9 December 2006

South Africa: Top Body Clears Hlophe of Unauthorised Moonlighting

Johannesburg — ONCE again, controversial Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe has been let off the hook. The Judicial Service Commission, which investigated the circumstances surrounding a payment Hlophe had received from the Oasis group for work he had done for them, said on Friday that it had failed to prove he did not have permission to do the private work.

The commission's investigation was in response to a complaint lodged by African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart that Hlophe did extra- judicial work to the tune of R10000 a month without the required ministerial permission.

Hlophe conceded he had done the work and had received the cash, but said he had received oral permission from the late Dullah Omar when he was justice minister.

Brigitte Mabandla, the current justice minister, said there was no written record of Hlophe having been given permission to work for Oasis as a consultant.

Omar was justice minister until 1999, when he was moved to the transport portfolio.

The payments from the Oasis group were made in 2003.

The Judicial Service Commission, which is chaired by Chief Justice Pius Langa, said in its statement on Friday that there was no direct evidence to contradict Hlophe's assertion that he had obtained verbal permission.

The commission said that it had left the door open for further action should other evidence come to light.

However, the commission did urge that legislation urgently be formulated to regulate the issue of judges undertaking work outside their judicial functions.

There is at present no mechanism that obliges judges to seek written permission for work of this nature.

While it is apparently a convention in the justice department, it is not embodied in the law that permission should be in writing.

Swart said that while he respected the decision of the Judicial Service Commission, he found it strange that the issue of oral permission had been accepted in the absence of any written record of such permission having been given.

He said it highlighted the need for legislation that would force judges to make declarations of their financial interests.

Democratic Alliance MP Tertius Delport said his party would support such legislation.

The Oasis case is not the first issue that has got Hlophe's name into the headlines. He was involved in a public row in Western Cape, where he accused some prominent advocates of being racist. This followed a highly criticised judgment by a black judge.

He was also allegedly involved in a slanging match with an attorney and an advocate, and it is claimed he described them as "white shit".

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