Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

‘Mockery of this procedure’: G4S fails to show up in Parliament over Thabo Bester saga

The security company asked to be summoned after Easter weekend.

G4S, the security company which manages the Mangaung Correctional Centre, has shunned Parliament leaving MPs frustrated as convicted murder and rapist, Thabo Bester remains on the run.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services met on Tuesday to discuss Bester’s escape from the maximum security prison last year.

Despite receiving an invitation to appear before the committee last week, G4S failed to show up to the meeting.

In a letter dated 3 April, G4S asked the committee that the company be summoned after Easter holiday and also requested that it be afforded parliamentary protections.

The company explained that it needed “sufficient time to prepare” for the meeting.

‘Flimsy protection’

Outraged by the developments, Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Glynnis Breytenbach suggested that the meeting not proceed without G4S.

“They thumb their nose at a committee of Parliament and… [demand] to be summonsed here in order to obtain some sort of flimsy protection. For what? If they have nothing to hide they would have been here,” she said.

“It makes very little sense to me [and] a mockery of this procedure to proceed with this inquiry without G4S being present.

ALSO READ: Thabo Bester: ‘Difficult for govt to say what G4S is not complying with’

“It’s comparable to calling the accused last in a criminal case and giving him an opportunity to hear all the evidence against him so that he can fabricate answers in defense before he has to give evidence,” Breytenbach continued.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Steven Swart questioned why G4S did not pitch for the meeting when government officials “with very busy schedules” were present.

“How dare they say that they are not attending today and what do they have to hide? Chair, I also believe that the letter they sent you where talk about being bound by some contractual arrangements and some protection… what about the women? The rape survivors who were totally unaware that Bester was out. What if they had seen him? What would they have thought,” Swart said.

African National Congress (ANC) MP Nomathemba Hendrietta Maseko-Jele shared the same sentiments.

“G4S were the people who were responsible, who were on site… They have shown disrespect to the committee and to the public by not honouring this,” she said.

‘Confidentiality restraints’

G4S’s legal representative, Advocate Ben Winks, sought to explain the position that the company has taken to the committee.

“G4S certainly has not meant any disrespect to this committee. G4S didn’t directly received an invitation, but incidentally on Saturday heard from BCC [Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts,] who was invited, that this meeting was to take place. [G4S] wasn’t aware that any presentation would be required from it,” he said.

Winks said the company was “very keen” to assist the committee, but will need to have a summons to be released from “its statutory and contractual confidentiality restraints”.

“It’s only by virtue of Section 22 of the [Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliaments Provincial Legislatures Act] that a witness can be immunised from its liability for breach of contract or any other kind of liability in response to a summons,” the advocate explained.

RELATED: State can be sued if Bester harms public while on the run

ANC MP Kgomotso Ramolobeng raised concern about G4S sending its lawyers to address the committee.

“Is G4S admitting that there was a breach of contract between them and DCS [Department of Correctional Services] that’s why they seek immunity from this whole process?” she asked.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Vusumuzi Khoza said the committee was “being played”.

“You can’t tell us they are unable to come, but then you send your legal representatives,” he said.

“Why would you say I need immunity from responsibility when you know you have done nothing wrong?

“You would have come here, put all your cards on the table and explain yourself, but you want guarantee that there will be no consequences to what you disclose or say… that is very disingenuous.”

Watch the meeting below:

‘Technical loopholes’

The committee’s chairperson, Gratitude Magwanishe said G4S was “properly” invited to attend the meeting.

“I don’t think the response from their lawyer will make us any less angry than we are, but what it is clear is that we would need to summon them because they were invited… they elected not to do so,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that when people have to account they look for technical loopholes because it’s quite clear that instead of just coming with the information, G4S is looking for all legal routes possible,” Magwanishe added.

READ MORE: Thabo Bester: Police open murder case against Facebook rapist

“Accountability to Parliament is not optional… all stakeholders are here except them,” Magwanishe said.

Meanwhile, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola expressed his disappointment that the meeting will not be proceeding.

Lamola revealed that he was scheduled to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa, but decided to attend the committee meeting due to the urgency of the matter.

The minister, however, assured that his department will return upon the request of the committee.

“We believe that it is in the interest of the public that they know what happened and what is going on in terms of capturing then fugitive that has escaped from our facility,” he told the committee.