Mute Manyi provokes media outcry

2011-05-26 13:36
Cape Town - There was an outcry from journalists attending a briefing at Parliament on Thursday, when government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi refused to put any flesh on the bare bones of a two-line Cabinet statement regarding the next leadership of the International Monetary Fund.

"Cabinet endorses the view that the next leadership of the IMF should come from the emerging countries. Cabinet did not discuss any names of potential candidates," was all the statement said on the IMF issue.

Pushed for more information, Manyi refused to give any.

"Anything I say beyond that... would be putting words in the Cabinet's mouth, so to speak. So that is the final position of Cabinet. So there is nothing further to say beyond that," he said.

This response unleashed a further barrage of questions and requests for context, and again Manyi refused to offer more detail.

"I think you must understand my role. [It] is not to manufacture information. It is to communicate what Cabinet has decided. What I communicate here is what... Cabinet has decided, not the deliberations of Cabinet.

"The decision of Cabinet is as communicated in the statement... I'm not here to take you through the deliberations, who said what and all those things," he said.

Reacting to this, a journalist told him: "We come here and expect to get from you more than a two-line sentence. Surely, you are here to extrapolate a little bit... To come here and say you can't answer... is not actually helping anybody."

Manyi responded: "If you ask the question and you already have the answer, maybe you shouldn't ask the question. If you ask the question, then the obligation to answer is mine, and how I answer is how I answer."

‘Compromise SA's position’

Another journalist suggested to Manyi that he might as well e-mail the Cabinet statement, to which he replied that a briefing was necessary to communicate to South Africans who did not have access to e-mail, or were blind or illiterate or deaf.

Asked why he did not simply book air time on TV or radio to do this, he told the journalist who had asked this question: "That just shows how insensitive you are. Some people in this country cannot afford a TV... You can't assume everyone can afford a TV."

Asked if he wasn't being "hypocritical", by providing more detail on some issues, but not on the matter of the IMF, Manyi said further detail might compromise South Africa's position.

"South Africa is busy talking to the relevant partners on this matter, so there hasn't been more detail on how those discussions are going."

"The challenge I have is that I'm not at liberty to respond to the level of detail you require because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

"You must appreciate it is a considered view of Cabinet that the communication that goes out must be at [the level it is] because of the sensitivity of the discussion.

"Anything beyond this will compromise the discussions that are happening," Manyi said.

The Brics group of countries - comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the tradition of appointing a European as head of the IMF as "obsolete".

European countries are pushing for the appointment of French finance minister Christine Lagarde as the new IMF MD, following the resignation of former head Dominique Strauss-Khan after he was charged with sexual assault in New York.

Among the questions journalists were seeking answers to at Thursday's briefing was Cabinet's position on minister in the presidency Trevor Manuel's possible placement on the short list for the IMF post.

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