Jimmy Manyi tight-lipped on cabinet talks

2011-05-27 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Controversial government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi will release only limited information about cabinet meetings in future.

During a fiery information session at Parliament yesterday, he refused point blank to answer questions about issues of national interest, insisting that it is not his role to divulge what is discussed in cabinet meetings, but “simply to communicate decisions”.

The parliamentary Press Gallery Association (PGA) said in a statement afterwards that its members are perturbed because it seems important government information is being suppressed.

It is unclear whether this is on the instructions of the cabinet or whether it is due to Manyi’s management style and gatekeeper role.

Manyi argued that what ministers talk about behind closed doors is not meant for the public’s ears, as that would just “cause confusion” and “encourage the leaking of information”.

This withholding of contextual background information from the media and the public is diametrically opposed to the approach of Manyi’s predecessor, Themba Maseko.

Manyi took over the strategic position from Maseko in February and attends every cabinet meeting. He denied afterwards that the sudden secrecy implies a change in policy.

“Things may be different from before, but this is how I interpret my mandate.”

Manyi read the media the riot act beforehand and laid down the rules about what kind of questions were permissible. He made it clear that he will not elaborate on issues not mentioned in the cabinet statement.

“You must be disciplined,” he warned before reading the statement.

The statement contained only two meaningless sentences about the succession battle for leadership of the International Monetary Fund, but Manyi refused to say whether the cabinet intends nominating Planning Minister Trevor Manuel as a candidate.

“Information may not leak out before decisions have been taken. I will not talk about what is discussed [in cabinet meetings], because it is part of our goal to simplify communication and avoid confusion.”

Manyi ignored questions about other burning issues, like President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Libya and whether he will discuss the death of press photographer Anton Hammerl with Muammar Gaddafi.

He also did not reply to a question about when Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka, who has been ill, will return to work.

Journalists said later that the information session served no purpose, as Manyi refused to answer questions or to say more than what already appeared in the statement.

“It is my responsibility to answer your questions, but I will decide how I will do it,” Manyi retorted.

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