Parliament to decide ICASA chairman's future

Communications minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. [Photo source: GCIS]
Communications minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. [Photo source: GCIS]

Communications minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is awaiting guidance from Parliament on steps to follow concerning the fraud conviction of chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) council.

Rubben Mohlaloga was found guilty of defrauding the Land Bank of approximately R6 million in 2008. According to a Hawks statement, Mohlaloga, together with former Land Bank CEO Philemon Mohlahlane and other accomplices, conspired and transferred the R6 million into Masepule Dinga Attorneys' trust account.

After the R6 million was received, say the Hawks, the funds were distributed and a farm was bought for R2 million as well as an X5 BMW and a BMW 118i for Mohlaloga, who was a member of Parliament and chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Agriculture at the time.

Responding to ITWeb's request for comments regarding what action will be taken in light of Mohlaloga's fraud conviction, the communications ministry said the minister will await guidance from Parliament as the appointing authority.

"The minister as required by the law has written to Parliament, which is the appointing authority, to deal with the matter."

Fraud oversight 2.0

Despite having a history of fraud allegations brought against him, the National Assembly still approved Mohlaloga's appointment as chairperson of the ICASA council.

His appointment, together with two other councillors, came into effect on 1 December 2017, the authority confirmed via e-mail. According to the regulator, the appointment of three new councillors comes with the affirmation of a new chairperson of ICASA, namely Mohlaloga, for a five-year term.

When Mohlaloga was initially appointed as an ICASA councillor in July 2013, he had already been charged with defrauding the Land Bank of R6 million although the case had yet to go through the court process.

At the time, the Department of Communications, under Dina Pule, said it was unaware Mohlaloga had the fraud charge hanging over his head when he was short-listed. He had also not disclosed the matter to the department, despite holding a senior position.

The Portfolio Committee on Communications condoned Mohlaloga's appointment after he was charged as there was nothing it could do to legally remove him.

A memo prepared by the Constitutional and Legal Services Office for the communications committee provided the opinion that no action can be taken against Mohlaloga, as he is presumed innocent.

Once councillors have been appointed, they can only be removed by the communications minister on grounds of misconduct, and can only justifiably be removed once they have been convicted, for example, for fraud, the memo stated.

Last month, the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) Phumzile Van Damme noted Mohlaloga's fraud conviction should disqualify him from serving as ICASA chairperson.

Van Damme, DA MP and shadow minister of communications, said the fact that Mohlaloga has been found guilty of fraud means he no longer qualifies to serve on the ICASA council.

According to Van Damme, Section 6 of the ICASA Act states: "[A] person may not be appointed as a councillor if he or she has at any time been convicted, whether in the Republic or elsewhere, of theft, fraud, forgery or uttering a forged document, perjury, an offence in terms of the Corruption Act or any other offence involving dishonesty."

"It is well known that Mohlaloga has a chequered past and Parliament should not have approved his appointment; it did so despite the DA's objection," she added.

Complete council

Although Mohlaloga's fate remains unknown, the appointment of new councillors means ICASA has concluded the rigorous process of finding candidates to serve on the council.

The names of the new ICASA councillors were approved after the Portfolio Committee on Communications concluded its interview process and recommended five names to fill the vacant seats.

Councillors Thembeka Semane and Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa were appointed on the terms that they will serve for a period of four years. They join councillors Paris Mashile, Botlenyana Mokhele, Peter Zimri, Palesa Kadi, Dimakatso Qocha and Keabetswe Modimoeng.

Mohlaloga was appointed as acting chairperson on 22 June 2016. Last September, the regulator announced Mohlaloga's departure and said he would be replaced by Paris Mashile.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications will meet this week to discuss Mohlaloga's future.

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