Row over secret defence reports takes a new turn

2010-08-02 14:36

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Speaker Max Sisulu have been asked to intervene in the row between Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and MPs over her refusal to let them see explosive interim reports on the state of the military.

Nyami Booi, chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on defence, confirmed on Monday (August 2, 2010) that he had forwarded legal opinion that MPs had a right to the reports to Motlanthe in his capacity as head of government business in Parliament and to the Speaker.

“It has been given to those offices,” he said.

Booi passed on an eight-page report from parliamentary legal adviser Mukesh Vassen to the deputy president and the Speaker on Thursday after Sisulu appeared to browbeat the committee into accepting that it had no right to the documents in question.

In the latest of a series of tense meetings with MPs, the minister insisted that she could not release interim reports because they were “work in progress”.

She said she was obliged only to release the final findings of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission and then only after its report had been endorsed by Cabinet.

Vassen disagreed: “It is trite law that the portfolio committee has oversight over the ministry. Furthermore, as the reports in question clearly relate to the functioning, organisation and staff of the SA National Defence Force, the portfolio committee is entitled to request that the minister make the documents available irrespective of whether or not the minister regards the reports as finalised,” he said in his letter to Booi.

Booi said members of the committee had to apply their minds to the matter, and consider Vassen’s advice before deciding whether they would seek to compel Sisulu to submit the reports.

He contradicted a press report stating that the committee would deal with the matter on Tuesday, saying “no, no, it will come later”.

Interim findings by the commission were leaked to the Sunday Times and painted a damning picture of service conditions in the military, warning that this undermined morale and potentially national security.

In a meeting with reporters last Thursday, Sisulu conceded that she had acted on interim findings of the commission, notably by adjusting the pay of those in the lower ranks of the defence force.

Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, who has been locked in a battle with Sisulu for months over the matter, said it was strange that she could refuse to release the reports while she had already implemented their recommendations.

“These interim reports have already resulted in action by government.”

He accused Sisulu of “consistently refusing to be accountable to Parliament” and said she appeared intent on keeping the interim reports under wraps for good.

Sisulu’s spokesperson has slammed the committee for digging in its heels over the reports, saying the minister thought the matter had been settled last week.

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