Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, stands accused, in Parliamentary terms, of “making a career by hiding behind document classification, insufficient and even misleading replies to oral and written questions”.
She along with Cabinet colleagues Pravin Gordhan (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs), Michael Masutha (Justice and Correctional Services), Bathabile Dlamini (Social Development), Thulas Nxesi (Public Works) and Mildred Oliphant (Labour) have all been identified as Ministers who don’t supply proper answers to questions by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party.
The party’s chief whip John Steenhuisen said in Cape Town this week that oral and written parliamentary questions were mechanisms to ensure accountability and allow proper oversight of the exercise of national executive authority.
“During the fourth Parliament Ministers would simply flout the rules and not reply to opposition questions but once we successfully challenged that practice, they resorted to ‘non-replies’. This has presented a major challenge to the effectiveness of Parliament’s oversight function and has deprived Members of Parliament and South Africans of answers to crucial issues facing our country,” he said.
As one example of the Mapisa-Nqakula’s method of handling Parliamentary questions Steenhuisen referred to one asked by David Maynier when he was the party’s shadow defence and military veterans minister.
He wanted to know whether military or chartered aircraft were used to fly President Zuma to and from the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day in Russia in May this year as well as the aircraft used and their cost.
The Minister’s response was: “As previously indicated and in response to repeated similar questions, the Ministry and the department (of Defence) deems all information relating to movement of the President and relevant operational planning requirements as security sensitive. This information will not be made public and will be submitted to Parliament through a parliamentary channel that protects such information”.
Steenhuisen pointed out that “numerous questions relating to Presidential flights in the past have been answered in full”.
“This year, however, the Minister has refused to publicise this and offered to avail the requested information through unspecified ‘parliamentary channels’ that rarely materialise.
“The Minister has also been known to redirect questions regarding investigations and reviews within her department to others, knowing full well her response means the Questions Office will record the relevant MP’s questions as answered despite the lack of information and misdirection.”
He also points out the sub judice rule has been misused when responding to questions asked particularly by DA MPs.
“Departments have claimed providing information relating to matters before the courts would expose them to contempt charges. The sub judice rule was designed for a society in which a jury system operates and there is no rational way to argue that prejudice will be caused to the administration of justice if this question is truthfully answered.”
Another example of a reply by the minister was published in September. Mrs Anchen M Dreyer of the DA asked the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans whether (a) she, (b) her Deputy Minister and (c) any officials in her department travelled to China in the 2014-15 financial year; if so, what was the (i) purpose of each specified visit and (ii)(aa) total cost and (bb) breakdown of such costs of each specified visit? The reply was that “The information on international visits undertaken by both the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans are contained in the Annual Report that was tabled in Parliament.”