The impasse between Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) chairman Themba Godi and the Ministerof Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, about her appearance before the parliamentary fiscal watchdog body continues.
Sisulu’s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya is referring queries about her possible appearance to Godi, Business Day reports today. “You must talk to him.”
Responding to whether the minister would now appear before the committee after snubbing the committee on three occasions, he charged that “we have not been invited to come to Scopa. On the basis of having no invite, it is difficult to speculate.” Her special adviser, Sipho Seepe, was not available to make comment, the paper reports.
Godi, meanwhile, said a meeting to resolve differences with Sisulu was meant to have been arranged by ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga just after Parliament went into recess early last month. A meeting was planned but the day before it was supposed to have been held, Godi said the minister’s office phoned him to say the minister was unable to make the meeting because she was going on an official visit to India.
The SCOPA chairman, who is the African Peoples’ Convention’s sole MP, said the committee had decided after the elections last year that when departments appeared before the committee, the department’s minister should also be invited to attend, Business Day adds. Sisulu, like the other ministers, had been invited to attend a committee session. She failed to appear for the third time on April 20, setting a new record.
The committee had been seeking a meeting with the minister since February after the acting defence secretary, Tsepe Motumi, appeared before the committee. MPs were left unsatisfied with his answers about the poor state of the Defence Department’s finances. Sisulu, who was appointed defence minister in May last year, was reported to have complained that her integrity had been attacked – through the media – and MPs on the committee had treated her like a child. She also said the committee had invited her when she was on official visits to Britain – with President Jacob Zuma – and Uganda.
Godi said at the weekend that oversight of the department’s 2008/09 budget would actually have referred to the year before she became defence minister, Business Day continued. He noted that then-defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, now president of the opposition Congress of the People, and then deputy defence minister Mluleki George, now a COPE MP, had been the political principals at the time.
Asked how the matter would be resolved, Godi expressed the hope that the minister would come to the committee when Parliament resumed later this month. “It is in our view still pending. From our side, the committee have carried oversight on all the state departments. Defence is the only outstanding department.”
All those ministers – or their deputies – who had been invited including co-operative governance, correctional services and trade and industry arrived, Godi said. Sisulu in April argued it was a “misconception” that ministers could be summoned to appear before a committee of Parliament. Sisulu said she wanted an apology from SCOPA and said she would not appear before the financial watchdog until she received that apology. She has also lodged a complaint with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe – in his role as leader of government business.
“I have decided that until this is resolved I will absent myself from SCOPA,” Sisulu is reported saying. Business Day newspaper at the time reported Sisulu was deeply offended that her integrity had been attacked through the media following her failure on three occasions this year to appear before the committee to discuss the department’s troubled finances. The South African Broadcasting Corporation added Sisulu believed the allegations were unparliamentary and malicious. Committee members had publicly and with “unprecedented venom” suggested that she was arrogant and disrespectful of Parliament, Sisulu said. “They were talking about me as though I was some recalcitrant child. I really did resent what I saw on television.”
“I have decided that until this is resolved I will absent myself from SCOPA,” Sisulu was reported saying.
But Democratic Alliance SCOPA members Mark Steele and David Maynier said she was wrong. The DA duo say the Constitution is clear: in terms of Section 56 (a) any committee of the National Assembly – which includes SCOPA – may “summon any person to appear before it to give evidence on oath or affirmation, or to produce documents”. Moreover, a person who fails to appear can be compelled to appear in terms of Section 14 of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (No. 4 of 2004), they add.