Alarm bells over ‘militarisation of Parliament’

2015-08-03 06:30
Members of the EFF are taken out of Parliament during the president’s state of the nation address earlier this year. PHOTO: Lerato Maduna

Members of the EFF are taken out of Parliament during the president’s state of the nation address earlier this year. PHOTO: Lerato Maduna

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A storm has intensified over behind-the-scenes security measures being introduced at Parliament in the build-up to President Jacob Zuma’s appearance there on Thursday.

The controversy is set to come to a head on Wednesday during a meeting of the multi-party committee that develops policy, the Parliamentary oversight authority.

Opposition parties have raised red flags around the training, composition and recruitment process of the Parliamentary Protection Services. Questions have mounted amid reports of “secret combat training” and members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) being recruited, and also the suspension of the two heads of the protective services last Thursday.

It is speculated that some new recruits may include members of the notorious “white shirts”, who forcibly removed Economic Freedom Fighters members from the house during the state of the nation address in February. This is despite rules excluding the deployment of SAPS officers on to the floor of the National Assembly, though this may be circumvented if recruits resign from the SAPS.

The concerns follow new rules being adopted last week enabling the forcible removal of disruptive MPs from the National Assembly, a decision approved by the DA and other opposition parties except the EFF, which plans to challenge the decision in court.

The DA has written to the speaker, Baleka Mbete, requesting that the Parliamentary oversight authority provide details of existing members and also new recruits – including names and positions, existing training and future training, and also the recruitment process used to employ and screen employees.

Condemning the “proposed militarisation” of the protection services, DA chief whip John Steenhuisen warned: “If indeed Parliamentary Protection Services are undergoing combat training, this amounts to the policing of the affairs of the National Assembly and preparation for the use of excessive force.”

Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem claimed it was clear that the speaker, with the support of the ANC, was creating a special unit to suppress debate. “We subscribe to discipline in the house, but we will never support suppression of freedom of speech.”

ANC parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo cautioned that it was premature to raise the alarm. Political parties were reacting on speculation and a matter “that is essentially an internal administrative process, which politicians have no competence on”.

Reasons for the suspension of protection services head Zelda Holtzman and her deputy Motlatsi Mokgatla have been linked to the new security measures and also a probe into media revelations that Parliament’s secretary Gengezi Mgidlana was being ferried around in a blue-light vehicle.

Holtzman declined comment, other than saying: “We are weighing up our options and taking advice because we have our personal, political and professional integrity to defend.”

In a statement last night, Parliament said all its officials were subjected to the “rigor of interviews by well-constituted panel.

“Suggestions that professional staff are aligned to any office-bearer, political party or member are devoid of all truth. Parliament officials will continue to focus on the work at hand, to rebuild an effective and efficient administration that responds to the needs of the members of Parliament.”

“Parliament wishes to reiterate that the precautionary suspension of the head and the deputy head of the Parliamentary Protection Services remains an administrative matter and any other interpretation of this decision by various media is unfortunate, misleading and improper.”

Read more on:    zuma  |  jacob  |  parliament  |  security

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