MP targets media on police raid

2011-03-08 13:01

Senior ANC MP John Jeffrey today accused the media of misrepresenting the raid on the Public Protector’s office amid her probe into the police headquarters saga and said he did not think it was unlawful.

“My concern is the way which this has been sensationalised when I think quite clearly it wasn’t a raid. A raid implies an attempt to use force, attempts to gain information through force,” Jeffrey said after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela briefed Parliament’s portfolio committee on the police’s visit to her offices last week.

Madonsela told MPs her staff were shocked by the arrival of two crime intelligence policemen who demanded documents referred to in a Sunday Times report on the police’s new headquarters.

The timing of the visit made matters worse as it came on the same day that police had promised to hand her documents she asked for as part of her probe into the rental of new headquarters in Durban.

“My staff have been traumatised. Even though it wasn’t a forceful raid, everyone wants to know what is happening. Are we fighting with the police?” Madonsela said.

Asked by Jeffrey whether the visit was unlawful, she said: “Only a court of law can determine that.

“My staff was reluctant to cooperate. My approach to them was: we have nothing to hide, what they want is something we have already given to the police, let’s give it to them.”

She said all documents she used had been given to her by the police and pointed out that the police themselves called the visit a raid.

“I thought it was inappropriate but we dealt with these people because we didn’t want to create chaos.”

But Jeffrey countered that while it was inappropriate, saying: “I don’t think there was any unlawfulness. Whatever the reaction of the staff was, basically it was two police arriving and asking questions. A raid is not an unsoliticised visit.”

Jeffrey singled out the Sunday Times, whose coverage of the police’s contracts for new headquarters led to Madonsela’s probe, and Business Day for criticism, saying their coverage risked leading the public to misconstrue last week’s events as “an attack on our democracy”.

His comments stood in stark contrast to that of Luwellyn Landers, the ANC chairman of the committee, who warned that the independence of chapter 9 institutions was enshrined in the Constitution and dare not be undermined.

“The integrity, the dignity and the effectiveness of the Public Protector’s Office is crucial to our democracy and anything or anyone who tries to impede that should be dealt with,” he said.

Opposition MPs said Landers had been outraged when he learnt what the police had done.

They dismissed Jeffrey’s argument as disingenous and said the police conduct could not go unpunished.

“It is rather disingenous of Mr Jeffries to try and say that the media is sensationalising something that was clearly designed directly to intimidate the public protector and undermine chapter 9 institutions,” said the Democratic Alliance’s Debbie Schafer.

“I think Mr Jeffrey is trying to trivialise the event.”

Her colleague Dene Smuts said the police’s conduct “smacked of paranoia” within the ANC on documents leaked to the media and of a general sense of impunity on the part of intelligence operatives.

Smuts said the law provided for punishment of up to a R40 000 fine or 12 months in jail for being in contempt of the office of the public protector and it should be applied in this case.

Madonsela confirmed that national police commissioner Bheki Cele phoned her to apologise for the raid before her letter of complaint about the incident reached him.

It came in the wake of the release of her report that found the R500-million SAPS headquarters lease was unlawful and invalid.

She ordered that the police minister take “appropriate action” against Cele, whose conduct as accounting officer was found to have been “improper” and “unlawful“, and other police officials.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has suspended the two crime intelligence officers who went to her office pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

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