was the chief witness in the matter.

Scopa wanted Mabe and Sebegoe expelled because they both failed to appear before the committee to explain the matter as requested.

“The two sent apologies but the committee 'rejected them with contempt',” the legislature said.

Scopa chairman Hlomane Chauke said public money could not be spent in that manner, with Sebegoe and Mabe refusing to take responsibility and account for it. He said if media reports were correct, Mabe had acted in bad faith.

“They were given enough time to come and present facts to the committee and they failed to do so,” said Chauke.

“If we do not take action we will see the collapse of accountability in the province.”

Scopa resolved the matter be brought to the attention of premier Thandi Modise. - Sapa