MPs demand absent Justice Minister Masutha explain ICC decision

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Justice Minister Michael Masutha has come under fire from MPs for sending officials to account before Parliament on the country’s failed International Criminal Court (ICC) withdrawal‚ instead of coming personally to clarify and answer “political questions“.

The South African government withdrew its decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Crimes Court (ICC) following a High Court decision declaring it invalid and unconstitutional.

Briefing the oversight committee on international relations on Wednesday‚ acting chief state law adviser Ayesha Johaar said the Cabinet noted the ruling by the North Gauteng High Court.

“Cabinet abides by the ruling and has established a technical task team to develop a compliance road map‚” said Johaar.

Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota said it would be unfair to interrogate Johaar and other officials and demanded that Masutha be present.

“First of all‚ we ourselves must be very clear whose role is what. I think we are making a serious mistake (by) asking members of bureaucracy to answer political questions. Why do we think that someone who is employed to give a legal opinion‚ but that person must now take responsibility for the political decisions of those who occupy political positions?” asked Lekota.

He said government policy is not the idea or responsibility of employees of the department‚ but those of politicians.

ANC MPs nodded in agreement and didn’t object to Lekota.

“They are experts to assist the politicians how to do things‚ not to answer what will happen if we withdraw from the ICC. That question must be answered by the ministers here. I’m frankly very embarrassed. We can’t confront sardines when the sharks are away. We need the sharks here because these are innocent people‚ these are experts. I would appeal that you note our questions and ask the minister to come here and answer for themselves so country can hear as we hold them to account‚” said Lekota.

Committee chairperson Siphosezwe Masango said Masutha was off sick and communcations minister Faith Muthambi was acting in his position. Muthambi also excused herself from the meeting.

He said Masutha and his international relations counterpart Maite Nkoana-Mashabane would be asked to brief the committee at a later stage.

DA MP Darren Bergman said at least one minister should have been present.

“Ultimately it’s the ministry that makes the decision‚ the executive. I’m getting very worried about our advice given to ministers or how decisions are taken. Decisions are taken from a executive level. Now South Africa has been summoned to the Hague on April 7 to explain why Omar Al Bashir was allowed to leave South Africa‚” said Bergman.

Stevens Mokgalapa of the DA said the high court decision basically reaffirmed parliament’s authority.

“It has put us back in the fore as the centre of legislation and accountability in this country. It must be welcomed. It gives us those powers as committee of parliament in future‚ in such treaties we get to engage them thoroughly and not see them as rubber stamp. The judgment says parliament must be taken seriously‚” said Mokgalapa.

Masutha’s spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed that the ICC’s pre-trial chamber has directed South Africa appear before it on April 7 to make oral submissions on its failure to arrest Sudanese President Al Bashir.

“It is important to note that South Africa will not be appearing as an accused before the PTC but to assist the chamber to understand the country’s position in what is procedural an inquisitorial process. South Africa will fully participate in this process‚” said Mhaga.


 - TMG Digital/Parliamentary Bureau




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