Meeting leaves MPs with questions and no answers over parliament blaze
An urgently convened parliamentary meeting to discuss this week's fire that razed some of the legislature's buildings left MPs with more questions than answers.
This after ANC MPs agreed with parliamentary officials that they needed more time to answer MPs' questions.
The meeting was called specifically for parliament and the department of public works and infrastructure to brief MPs on the preliminary findings following the devastating fire.
Inputs were made by public works minister Patricia de Lille, her officials and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Amos Masondo, who provided an overview. MPs posed questions particularly about previous audits and reports that flagged potential security risks for parliament.
Co-chairperson of the joint standing committee on the financial management of parliament, Dikeledi Mahlangu, said it was too early for MPs to get “something tangible” from parliament that would inform a way forward.
“We just have to be patient with each other,” she said, as opposition MPs protested.
Even National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula seemed taken aback by the committee's curtailing of the process, saying despite having few details about the fire, she was prepared to answer some of the MPs' questions.
“Even though the information is scant and we are trying to put the pieces together of what may have happened, I think I would have been able to give you a glimpse of what we have been discussing together with the acting secretary to parliament [Baby Tyawa] because whatever meetings I am holding, I am holding them together with the acting secretary to parliament.
“It is unfortunate that we were not given the opportunity,” she said.
DA, EFF and IFP MPs all objected, registering their unhappiness with parliament not answering MPs' questions.
IFP chief whip Narend Singh said it was unfortunate, while the EFF's Omphile Maotwe questioned how parliament could convene an urgent meeting and be unable to provide clarity when questioned.
Why were we called here to this meeting? It can't be that none of the questions can be responded to.EFF MP Omphile Maotwe
“It can't be correct. This is a very serious and urgent matter and this meeting was called as an urgent meeting to give clarity,” she said.
“All we are asking for is clarity on the questions we asked. Otherwise why were we called here to this meeting? It can't be that none of the questions can be responded to.”
DA MP Siviwe Gwarube warned against the institution paying lip service to accountability.
“I find it mind-boggling that the accounting authority of parliament has not said a single word. We have not heard from her about exactly what has gone wrong and what parliament is doing to ascertain what is going on,” she said.
The committee holds parliament to account for the running of its business, especially its financial management. Mapisa-Nqakula joined its meeting midway through after Tyawa told MPs she would need at least seven days to respond to their questions relating to the blaze.
She had earlier indicated she had no input to make about what had transpired since Sunday.
“We have been listening very carefully with our managers. We don't have a written report. We are going to liaise with the secretariat of the committee and take all the points you've raised and put together a report for the committee, as we normally do,” she said.
“I am asking that this committee allows us to do that and study all the points that have been raised by the members. We are always given seven days to submit on the questions raised by the committee.”
The secretary to parliament is the institution's most senior administrative staff and Tyawa has been acting in the position since former secretary to parliament Gengezi Mgidlana was placed on special leave in June 2017 in the wake of a series of allegations levelled against him by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).
Earlier, public works officials were adamant there had been regular checks and maintenance in the parliament precinct.
“I would like to confirm and emphasise that our systems were working as intended and were tested quite late in December to give us that particular assurance,” said acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel.
Another official, Thembeka Kolele, said all buildings and equipment in the parliamentary precinct were regularly maintained. This included:
- annual maintenance of electrical distribution boards;
- lighting replacement as and when required; and
- annual service and monthly visual inspection of fire extinguishers, hose reels and hydrants.