News24

Sisulu row takes new turn

2010-08-02 19:06

Cape Town - Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Speaker Max Sisulu have been asked to intervene in the row between Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and MPs over her refusal to let them see explosive interim reports on the state of the military.

Nyami Booi, chairperson of Parliament's portfolio committee on defence, on Monday confirmed that he has forwarded legal opinion indicating MPs had a right to the reports to Motlanthe in his capacity as head of government business in Parliament and to the speaker.

"It has been given to those offices," he said.

Booi passed on an eight-page report from parliamentary legal advisor Mukesh Vassen to the deputy president and the speaker on Thursday, after Sisulu appeared to browbeat the committee into accepting that it had no right to the documents in question.

In the latest of a series of tense meetings with MPs, the minister insisted that she could not release interim reports because they were "work in progress".

She said she was obliged only to release the final findings of the Interim National Defence Force Service Commission and then only after its report had been endorsed by Cabinet.

Vassen disagreed: "It is trite law that the PC (portfolio committee) has oversight over the ministry. Furthermore, as the reports in question clearly relates to the functioning, organisation and staff of the SANDF, the PC is entitled to request the minister to make the documents available irrespective of whether or not the minister regards the reports as finalised," he said in his letter to Booi said.

Contradiction

Booi said members of the committee had to apply their minds to the matter and consider Vassen's advice before deciding whether they would seek to compel Sisulu to the submit the reports.

He contradicted a press report stating the committee would deal with the matter on Tuesday, saying "no, no, it will come later".

Interim findings by the commission were leaked to the Sunday Times and painted a damning picture of service conditions in the military, warning that this undermined morale and potentially even national security.

In a meeting with reporters last Thursday, Sisulu conceded that she had acted on interim findings of the commission, notably by adjusting the pay of lower ranks in the defence force.

Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, who has been locked in a battle with Sisulu for months over the matter, said it was strange that she could refuse to release the reports while she had already implemented their recommendations.

"These interim reports have already resulted in action by government."

He accused Sisulu of "consistently refusing to be accountable to Parliament" and said she appeared intent on keeping the interim reports under wraps for good, as she had only undertaken to release the final version to the committee.

Sisulu's spokesperson has slammed the committee for digging in its heels over the reports, saying the minister thought the matter had been settled last week.