No ministers appear before Parliament committee to explain ICC withdrawal

2017-03-08 14:28
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Cape Town - International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Justice Minister Michael Masutha were both absent from a parliamentary committee meeting to explain Cabinet's botched International Criminal Court withdrawal.

Opposition MPs of the international relations portfolio committee expressed their dismay at having to learn about the implications of the High Court ruling from a State law advisor, as they could not ask her follow-up questions.

Democratic Alliance MP Darren Bergman said he was worried that none of the ministers were present to answer questions.

"I'm also getting very worried about the advice given to our ministers. It seems to be there are a lot of court cases that they are losing.

"Every judgment seems to attack our knowledge of the Constitution. This must be embarrassing for Parliament."

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mangaqa Mncwango said they are barking up the wrong tree.

"South Africa can't have its cake and eat it. If we want to be champions for human rights in Africa and elsewhere, then we must be seen to be doing it."

The High Court in Pretoria ruled on February 22 that government's notice of withdrawal from the Rome Statue, without parliamentary approval, was unconstitutional and invalid.

The government has since revoked its intent to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Committee chairperson Moses Masango said they had not invited the minister of international relations to appear, only the justice minister, but he was unfortunately ill.

Acting justice minister Faith Muthambi sent acting chief state law advisor Ayesha Johaar in her stead to explain the court ruling.

He said MPs could debate about whether they should call the ministers for a second meeting.

Sharks and sardines

Cope MP Mosiuoa Lekota said Parliament was making a serious mistake, and couldn't expect someone who had been employed to give legal opinions to give answers on a political issue.

"The policy of government is not made by these employees of the department," he said.

"They are experts to assist the politicians, not to decide what will happen if we withdraw. That question must be answered by the ministers.

"I find it very embarrassing that we have to face sardines when the sharks are away."

This comment sparked a 15-minute argument between African National Congress and opposition MPs over whether the phrase was unparliamentary or simply a figure of speech.

ANC MP Deborah Raphuti said it was impolite and uncalled for that opposition MPs referred to people as "sardines and sharks", and that Lekota should apologise.

ANC MP Bhekizizwe Radebe said it was against Parliament's rules to describe people as animals.

He took more exception to the ministers being called sharks, than with the legal advisor being called a sardine.

Brian Molefe steps up

Lekota said it was only a figure of speech, and that he wouldn't apologise. He meant the people in authority who should be answering the questions were not there.

"If my colleagues don't understand a figure of speech, they can't say I'm out of order. They are out of order."

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Hlengiwe Hlophe and DA MP Stevens Mokgalapa said Radebe was being petty.

Interestingly, it was new ANC MP Brian Molefe, making his first appearance in the committee, who ended the argument with his first contribution of the day.

He said the DA had won the court battle, and Cabinet had welcomed the court's decision and said it will abide by it.

The committee should now simply call the ministers to address the issue, as previously agreed, he said.

MPs agreed, the chairperson gave instructions to Johaar, and closed the first part of the meeting.

They would send instructions for both Nkoana-Mashabane and Masutha to appear.

Withdrawal unconstitutional

Johaar earlier explained that the High Court had ruled that Cabinet had the right to initiate a process of withdrawing from the ICC, if it deemed it fit.

Its implementation, though, was procedurally irrational because Parliament had not given its approval, she told the MPs.

According to the Constitution, Parliament needed to repeal the Implementation Act first, before a notice of withdrawal could be sent to the United Nations.

"There is nothing patently unconstitutional at this stage to withdraw. It's within the executive's powers and competence to make such a decision," she told the committee on the court's ruling.

"What is unconstitutional, was the delivery of withdrawal to the UN without prior parliamentary approval."

Cabinet would have to start the process again through Parliament if it wanted to withdraw from the ICC officially, she said.

Read more on:    cope  |  da  |  anc  |  eff  |  icc  |  judiciary  |  parliament 2017

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