Mbete: Parly was told jamming device was ‘for security reasons’

2015-02-17 13:47

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Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete has admitted to having known of a signal-blocking device which was placed in Parliament on Thursday ahead of the state of the nation address.

She stressed that the media was not the target but that the device was for the protection of President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mbete has revealed that the device was brought in by the department of state security but claimed she was not aware of the extent of its effect and functions.

“We became aware that there was a plan for certain equipment to be deployed. It is an item we received as a report along with many other reports, without necessarily knowing the detail, in particular the effects, because it was an item dealing with what measures had to be taken for the protection, in particular, of the head of state and the deputy president,” she said.

“I repeat, the media was not a target, was not mentioned, was never on anybody’s mind. [But] of course what happened, happened.”

She said the device which led to chaos and a protest by the media in the press gallery before Zuma began his address, belongs to the “department of state”.

She said the owners of the device would  submit a report to Parliament and would also brief the media to give more details about the operation.

Mbete said Parliament did not own any device that scrambled communication or cellular phones and had not ordered the use of such devices.

“We are to improve our systems in order for us to ensure that this does not become a precedent.”

Mbete said the investigation into the locking of the podium microphone was inconclusive but a back-up system was in place.

“One issue I want to make very emphatically clear is that the media, as far as Parliament was concerned, was never a target or an issue in relation to the preparations for Sona.”

Mbete wouldn’t say who the target was.

Mbete said the events of last Thursday were most disturbing despite the fact that they had known about “threats to disrupt Sona”.

She said the EFF had made it known that they were going to disrupt Sona by blatantly disregarding the rules. She said the concerns that were raised by the EFF early in January were addressed by the National Assembly’s programme committee.

Julius Malema wrote to Mbete on January 9 asking her to convene a special sitting before Sona, which would give Zuma an opportunity to field oral questions that were not answered last August.

Mbete said it was a small number of members who were involved “in this non-honourable behaviour”.

EFF members of Parliament were asked to leave the chamber after openly defying Mbete and for their continued attempts to pose questions of privilege to Zuma.

Mbete said although only three of the EFF MPs were mentioned by name and instructed to leave, there came a point where all the EFF MPs were on their feet.

“The issue of names being mentioned or not becomes irrelevant when the whole group is on their feet,” she said.

She said comprehensive rulings were given before EFF MPs were ejected from the house.

Mbete said according to the Powers and Privileges Act, a person may not fail or refuse to comply with an instruction by a duly authorised staff member regarding the presence of people at a particular meeting in the precinct.

She said she ordered the assistance of security services when EFF MPs threw water bottles and makarapas at Parliament’s protection officers.

The action was taken in terms of Section 4 of the Powers and Privileges Act, she said.

Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli also sought to defend the calling in of police who were dressed in white shirts and black pants and not in police uniform saying “how the police dress is their operational business and the presiding officers cannot themselves decide how police must be dressed”.

Deputy chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Raseriti Tau, also jumped to Mbete’s defence when she was asked about her comments at an ANC conference in the North West at the weekend.

Tau said comments made at a party conference should not be brought to Parliament for discussion and that the conference was a moment for the ANC to reflect and do its business.

He said it was unfair to expect Mbete to answer on comments she made in her capacity as the national chairperson of the ANC.

» This article was updated to add more details.

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