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Sisulu defends self in Scopa row

2010-04-22 19:01

Cape Town - Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has lodged a complaint with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe about her row with Parliament's watchdog standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and refused to appear before it until she received an apology.

"I have decided that until this is resolved I will absent myself from Scopa," Sisulu told Parliament's portfolio committee on defence on Thursday.

She said she was deeply offended that her integrity had been attacked through the media following her failure on three occasions this year to appear before the committee to discuss the department's troubled finances.

Committee members had publicly and with "unprecedented venom" suggested that she was arrogant and disrespected Parliament, Sisulu said.

"They were talking about me as though I was some recalcitrant child. I really did resent what I saw on television."

Cloud of negativity

The minister said she skipped a meeting with Scopa on Tuesday after chairperson Themba Godi declined her request for a closed audience with members to clear "a cloud of negativity" that arose after she missed two earlier meetings.

She said on both those occasions she had to ask to reschedule because she was accompanying President Jacob Zuma on state visits, once to Uganda and once to Britain.

"I began to wonder: 'Why are the invitations always for when I'm not available?' "

When Godi declined her request for a private meeting, Sisulu consulted Motlanthe, as head of government business, and held a meeting with ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga and party study groups.

They agreed that she should not proceed to an open meeting with Scopa on the defence department's financial accounting that was due to start half an hour later.

This caused further trouble as Godi was not informed.

Invitation to attend, not a summons

He in turn took the matter up with Motlanthe and asked that "misunderstandings" with the defence minister be resolved.

Sisulu said there was a misconception that ministers could be "summoned" to appear before Parliamentary committees, as the Democratic Alliance suggested should be done to drag her before Scopa.

"You are invited to attend. There is only one committee that has the power to summon and that is the joint standing committee on intelligence," she said.

Sisulu initiated the process of trying to meet Scopa in February after then acting defence secretary Tsepe Motumi mishandled MPs' questions about the department's progress in resolving its accounting woes.

Blood on the floor

She said she had wanted to address Parliament's concerns about defence finances because she needed MPs to support her requests for more money for the military, the minister said.

It was a point of honour that after a decade of qualified audits the defence department would not receive another "in my time".

"We are working very hard not to have any qualifications this year. If we do there will not be enough towels to wipe the blood off the floor."

The minister said she had head-hunted the acting director general of human settlements, Mziwonke Dlabantu, for the vacant post of chief financial officer of the defence department and he should take up the job on May 1.