Department of trade and industry director-general Lionel October. Picture: REVOR SAMSON
Department of trade and industry director-general Lionel October. Picture: REVOR SAMSON

Trade and industry director-general Lionel October has come under fire for attending an ANC meeting at the weekend, apparently to present a new industrial policy plan.

The DA argues that October’s presence at the ruling party’s meeting was problematic in terms of the separation of party and state.  The opposition party said a director-general should account to parliament, not the ANC.

The constitution makes it clear that each government department is headed by a director-general as the administrative head responsible for implementing the laws and policies decided on by parliament or the cabinet. Public entities at national level account to parliament through the National Assembly.

October confirmed in an interview with the Business Times last week that he would  be presenting a new industrial policy plan at the ANC lekgotla and immediately afterwards at the cabinet lekgotla.

On Thursday, October did not respond to questions on the matter. However, he pointed out that the DA had also registered its concerns with trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel, who is currently travelling to the G20 meeting.

“The minister is travelling … and he will be able to respond as soon as he can. As the matter has been raised by a member of parliament we need to formally respond to them first,” said October.

In a letter to Patel, DA MP and trade and industry spokesman Dean Macpherson asked why October attended an ANC NEC meeting to present a “new plan” from the department.

“Did the department fund the DG’s trip including, flights, hotel and car hire to attend a political party meeting? Where you aware, as minister that your DG was at a political party meeting presenting a ‘new plan’, if so, did you not believe this was problematic in terms of separating party and state?”

Macpherson said that he had written to Patel asking him to clarify October's presence at the NEC meeting and whether he would give the DA the same opportunity at its Federal Council meeting being held this weekend.

“The DG has flatly refused to explain his presence at the ANC NEC meeting or answer my direct questions on the matter.… It is important as minister that you clarify your position on the matter, what you knew or didn't know about Mr October’s presence and presentation and what disciplinary action you will take against Mr October,” Macpherson said in his letter to Patel.