Dodging inquiry questions is now a criminal offence

Jacob Zuma
Image: JACKIE CLAUSEN

Witnesses who are called to testify before the state capture commission of inquiry but fail to answer questions will be committing a criminal offence.

This is according to new regulations gazetted on Tuesday by the department of justice.

According to the new regulations, any person who appears before a commission of inquiry and refuses or fails to answer questions or cooperate with the commission will be slapped with a fine or sent to jail for a period of up to a year.

The new rules come after state capture commission of inquiry chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, told the media two weeks ago that the inquiry would conclude its work with or without the input of former president Jacob Zuma or the Gupta family.

Seven months ago Zuma pulled out of the state capture commission of inquiry, alleging that he'd been invited to the commission under false pretences.

Zuma had taken issue with the fact that he was being cross-examined by the commission's evidence leader.

"Any person who appears before the commission and refuses or fails, on any grounds other than those contemplated in section 3(4) of the Commissions Act . to answer or to answer fully and satisfactorily, any question lawfully put to him or her: contravenes regulation 9..." the new rules read.

The regulations further stated that any person who willfully hinders, resists or obstructs the chairperson or any officer in the exercise of any power contemplated in regulation ... without sufficient cause ... an affidavit or affirmed declaration pursuant to a directive issued by the chairperson, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction."

The rules further added that any witness who is implicated in a commission but fails to show up when invited by the commission chair stood to be fined or imprisoned for a period of up to six months.

Stanley Malematja, an attorney at The Right to Protest Project, said the new rules would give commissions of inquiry teeth as they make non-co-operation of a person called to testify a criminal offence.

He said individuals also have the right to request for state protection before they testify at a commission.

"If the state fails to provide that protection, that person might decline to answer questions at a commission," said Malematja.

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