Saturday, May 29, 2010
Questions go begging on defence issues
Published: 5/27/2010 21:19:41
JOHANNESBURG - Parliament’s joint standing committee on defence and military veterans has met only once since President Jacob Zuma took power last year.
In that meeting, in early September 2009, the only point of action was to elect Hlengiwe Mgabadeli as chairman of the committee – on an annual salary of R1 million, substantially more than the R757 000 that ordinary MPs earn.
Despite her whopping salary, Mgabadeli has not chaired a meeting and appears to have done very little other than to allow the department of defence to dodge questions on the SA National Defence Force (SANDF)’s contribution to protecting the Fifa World Cup.
The joint standing committee is chaired by Mgabadeli and comprises members of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. This allows the nine provinces to be represented.
Asked to confirm if her committee had met this year, Mgabadeli said: “Yes. No.” Asked to explain, she said: “There were no clear lines of demarcation and I serve on the commission. Why can you not wait for next month?”
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has repeatedly made it clear she will only appear before Mgabadeli’s committee.
The records of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group show that early last month, after being asked by ANC MP Emmanuel Mlambo to give a representation on the combat-readiness of the SANDF, Sisulu replied in writing.
She wrote: “We urge the joint standing committee on defence and military veterans to call on the department of defence, which is in a state of readiness to engage with the said committee, so we can put this matter behind us.
“The information required is of a confidential nature and the details will only be made available to members of the joint standing committee on defence and military veterans at a closed meeting.”
Asked to confirm if Sisulu only recognised her committee, which has never met, Mgabadeli said: “Yes, that is so and that is as it should be. But we have never met because there were no lines of demarcation.”
The Citizen could not establish if she meant lines of demarcation between the two parliamentary committees or the commission on which she serves.
Congress of the People (COPE) spokesman Philip Dexter said he believed the state of affairs had been “engineered”.
He said: “The ANC’s opinion is that intelligence and defence should be above the law and unaccountable to anyone. This is a manifestation of that thinking. The public should have the right to know if the SANDF is prepared to defend our country and whether budgets are not being wasted or stolen.”
With piracy off the coast of Africa and threats from al-Qaeda affiliates to attack the Fifa World Cup, Sisulu has managed to avoid explaining herself to Parliament.
She has also managed to avoid being questioned on repeated claims that the military has been bankrupted by the controversial R60 billion arms deal and cannot afford to maintain the equipment bought as part of the deal.
Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesman on defence David Maynier said the state of affairs was not good. “Parliament has an oversight function and we need to know things. The country has a clear right to know what’s the state of its defence force.”
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group records the joint standing committee as having eight members all from one party – the ANC.
However, this does not appear to be correct.
Maynier said: “I am on that committee as I know are other opposition MPs. However, the committee has never met so I have absolutely no idea who else is on the joint standing committee. The portfolio committee has 17 members – eight from the ANC and the rest from COPE, the DA, the IFP, the PAC and the Freedom Front Plus.”
Sisulu has failed to appear before Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) three times this year.
Its repeated calls for her to explain the chaotic state of her department’s finances have been ignored.
Last month, Sisulu said she would be boycotting Scopa and refusing to appear before them as she considered their criticism of her repeated failing to appear “very unparliamentary”.
Comments by Sonny
What is Zuma and Sisulu hiding from us?