Minister of Defence and Military Veterans' letter of 05 March 2012 requesting necessary legislative framework to ensure protection of information before allowing the Chief of the South African Air Force to brief the Committee; Committee Programme: Adopti

Defence

07 March 2012
Chairperson: Mr J Maake (ANC), Mr S Montsitsi (ANC; Gauteng)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee had met for the adoption of the programme for 2012, the minutes of 03 November 2011 and to deal with the letter from the Minister. It was agreed that the Minister’s letter would be tackled towards the end of the meeting, but a Democratic Alliance (DA) Member disagreed and requested that the letter be dealt with immediately. The Committee however, resolved to follow the agenda. The Committee considered the January-March 2011 programme and, in the process, the letter from the Minister was read to the Members. The letter requested provision of a legislative framework which would ensure that the information sought by the Committee would be protected if made available because the information required might be classified. It was proposed to have a closed meeting in order to ensure the protection of the information and this proposal was supported by the majority of the Members. The DA Member, however, opposed on the basis that it was against the Constitution and suggested a legal opinion be sought on the Minister’s letter. It was ruled that an application would be made to request a closed meeting as agreed by the majority of the Members. The DA Member requested that copies of the letter be made available to Members.

The Committee considered the April – June 2012 programme and made amendments. The DA Member interjected on a number of occasions to the displeasure of other Members. The Committee considered the programme for July – September 2012 and made corrections. The Committee considered the programme for October – December 2012 and agreed that all omitted items would be incorporated; the programme was adopted. The DA Member noted that an input from his party had been omitted from the programme and hinted that he would take the matter up with the Chair of Chairs.

Meeting report

Committee Programme and Minutes: Consideration and Adoption
The Chairperson stated that the agenda was for the adoption of the programme, the correction of the minutes of 03 November 2011 as well as to deal with the correspondence from the Ministry.  He referred to the January-March programme and stated that the issue of the Air Force was supposed to be dealt with but a letter had been received from the Minister.  The issue of the correspondence would be dealt with towards the end of the meeting after the finalisation of the programme and the correction of the minutes.

Mr D Maynier (DA) referred to the letter received from the Minister and asked why the meeting with the Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF) had been cancelled. He asked if it was cancelled as a result of the Minister’s intervention or due to poor management at Parliamentary level.  He stated that clarity was required immediately and not at the end of the meeting.

The Chairperson ruled that the Committee would follow the agenda and consider the Minister’s letter at the end of the meeting.  He asked if Members had copies of the minutes to be adopted.

Mr S Motimele (ANC) observed that his apology was not reflected in the minutes.

The Chairperson noted the observation and stated that the necessary changes would be made.

The Chairperson proceeded to the January – March programme and noted that Members’ submissions on the issues to be included in the programme had been received and considered.

The Chairperson noted that copies for the April-June programme were not available and requested the Committee Secretary, Mrs Bulelwa Madikane, to obtain more copies for the Members. He stated that the letter from the Minister would be dealt with while the Secretary was busy organising more copies.  He further stated that copies of the letter would be made available to Members.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans’ letter of 05 March 2012 requesting necessary legislative framework to ensure protection of information before allowing the Chief of the South  African Air Force to brief the Committee

The Chairperson read the contents of the letter aloud which basically requested an engagement with the Committee on the South African Air Force (SAAF). The letter referred to the Committee’s request for a briefing by the Chief of the South African Air Force on the various challenges facing the Air Force. Section199(8) of the Constitution 1996 provided that oversight of security services should be done in a manner determined by national legislation or rules and orders of Parliament because the information required might be classified.  A request was made for the legislative framework which would ensure the protection of the information to be made available in order to enable her to authorise the SAAF to brief the Committee.  Failure to provide the framework would make the SAAF to be in breach of the Constitution and the Defence Act, and it would thus be unable to brief the Committee. In addition, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had a number of operational matters that were reaching a critical stage and which needed to be presented to the Committee. The Minister was prepared to give the information sought by the Committee but the information might be classified and was of a sensitive nature and advice was needed from the Committee on how to keep the information classified.

The Chairperson referred the Members to Rule 47 of the Rules of Parliament which provided for circumstances in which a meeting could be held in a controlled environment. He further stated that this provision meant that the Committee could apply for a closed meeting which would enable the SANDF to brief the Committee fully as well as to enable the receipt of the necessary information from the SAAF.

 

The Chairperson proposed requesting a closed meeting and he asked if there was anyone to second the proposal.

Mr N Fihla (ANC) seconded the proposal.

Mr Maynier opposed the proposal and sought to explain the reason for his opposition.

The Chairperson interjected and stated that the Committee would first of all adopt the proposal in view of the fact that it had been seconded before any comments would be taken on the issue.

The proposal was adopted.

The Chairperson asked for Members to give any comments regarding the proposal.

Mr Maynier stated that the Constitution provided that the National Assembly must conduct its business in an open and transparent manner unless it was reasonable and justifiable not to do so. He stated that the onus was on the Minister to show that the required information was classified or that an operation of the SANDF would be prejudiced. He commented that there was no reason to close the meeting of the Committee unless the Minister could demonstrate to the contrary.

Mr Maynier suggested the possibility that the Chairperson was in breach of the Constitution by proposing the motion that the Committee had adopted. He proposed that a legal opinion be taken from Parliament’s legal advisers regarding the contents of the Minister’s letter and also concerning the circumstances in which it would be justifiable to close a meeting of the Committee.

The Chairperson interjected and stated that the Committee did not have the whole day to listen to Mr Maynier.

The Chairperson thereafter put Mr Maynier’s proposal for a legal opinion to the Members and asked for comments.

Mr Matide (ANC) stated that the Constitution was being read subjectively and improperly. He stated that S32 of the Constitution provided for right to information but that S36 provided limitations to that right.  He further stated that the DA was trying to expose the situation in South Africa to the international community.

The Chairperson asked if anyone was willing to second Mr Maynier’s proposal.

Mr M Maine (ANC; North West) opined that the majority of the Members of the Committee were convinced that it was in the best interest of the country that there should be a closed meeting.

The Chairperson ruled that an application, which would be supported by the Minister’s letter, would be written to the Presiding Officer requesting a closed meeting. He stated that any person who was aggrieved with the ruling was at liberty to take up the issue with the Speaker.

Mr Maynier referred to the previous briefing by the Chief of the SAAF which had been conducted in an open environment because the information was not classified. He sought to know why a follow-up briefing which was meant to supply information to clear unresolved issues was now termed as classified.

The Chairperson replied that any inquiry into the rationale for terming the required information as classified could be posed to the Minister and the Chief of the SANDF during their briefing with the Committee.

Mrs P Daniel (ANC) stated that the Committee had personally asked for the required information at the last briefing and this explained why the Minister deemed the information to be classified. She noted that Mr Maynier had not been present when the information had been requested from the Chief of the SAAF.

The Chairperson confirmed that Mr Maynier had been absent at the stage when the required information was requested from the Chief of the SAAF at the previous briefing and that this could account for the reason why the issue of the information was new to him.

Mr Fihla wondered what the fuss was all about considering that the Committee would eventually get the information from the Minister.

The Chairperson stated that the issue was closed.

Mr Maynier interjected and requested for copies of the Minister’s letter.

The Chairperson confirmed that copies of the letter would be made available.

Committee programme (continued)

The Committee proceeded with the consideration of the programme for April – June 2012.

 

The Committee thereafter proceeded to consider the programme for July – September 2012. Amendments concerning slight mistakes were made to the programme.

 

Mr Maynier interjected and confirmed that copies of the Minister’s letter had been received. He noted that the letter was a response to the Chairperson’s letter of 02 March 2012 and requested a copy of that letter.

The Chairperson replied that a copy would be made available to him.

Mr L Nzimande (ANC; KwaZulu-Natal) was peeved at the constant interjections from Mr Maynier and he suggested that he ought to respect the Committee.

Mr Maine opined that the Secretary ought to be diligent in typing the programme properly in future.

The Chairperson noted the opinion and took the Committee through the agenda in the programme.

The Committee thereafter proceeded to consider the programme for October-December 2012.

Mr Maynier interjected and reiterated his request for a copy of the Chairperson’s letter dated 02March 2012. He reminded the Committee that there was supposed to be a strategic workshop to decide on the programme for the year. He commented that he was at a loss as to what formed the basis for the present programme being considered and that there was no reason to continue the meeting because it appeared that the programme under consideration lacked objectives and proper structure.

Mr Matide opined that Mr Maynier ought to be called to order.       

The Chairperson stated that the issue of the strategic workshop was on the January – March programme and, as such, it would not be entertained.

The Chairperson continued taking the Committee through the agenda’s for the October-December programme. He commented that all omitted items in the programme would be incorporated into it.

Mr Fihla proposed for the adoption of the programme with its amendments.

Mrs N Mabedla (ANC) seconded the proposal for adoption.

The Chairperson stated all the amendments made would be incorporated into the considered programmes and copies would be made available to the Members.

Mr Maynier noted that his request that a hearing ought to be conducted into the SAAF’s Very Important Person (VIP) squadron had not been incorporated into the programme and sought to know what had been done about it.

Mr Maynier suggested that the programme ought not to be adopted because there had been no proper consultation. He stated that he would be raising the issue with the Chair of Chairs because the programme did not incorporate the input made by the Democratic Alliance. He further stated that he was not prepared to put up with the state of the Committee.

The Chairperson stated that the programme had been adopted based on the understanding that the Committee would study every aspect of it thoroughly during the strategic workshop. He noted that a quorum had been achieved at the meeting.

The Chairperson sought to know if the issue discussed at the previous meeting regarding the search for another slot to replace the Thursday meetings of the Committee had been resolved.

The Chairperson replied that the Committee meeting had initially been slated for Friday but that a quorum could not be attained because of inconvenience to Members. He stated that the Committee had been given the Thursday slot as a replacement and should do everything to retain it.

Mr S Esau (DA) asked if there was any other programme which required classified information. He also suggested that the strategic planning workshop ought to be conducted in advance so that programmes for the year could be outlined properly.

The Chairperson noted the observations and commented that efforts would be made to ensure that the programme was prepared in advance.

The meeting was adjourned.

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