The Committee had arranged a second meeting with the Department of Defence and Military Veterans so that Minister Sisulu could address the outstanding issues that were raised during the previous engagement. However, the Minister did not make an appearance at the meeting. Several Members were disappointed that once again the Minister had dodged the Committee after making an undertaking that she would attend the meeting. They were unhappy that the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence had advised her against doing so and accused him of interfering in the affairs of the Committee. Members decided to discontinue with the meeting, as they could not proceed without the Minister.
Absence of Minister of Defence at hearings
The Chairperson welcomed delegates from the Department of Defence and Military Veterans. He also used the opportunity to specifically welcome the newly appointed Secretary of Defence, designate Ms Mpumi Mpofu. He recalled that the Committee's previous engagement with the Department had been curtailed because the presence of the Minister of Defence was required to address some of the outstanding issues.
Lieutenant General Themba Matanzima, Acting Secretary of Defence, said that the Department was ready to engage with the Committee. He was under the impression that the Minister would make an appearance at the meeting but was not aware when this would happen.
Mr Nyami Booi, Chairperson of the Defence Portfolio Committee, informed the Committee that he had engaged with Minister Sisulu earlier that morning and had advised her not to attend the meeting as he had deemed it unnecessary. In addition, he had instructed the Minister to contact the Chairperson to explain why this had happened.
The Chairperson wanted clarity from Mr Booi whether the Minister had decided to cancel her commitment to attend the meeting based on the advice, which Mr Booi gave?
Mr Booi admitted that he had engaged the Minister earlier that morning and advised her not to attend the meeting based on the reasons, which the Minister would communicate later to the Chairperson.
Ms M Mangena (ANC) found it confusing to learn that the Minister had decided to dodge the meeting with the Committee after doing so on two previous occasions.
Mr N Singh (IFP) recalled that the previous meeting was postponed because the Committee felt that the Minister needed to answer certain questions. The absence of the Minister was the main reason why the previous meeting could not go ahead as planned and the present meeting was scheduled to be a continuation of the previous meeting which the Minister was asked to attend and had even confirmed her attendance.
Ms L Mashiane (ANC) commented that Mr Singh had addressed a substantial part of her concerns. Personally, she could not understand why officials from the Department were before the Committee in the first place because the Committee had already engaged the officials. She suggested that the meeting be adjourned until the Minister availed herself. “The issues raised in the previous meeting needed the Minister to be there to address them but here we see new faces again!” she remarked.
Mr R Ainslie (ANC) suggested that the Committee hear out the explanation as to why the Minister could not be present in the meeting and then proceed with the meeting because it was clear that the Minister would not be present and in the interest of time, the meeting needed to go ahead nevertheless.
Mr M Steele (DA) remarked that it was outrageous for a Chairperson of another parliamentary committee to cancel a prior arranged engagement of an executive official with another Committee without even engaging with members of that Committee first. This action amounted to a clear case of intrusion in the affairs of one Committee by another.
Mr M Mbili (ANC) asked Members to avoid speculating on the issue at hand before they had heard all the relevant facts. The Minister did not know that the present meeting would be a continuation of the previous meeting. It would be better if Members waited until they got all the facts before engaging in unnecessary speculation.
Mr P Pretorius (DA) highlighted that the Committee had received correspondence from the Minister, informing the Committee that she would be attending the meeting in order to address the issues raised in the previous meeting, which she was not a part of.
The Chairperson reiterated that it was unfortunate that the Minister was not present in the meeting, as she had promised to attend. The meeting was specifically arranged with her participation in mind. What was worrying was that it was not the first time the Minister had avoided appearing before the Committee and more so worrying was the fact that public money had been used to fly and accommodate the departmental officials who had come all the way from Pretoria. Perhaps the matter could have been resolved if the Minister had communicated effectively with the Committee. Last week, the Committee had met with the Department of Home Affairs. All the officials in that department, including Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her deputy were present. The Committee had managed to engage with her and her Department and many issues that had been bothering the Committee were cleared up. The meeting had progressed smoothly and the Committee had given the Minister a round of applause. It was hoped that the Minister of Defence would have followed this example. It was unimaginable how the meeting could go ahead without the Minister present.
The Chairperson read out a sequence of letters that were exchanged between the Committee and the Minister, which clearly stated that the present meeting was going to be a continuation of the previous meeting and that her presence was required. There was no confusion whatsoever. Unfortunately, this meeting had to be postponed until the Minister availed herself.
Lieutenant General Matanzima asked if the Chairperson could consider giving the Committee a break for a few minutes so that the Department may try to phone the Minister, if she was in the vicinity of Parliament to come and attend the meeting.
The Chairperson replied that such an intervention would not be very helpful as the Committee would have liked the Minister to come prepared to engage with the Members rather than being called on a short notice basis. Besides, the Committee had taken a decision to discontinue with the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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