Baleka Mbete to ‘censor’ Nkandla report

2015-03-22 06:00

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Speaker moots confidential briefing for opposition before sanitised report comes before the House

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete wants Parliament to receive a sanitised version of the latest report on the Nkandla security upgrades, a move that is set to spark a new confrontation with opposition parties.

Citing the need to handle sensitive security information carefully, she has offered opposition leaders a confidential briefing by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko in return for them agreeing to handle the Nkandla report in secret before an edited version is presented in the National Assembly.

But some opposition parties have described the offer as “flawed and dubious” and say they will refuse to be “complicit” in keeping details of the latest report on Nkandla secret.

Nhleko revealed in a parliamentary response this week that his report on Nkandla was ready and he was waiting for Parliament to indicate when he should table it.

Political party leaders said Mbete made the offer in meetings with them on Wednesday and Thursday.

She said the secrecy was necessary as the report contained sensitive information relating to President Jacob Zuma’s security.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa has now written to Mbete objecting to what he believes is her attempt to co-opt the opposition to help “clean” the report.

In his letter, Holomisa accuses Mbete of trying to get the opposition to help subvert proper parliamentary processes.

“Over the last two days you have been calling for leaders of the political parties represented in the National Assembly to meet with yourself,” he wrote.

“The purpose of the meeting with leaders was to secure that we be briefed by the minister of police on the contents of the Nkandla non-security upgrade report, and in turn for us to agree to clean it by removing what you referred to as sensitive areas, all this to be done before the same [report] is presented to the National Assembly.”

Holomisa said in the letter that “the process we are about to embark on is flawed ... as it may compromise the integrity of the House you preside over”.

He said he found it strange that in the meetings, Mbete revealed she had not seen the report “yet you claimed it contains sensitive matters”.

“This advice from you leaves me with scepticism, worse when you also indicated you would not like the media to be part of this process,” he said.

The UDM leader added that Mbete could not confirm whether Treasury had been involved in drawing up the report as per the ruling of the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

Holomisa told City Press that Mbete “was trying to compromise us”. “Why doesn’t the report go to the House? Why are we being called to meet in corners about this report?”

There is also confusion about which report Nhleko will be tabling in the National Assembly. In November last year, the Nkandla ad hoc committee referred the matter back to Cabinet to make a determination on the “undue benefit” that may have accrued to Zuma. The deadline to report back on that matter falls on Sunday.

Nhleko is also expected to report back on the determination of the amount Zuma should pay back as recommended by Madonsela in her Secure in Comfort report, which was released in March last year.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said he was expecting that Nhleko’s report would cover both aspects of whether there was an undue benefit, as well as the amount that should be paid by Zuma.

“It appears the report contains an analysis of the security upgrade and there are also recommendations arising from that on how much the president should pay.

“Both aspects are dealt with in the report,” he said.

Steenhuisen said there was consensus in the meeting that the ad hoc committee that looked into the Nkandla matter be re-established to handle this report and the reportback to a full House.

“That committee will have unrestricted access to the entire report. It won’t be done behind closed doors. It was a point made very strongly by the opposition – that a committee can’t be automatically closed to the public ... You know the Constitution. They can only close it when there is good cause to do so,” he said.

He said closing the session of the committee would “depend on how sensitive some of the matters are relating to the security aspects there”.

Steenhuisen said he did not get the impression that Mbete was asking them to sanitise the report, but he understood the police minister could not bring a “raw” report to Parliament.

“I think what she was looking for was a mechanism where she could have the report tabled and processed,” he said.

Steenhuisen said he expected that “we are going to have a fight about what is sensitive and what is not and when is the meeting closed and not”.

“Where there are genuine areas where the president’s security could be compromised, obviously there would be some sensitivity around that,” he added.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, who sent MP Hlengiwe Maxon to the Wednesday meeting, said Mbete had told the parties there were sensitive aspects in the report which could only be shown to party leaders who would then decide how to handle it.

“We said: ‘No we don’t want those things. Nhleko must take it to the executive [Cabinet]. There is no parliamentary process on that thing,’” he said.

Malema said they did not see the need for another parliamentary process.

They expect Nhleko to announce his findings during a sitting of the National Assembly or at a press conference.

Malema said the EFF would not participate if Mbete wanted to establish another parliamentary process.

“She must ... not short-cut us into this arrangement of trying to save Zuma,” said Malema.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota confirmed that “we have been offered an opportunity to be told about the report”.

He said Nhleko’s report should go to the Speaker, who should then decide what had to be done with it.

“It’s not in our hands, we don’t know what’s in it. We don’t want to hedge our bets, but we can’t commit ourselves to a process that may not be consistent with the provisions of the Constitution,” said Lekota.

Nhleko’s spokesperson Musa Zondi said while he had not seen the report, it would not be possible for the minister, in whatever he determined, to say: “This cannot happen and not give the reasons and those reasons may include the security detail.”

“For example, if he says there is no money to be paid, he has to give a justification and that may have security implications. How else would he make a determination?”

City Press tried several times to get comment from Mbete’s spokesperson, Mandlakazi Sigcawu, but all attempts were met with no response.

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