DA wants open SAAF brief


The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it will strongly oppose a decision taken by Sediane Montsitsi, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, to schedule a closed meeting for General Carlo Gagiano, Chief of the South African Air Force, to brief the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on the state of the South African Air Force.

“This morning Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, effectively prevented General Gagiano from providing a briefing to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence,” Maynier said in a statement issued late yesterday. “The Minister was evidently terrified that if General Gagiano was asked a straight question about the state of the Air Force, he may just have provided a straight answer.
“And the minister was probably even more terrified that if General Gagiano was asked a straight question about the use of shadow planes by President Jacob Zuma, he may well have provided a straight answer.”

The DA MP says the Constitution is clear: The public and the media may not be excluded from a sitting of a committee “unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society”. “However, the minister provided no compelling reasons – in fact she provided no reasons at all – as to why it is necessary to close the meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence.

The Minister simply stated, in a letter dated March 2 that she required “the necessary assurances of information security” before authorising the briefing by the South African Air Force.

On the basis of the letter, Montsitsi decided, with the support of ruling party members, to schedule a closed meeting. “The committee effectively decided to close a meeting without the Minister providing compelling reasons as to why the meeting should be closed. Moreover, the committee did not deliberate and consider whether it was reasonable and justifiable for the meeting to be closed. The fact is that the decision to close the meeting was simply rammed through by the ruling party. The decision, in my view, contravenes the rules of Parliament dealing with the admission of the public.”

Business Day says Gagiano was certain to have faced questions about the recent flights that shadowed President Jacob Zuma ‘s Boeing Business Jet on a flight to New York as well as the air force’s inability to keep many of its new jet fighters and trainers in the air. He would also have fielded questions about the state of the VIP transport squadron, which has been involved in a number of incidents.

The paper adds Sisulu has frequently refused to answer parliamentary questions, saying the information was classified — most famously when she refused to reveal details of President Jacob Zuma’s past flights on the grounds that it would compromise his security. Montsitsi told the members he had received a letter from the minister, of which he read the contents: Sisulu said “Section 199 (8) of the constitution requires that oversight of the security services should be done in a manner determined by national legislation or rules and orders of Parliament because the information required might be classified.
“I would therefore require that you urgently provide me with the necessary legislative framework that would ensure the protection of the information made available to the joint standing committee on defence, so that I may authorise the South African Air Force to brief yourselves. Without this framework the air force would be in breach of the constitution and the Defence Act and unable to brief the committee.”