Sisulu denies secrecy drive

2010-10-26 22:26

Cape Town - Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu remained adamant on Tuesday that she would not release President Jacob Zuma's flight details, but denied allegations that she was cultivating greater state secrecy.

"It is not correct to put any information about the security of the president, the security of the deputy president and, for that matter, even the security of the premier of the Western Cape in the public domain, because that would undermine the very basis of (our efforts to provide) security," Sisulu told a media briefing in Cape Town.

She said her stance on this and several other issues had wrongly been construed as defiant towards Parliament, and she accused the Democratic Alliance (DA) of trying to portray her as such.

"Most of the matters that deal with the perception of how secretive I am are matters that were whipped up by the Democratic Alliance."

She pointed out that the furore over the flight details was sparked by a written parliamentary question from the DA.

The official opposition cried foul when Sisulu gave the number of presidential flights - 133 domestic and 27 international - but declined to reveal the dates and destinations, saying this information had been made public in the past.

"The argument that came out of that, is that Minister (Mosioua) Lekota has already given answers to Parliament that included the president's schedule. He may or may not have. I don't know... But even if he did, it is wrong, and the fact that he did it is not right.

Zuma's safety

"I know what is wrong and I make sure that it is done properly. I have enough security background to ensure that we don't continue on the wrong path."

Defence Secretary Mpumi Mpofu has said releasing the information would be tantamount to giving it to foreign intelligence agencies and putting Zuma's safety at risk.

Sisulu said her insistence that MPs request the information through the Joint Standing Committee on Defence - which would likely handle the matter behind closed doors - was not part of part of a government drive to classify data, but simply a call for proper procedure to be followed.

She said it was not her fault that the standing committee rarely met.

"I have no idea, I just know that I need them to meet."

After months of tension with Parliament's portfolio committee on defence, Sisulu for the first time referred to her relationship with Speaker Max Sisulu, who is her brother.

She said this did not mean she enjoyed special privileges, but rather that she strove to act correctly for his sake.

"Why would I undermine that man? Of all the things in the world, why would I seek to undermine that man? It is the one institution I would give everything for, if only to make sure that the man you have associated me with has the dignity he deserves."

Report leaked

Sisulu's wrangle with the committee revolved around her refusal to release the interim reports of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission. She said she would only release the final report, and only once it had gone to Cabinet.

A copy of the interim report leaked to the media painted a dire picture of conditions in the military, prompting accusations of a ministerial cover-up repeated on Tuesday by DA defence spokesperson David Maynier.

The committee took the unprecedented step of refusing to process the defence amendment bill until she released the report, but backed down after the Speaker called it out of line and the ANC issued a statement supporting the minister.

The bill, which seeks to set up a special service commission for the military, was debated and passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The ANC chairperson of the committee, Nyami Booi, who had thrown down the gauntlet to Sisulu, delivered an apologetic speech saying he had misread the situation.

Because it was a ministerial commission, it was right that it should report directly to Sisulu, he said, before adding the assurance that the committee would in future respect the sensitivity of matters handled by the permanent commission.

"There will be a lot of sensitive information passing through the commission's hands which needs to be protected in the interest of our own country."