Controversial African National Congress member of parliament Winnie Madikizela-Mandela attended only four National Assembly sittings last year.

Information received from Speaker Frene Ginwala showed she had permission for sick leave for nine days out of the 76 days the National Assembly met last year. This means she was absent without leave (Awol) on 63 days in 2002.

Parliament's committee clerk of the joint standing committee on defence confirmed that Madikizela-Mandela had not attended any committee meetings in the past year. The committee is the only one she has been assigned to full-time.

"I didn't know she was a member of my committee," said committee chair Thandi Modise.

Madikizela-Mandela is also an alternate member of the committees on environmental affairs and tourism and on safety and security.

Ginwala on Wednesday sent a letter to Madikizela-Mandela to request her attendance so that she could be publicly rebuked and fined for violating parliament's code of conduct.

This came after MPs in November unanimously endorsed a recommendation by its ethics committee that she be severely reprimanded by Ginwala, and fined R12 500 (half her monthly salary), for failing to disclose information in the register of members' interests.

The committee found Madikizela-Mandela guilty of contravening the code, in that she failed to disclose donations of R50 000 a month to supplement her monthly income, as well as her financial interests in the Winnie Mandela Family Museum.

She was the first MP to be found guilty under the code, which states that members must disclose all gifts, hospitality, sponsorships and benefits valued at more than R350, as well as shares and financial interests in companies and other corporate entities.

At the time, Madikizela-Mandela asked the Cape High Court for an order to prevent parliament from executing its resolution.

Her lawyer said this was an "opportunity for our client to present her side of the story in accordance with the audi alteram partem (hear the other side) principle".

Ginwala, parliament and the ethics committee have all sent answering affidavits stating that the constitution gives the National Assembly the power to control internal arrangements and proceedings and was therefore acting within the law. The matter has not yet been set down.

Parliament has decided it cannot wait for the court process, and Ginwala last week said she would summon Madikizela-Mandela to appear in parliament.

Madikizela-Mandela was granted extended sick leave from parliament late last year, despite the fact that she was on a trip to Libya on the day MPs endorsed the report against her.

She earlier said she would travel to Iraq as a human shield.

Parliament's rules do not make provision for sanctioning of truant members, and merely states that MPs absent for more than 15 days must obtain permission.

But the constitution says rules must be made to provide for MPs to lose membership for absenteeism.

Despite the loophole, parliament has the power to impose fines or reprimands by resolution, as was done with Madikizela-Mandela.

A new powers and privileges bill, due before parliament at the end of this month, however, states that MPs are guilty of a punishable offence if they commit an act which, under the standing rules, constitutes a punishable offence.

MPs will have to decide which offences to include in the bill, which already makes provision for a range of stiff penalties, including suspension for up to 30 days, fines of up to R10 000, and reprimands.

Last year, the ANC unveiled a plan to fine its MPs up to R2 000 a month if they stay away from work without permission.

ANC MPs were asked to sign consent forms authorising fines to be deducted from their salary cheques.

The money would be paid into the party's caucus fund, chief whip Nathi Nhleko said.

An ANC spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed that the plan was in place, but that Madikizela-Mandela was still on leave until the end of the trial in which she is a co-accused on 60 fraud and 25 theft allegations.

The trial was postponed last week to April 22. - Political Bureau