Mbete wants bullet proof glass, fence for parliament

2016-09-11 06:03


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Proposed new draconian measures to boost security in Parliament, including bulletproof glass to separate the public from MPs, have sparked concern.

Among the plans being mooted are the erection of a perimeter fence around Parliament, along with full body scanners at all entrances and a drop-down bulletproof glass panel around the public galleries in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces to protect MPs from members of the public sitting in the gallery.

The proposals come in the wake of security breaches in May, when Economic Freedom Fighters MPs were removed from the National Assembly chamber during a question session with President Jacob Zuma.

This is the latest twist in increasing security, which now requires visitors to carry photo IDs and has seen an increase of uniformed police officers seconded to control access.

Four senior MPs who attended a meeting – convened on Wednesday by Parliament’s presiding officers, Baleka Mbete and Thandi Modise, and the institution’s senior officials – told City Press of the proposed measures.

They were not handed copies of the presentation, but were informed that the security assessment was carried out with the involvement of the police and the State Security Agency.

The MPs added that they assumed the proposal was at a conceptual stage and were expecting a “more formal presentation to a formal structure of Parliament”.

The House confirmed that it provided information on an assessment – which has now been concluded – in response to concerns previously raised by political party leaders.

Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs said the meeting convened by presiding officers was a feedback session, following a similar meeting held earlier this year where party leaders expressed serious concerns about the vulnerability of the House and its current state of security.

Jacobs would not divulge details of the proposed security measures, saying it would be irresponsible to do so in the media.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, who attended the meeting with the presiding officers, was unavailable for comment.

But ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the governing party would not support any security measures that sought to separate the public from its representative.

Describing the proposed measures as “oversecurity”, he said: “There is nothing wrong with strengthening security in and around an institution such as Parliament, but a suggestion of a bulletproof glass between public representatives and the public is not the right approach.

“We have never seen an incident where people from the public gallery threw stones or anything at MPs, or were part of the disruptions in Parliament. It is the MP themselves [who are involved in these fracas].”

Several leaders who attended the meeting apparently also objected to the involvement of police and intelligence services in what is a public facility, and made mention of the doctrine of separation of powers.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said his party opposed the extent of the proposed security measures because “Parliament is a public precinct and we need to make the public feel welcome when they come to watch legislative processes”.

“Yes, we need to have security, but we need to strike a balance between making it an approachable public facility and turning it into an army base that is locked down and makes people not even want to come here. To me it is a complete waste of money,” he added.

Steenhuisen raised concerns over the involvement of the intelligence agency in the precinct, considering that it was behind the deployment of a signal jammer during the state of the nation address in February last year.

He said they were expecting a further briefing with more details and budget, “but again, who knows, tomorrow they may be installed or we will wake up on Sunday and see a tender advert in the newspapers”.

United Democratic Movement MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa recalled that the proposed perimeter fence around Parliament was expected to cost just over R17 million. “They are going overboard. Obviously, improving and tightening security is important for everyone who works in Parliament and for MPs, as there were strangers who entered Parliament in May.

“But the issues in the National Assembly need political leadership,” added Kwankwa, who also expected the proposal to be escalated to a formal forum.

Congress of the People’s Mosiuoa Lekota said they expected a deeper approach to Parliament’s problems. “I said there was a more fundamental political question that needed to be dealt with, instead of these administrative things which anybody can sort out – and that we should not concern ourselves with the administrative things. The question to ask is: What is the root cause of this turmoil?”

Like Lekota, Freedom Front Plus MP Corné Mulder said he had expected Parliament to address “the root cause of all these things that see us beef up security”.

Mulder equated the security measures to a wish list. “There was nothing concrete. The proposals will have to come back at some stage and we will get details if we go down that route.”

Zuma returns to the National Assembly on Tuesday for the first time since the so-called security breach that occurred the last time he answered oral questions there in May.

Read more on:    baleka mbete  |  parliament  |  security

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