Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu wants an apology from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and says she will not appear before the financial watchdog until she receives 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 told Parliament’s portfolio committee on defence yesterday. Business Day newspaper this morning reports she 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, saying 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.”
The minister said she skipped a meeting with SCOPA on Tuesday after chairman Themba Godi declined her request for a closed audience with members to clear “a cloud of negativity” that arose after she missed two earlier meetings. She said on both those occasions she had to ask to reschedule her appearance because she was accompanying President Jacob Zuma on state visits, once to Uganda and once to Britain. “I began to wonder: ‘Why are the invitations always for when I’m not available?'”
When Godi declined to allow her a private audience with members, Sisulu consulted Motlanthe, as head of government business, and held a meeting with ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga and party study groups. They agreed that she should not proceed to an open meeting with SCOPA on the defence department’s financial accounting that was due to start half an hour later. This caused further trouble as Godi was not informed, Business Day reported. He in turn took the matter up with Motlanthe and asked that “misunderstandings” with the defence minister be resolved.
Sisulu said there was a misconception that ministers could be “summoned” to appear before parliamentary committees, as the Democratic Alliance suggested should be done to drag her before SCOPA. “You are invited to attend. There is only one committee that has the power to summon and that is the joint standing committee on intelligence,” she said. She added only accounting officers – directors general – could be summoned, not ministers.
Sisulu initiated the process of trying to meet SCOPA in February after then Acting Secretary for Defence Tsepe Motumi mishandled MPs’ questions about the department’s progress in resolving its accounting woes. She said she had wanted to address Parliament’s concerns about defence finances because she needed MPs to support her requests for more money for the military. It was a point of honour that after a decade of qualified audits, the defence department would not receive another “in my time”.
Opposition Democratic Alliance party SCOPA – and defence portfolio committee – member David Maynier said Sisulu’s behaviour was “part of an ongoing problem with the minister of defence and the Department of Defence trying to dodge being accountable to Parliament. And it is part of the trend.”
Motshekga’s office issued a statement after he and Motlanthe meeting Godi saying “[w]e are satisfied that the minister remains fully committed and submissive to the oversight authority of Parliament. Both the chairperson [Godi]and the minister will agree on a date in which the committee would meet with the minister.
The statement added that it was “clear that a misunderstanding resulted in the postponement of
[Tuesday’s] meeting. The minister had requested a bilateral meeting with Mr Godi, ahead of her appearance before the full committee, to discuss some of the issues raised by the committee relating to her department. It is unfortunate that this requested meeting was understood to be a meeting with the whole committee.”
But this is contradicted by the correspondence between Sisulu’s office and SCOPA. “The meeting, arranged at my request, is a closed meeting between myself, as the Executive Authority and a Member of Parliament, and members of SCOPA only. [sic]”
Pic: Sisulu with deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla