'Why do we call members of the riot unit?' - Mthembu on media being kicked out of parliamentary meeting

2018-10-18 14:49
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu. (Conrad Bornman, Gallo Images, Rapport)

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu. (Conrad Bornman, Gallo Images, Rapport)

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ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu says it was unnecessary to call in the parliamentary protection services for journalists, after members of the media were barred from attending a water committee meeting on Wednesday.

The Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation was due to receive an update on critical investigations into the department's murky affairs on Wednesday.

After MPs resolved that the session would be closed to the public, the 16 journalists present left the meeting quietly, albeit unwillingly. The journalists decided to abide by Parliament's rules.

Some members of the parliamentary protection services - colloquially known as the "white shirts" or "bouncers" - were present in the committee room, while several more were outside.

Speaking at Parliament's programming committee on Thursday, Mthembu said that, when meetings were advertised, it should be made clear if they would be closed, to avoid journalists coming to cover the meeting, only to find it closed.

"It is unfair. They must know timeously," he said.

"One other issue that is regrettable: Why do we call members of the riot unit –  16 of them – or protection services? Because we are also making things worse."

Mthembu said that, from where he was seated, nothing necessitated this.


Earlier, while the meeting was still open, a chuckling committee chairperson Lulu Johnson said information had been passed to him that the "media is running amok" and would try to "barge" into the closed portion of the meeting.

'It was not necessary to bring the protection services'

He added that the serjeant-at-arms and the protection services would be called.

On the list of committee meetings, or "z-list", there was no indication that the meeting would be closed.

Johnson wanted the meeting closed due to the "sensitivity" of the investigations, and the committee agreed after the three agencies due to make presentations - the National Prosecuting Authority, Special Investigations Unit and Hawks - said they also wanted the meeting to be closed.

Mthembu continued: "Of course, people raised the issues. As media, they would.

"I would also have raised the issue: 'Why were we not informed timeously?'

"It was not necessary to bring the protection services, as if we are dealing with thugs. These are colleagues, we work with them. Many are part of the parliamentary coverage," he said.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen on Wednesday, while the committee was in the process of resolving to close the meeting, wrote to Speaker Baleka Mbete.

"No evidence has been presented to classify the subject matter of the committee necessary for a closed session, of a private nature, protected under parliamentary privilege or law, or confidential in terms of the law or other reasons," he wrote.

"Further, the chief whips of political parties were never informed that this decision had been taken.

'Draconian'

"It is therefore held, that this committee will violate the constitutional rights of the public and the media in being able to hold Parliament, the executive, officials and Chapter 9 institutions accountable."

On Thursday, DA MP Leon Basson, who serves on the committee, released a statement describing the closure of the meeting as "draconian".

"The committee was presented with nothing new and nothing that justified the decision to close the meeting," he said.

"The enormous corruption at the Department of Water and Sanitation during the tenure of then-Minister Nomvula Mokonyane cannot be hidden from public view and certainly not from the People’s Parliament.

"The Legislature has an important role to play in exercising oversight over the Executive. This cannot be done behind closed doors guarded by burly security guards."

The Parliamentary Press Gallery Association (PGA) also wrote a letter to Mbete, registering its dissatisfaction with the closure of the meeting and the presence of the protection services.

Read more on:    jackson mthembu  |  cape town  |  parliament 2018  |  media

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