Ministers using “security concerns” as dodge to avoid accountability: DA

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The Democratic Alliance says alleged concerns about the personal safety of Cabinet ministers have become a handy excuse to dodge parliamentary questions. The opposition party’s defence shadow minister and Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) member David Maynier says this has become evident from a raft of recent questions posed to ministers regarding recent hotel and guest house stays.

“We have been concerned that ministers may be splurging huge amounts of taxpayers’ money on accommodation in luxury hotels and guest houses ever since higher education minister Blade Nzimande was caught out spending fifteen days at the Mount Nelson Hotel,” Maynier says in a statement. “We therefore submitted parliamentary questions to each minister requesting information on the names, star rating, location and amount being spent on accommodation in hotels and guest houses between 2009 and 2011. However, ministers now seem to be coordinating a cabinet-level cover up by refusing to properly reply to these parliamentary questions.”

Maynier notes Minister of Water Affairs and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa last week replied as follows: “I am not able to answer this question as it deals with matters that may negatively impact on my personal security and operations of the Department.” Other ministers are now following suit and have also refused to reply to the same parliamentary question on the grounds that their “personal security” may be endangered, Maynier adds.

He notes government spokesman Jimmy Manyi last week “even tried to suggest that disclosing information about ministerial stays in hotels and guest houses may result in ministers being ambushed by criminals.”

The combative DA MP rejected this, saying “there is no risk to the personal security of ministers because the parliamentary questions apply retrospectively. How is it possible that disclosing the fact that a minister spent ten days at a luxury hotel two years ago could possibly endanger a minister’s personal security?

Manyi said even if the information being requested was old, it could still be of use to criminals planning to attack members of the executive, and could therefore not be made public. “The issue here is that where two years ago, up to the same date, the minister keeps going to the same place, they are mapping out a clear roadmap for what criminals should do, because we are saying here is the predictable situation,” he said. “So if you want to do an ambush why don’t you target this place? This is the context.

Manyi said on such questions the minister would provide the information to Motlanthe’s office, who could then share it privately with the MP who asked the question, the South African Press Association reported. “If certain of the questions pose a security risk, ministers will go and tell the leader of government business what those are, so that opposition members can go to the leader of government business and check that out. “So in that way the question is answered in a way that does not compromise security.”

He dismissed a journalist’s suggestion that if criminals were planning to attack ministers, they would more likely do so between their easily identifiable offices and official residences. “They are forever out there in their constituencies. They are criss-crossing the country. They are never in their homes,” Manyi said.

Maynier in his response further noted ministers are refusing to reply to the parliamentary questions on the grounds that the disclosure of the information “may” negatively impact on their personal security. “This suggests there is an element of uncertainty and that the refusal to reply was not based on an objective threat assessment of the risk of disclosure conducted by the South African Police Service (SAPS).”

Maynier says the DA will therefore submit follow-up parliamentary questions probing whether the ministers refusal to reply to the parliamentary questions was based on objective information including a threat assessment to the ministers personal security conducted by the SAPS.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu last year said she would not release President Jacob Zuma’s flight details, when asked to do so by Maynier. “It is not correct to put any information about the security of the president, the security of the deputy president and for that matter even the security of the premier of the Western Cape [also the national DA leader, Helen Zille] in the public domain, because that undermines the very basis of why we are providing security,” Sisulu told a media briefing in Cape Town in October last year.

The official opposition cried foul when Sisulu gave the number of flights but declined to reveal the dates and destinations, saying this information was made public in the past. “The argument that came out of that is that in the past Minister (Mosiuoa) Lekota has given answers to Parliament that gave the schedule of the president. He may or may not have. I don’t know …. but even if he did it is wrong and the fact that he did it is not right. I know what is wrong and I make sure that it is done properly. I have enough security background to ensure that we don’t continue on the wrong path.”

Sisulu was formerly Intelligence Services minister and also served in the intelligence structures of the African National Congress during the fight against the Apartheid state. Sisulu said her call for the matter to be dealt with in the Joint Standing Committee on Defence, which meets behind closed doors, was not proof of a drive to classify more information but simply a call for proper procedure to be followed.