Cape Town - Former communications minister Dina Pule has racked up legal fees of more than R1.18 million – and counting – at taxpayers’ expense to defend herself before the Press Ombudsman, Parliament’s joint ethics committee and the public protector.
“The total legal costs incurred thus far in respect of these matters amount to R1 187 148.82. Some legal costs are still payable, but are unknown at this stage,” said Communications Minister Yunus Carrim in a parliamentary reply.
DA MP Marian Shinn, who had asked for a breakdown of legal costs for each of the three matters, said she was disappointed that details were not provided in the parliamentary response.
“It’s a huge amount of money and one wonders why,” said Shinn.
“To me it seems a bit exorbitant.
“We need to have an interrogation of the legal fees. We need to know what each step of the process cost.”
Further questions now arose, she added, as Pule was represented by a fellow MP, not lawyers, at the parliamentary ethics hearing and over whether the high legal fees arose from hiring senior counsel in the other matters.
As a rule, the state picks up legal costs, but it remains unclear whether the government would also carry the legal fees incurred by Pule after she was sacked from the cabinet in July to become a backbencher.
In some cases the state decides to reclaim legal costs.
Former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who was found guilty of corruption, found himself owing the state about R17.4m, although recovery of the money appears unlikely, as Selebi, now on parole, is battling financially.
Pule’s relationship with businessman boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa, which both denied at one stage, emerged amid allegations that millions of rand disappeared from the R25m sponsorship of the 2012 ICT Indaba by the department, Telkom, MTN and Vodacom, and that events organiser Carol Bouwer was bullied into sub-contracting Mngqibisa’s company, Khemano, for a R6m management fee.
These claims are the subject of an ongoing probe by the public protector.
And the Hawks this week also confirmed its corruption investigation is continuing.
“We are not only probing the former minister, because she’s not the only one implicated, but a group,” said Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloko, declining to name others as it was not policy.
Once the investigation by a team of detectives was completed, the docket would be forwarded to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision, he added.
Last month, Parliament’s joint ethics committee found Pule guilty of having “wilfully misled” Parliament over her spousal-like permanent relationship with Mngqibisa, who had gained “ improper financial benefit”, including government-sponsored overseas travel.
The relationship had to have been disclosed under the parliamentary code of conduct, concluded the committee before imposing the maximum penalty - a reprimand in the National Assembly, a fine of a month’s salary and suspension from parliamentary activities for 15 days.
Pule on Saturday declined to comment on the legal fees.