The Portfolio Committee on Energy was supposed to receive a briefing from the Minister and the Department of Energy on the fuel price. The meeting was scheduled because there had been a lot of discussion in the public domain about the high fuel price and the impact it not only had on businesses but households too. The meeting was meant to serve as a platform to inform the Committee and South African public at large about the cause of the ever-increasing fuel prices and the strategies in place to help bring the fuel prices down.
The Committee noted that the Minister was not able to attend the meeting and had submitted an apology. The Committee had expected a delegation from the Department and the Deputy Minister to attend but they had failed to do so and had not even submitted an apology.
Members felt this was utterly disrespectful not only to themselves, but to South Africa at large, especially over such a serious matter. The Chairperson described their non-attendance as a boycott. It was also noted that the Minister seldom attended committee meetings and often, meetings and agendas had to be shifted to accommodate him.
It was decided that a letter would be written to the Speaker of the National Assembly and that the Minister and the Department of Energy be summoned the following Tuesday to account for their actions and discuss the fuel prices.
The Chairperson welcomed Members of the Portfolio Committee back to Parliament after the recess. The meeting was called was to look at the high fuel prices as there had been a lot of discussion in the public domain about this and the impact it had on businesses and households.
The Chairperson emphasised that a lot had been said about the cause of the fluctuating fuel prices, but unfortunately some of the time, the information that had been communicated in the public had not happened yet. The Committee therefore decided to invite the Department of Energy to explain to Members and the public about, what the cause of the ever-increasing fuel prices were and what they would do to help bring down the fuel prices.
The Chairperson brought to the Committee’s attention that that morning when he arrived, he was informed by the Committee Secretary that the Department was not present for the meeting. He did not think that the meeting could be abruptly cancelled at such short notice; instead the Committee would meet to discuss why the Department of Energy was not present and the best way to deal with it.
Mr Arico Kotze, Committee Secretary, read out the apologies of Members of the Committee who could not attend. In addition, he read out the apology of the Minister of Energy, Mr Jeffrey Radebe, who had to attend a summit in Windhoek.
The Chairperson stated that the apology of the Minister was acceptable; however he questioned the absence of the Deputy Minister and departmental officials.
The Chairperson said:
“On Monday 6th, we were sent a later stating the Minister would not be available for the same reasons, we were asked if it’s in order if the officials of the Department can come to the meeting, so I said if the Minister must attend to a meeting with other Ministers, it is in order. So, if the departmental officials led by the Director-General or if the Deputy Minister is here, then it’s all in order. On the public holiday, on Thursday 9th the Committee Secretary said to me that the Minister wants to address the meeting himself, so I assumed it is because of the importance of the matter, but I said it is Thursday and it’s a public holiday, there is no way you going to cancel a meeting at this stage, we agreed the officials can come, if the Minister wants to handle this matter, he can do so when he returns. So, I understood the meeting is going ahead, we had sent the notice of this meeting two weeks ago and so Honourable Members have had to travel to be here as some of the Committees had been on oversight. So, I don’t understand, I accept the fact that the Minister isn’t here, but I don’t understand why the Deputy Minister isn’t here, we don’t have an apology from her, the DG and the officials are not here, and no apology was received from anyone of them, so Honourable Members, that’s what happened. So, I would like comment as I haven’t seen this before and we are going to have a big problem!”
Mr G Davis (DA) stated he too admittedly had not seen that before, where the Government had not turned up before the Portfolio Committee and he shared the concerns mentioned. There was no need for reminding that the increase in the fuel prices hit South Africans very hard in the pocket and Minister Radebe had been promising to communicate the issue since the beginning of July and nothing was heard from him and after every Cabinet Meeting, Minister Mokonyane said that Minister Radebe would communicate on the fuel prices. This meeting was the perfect opportunity to communicate that the government had a plan to keep the fuel price down and now they had missed that opportunity and it was deeply embarrassing and disrespectful to the Chairperson, Members of the Committee, to Parliament and the concept of separation of powers and to the people of South Africa. It needed to be taken very seriously and action had to be taken. He moved that Members of the Committee write a joint letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly and summon the Minister of Energy to a meeting the following Tuesday, 21 August 2018, with absolutely no excuses, to be able to get to the bottom of the fuel prices and to keep the prices down.
Ms Z Faku (ANC) concurred with Honourable Davis. It was unacceptable. This undermined the Committee and was not the first time where a meeting had to be postponed because of the non-availability of the Minister. Before the recess break, two Committees were not able to sit because of the non-availability of the Minister; however, the current meeting was worse because even the officials were nowhere to be found. She once again concurred with Honourable Davis, to go forward and summon the Minister.
Mr J Esterhuizen (IFP) stated that people from the media were phoning him last week already regarding the meeting and if the Members of the Committee and everyone else could be there and took the effort to be there, then there was no excuse as to why the Department was not, as they were notified in time as well. There were a lot of things which needed to be discussed and if the Department did not respect the Portfolio Committee and everyone in the country, their non-attendance was a good way to show it. He also emphasised with all due respect to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee, there needed to be more oversight on the Committees behalf, as not enough meetings were held by the Portfolio Committee to inspect Departmental Progress. He suggested that the Committee needed to put more pressure on the Department therefore in a slight way the Committee needed to take some blame also.
However, he did not wish to ignore the disgraceful level of disrespect that was shown by the Department. He acknowledged that South Africa’s fuel prices were not the cheapest or the most expensive in the world, however, South Africa was selling petrol to neighbouring countries and gave the example of Botswana, where petrol was being sold to at R11 per litre for the same petrol and answers were needed.
The Chairperson stated that due to the non-attendance, unfortunately the meeting would have to be adjourned. He recalled that when Minister Radebe was appointed, meetings had to be shifted and on some occasions agendas even had to be changed to accommodate him. It had been months since his appointment and therefore it was absolutely unacceptable that after everything was done to accommodate his own tough schedule, that this issue occurred and the Committee was clear with the Ministry, that if the Minister was to appear the meeting should have gone ahead. The absence of the Departmental officials could only have happened with the knowledge of the Minister.
The Chairperson re-emphasised that this had never happened before and the Minister and the Department needed to be clear that it would not be tolerated. The Portfolio Committee operated as an independent arm of the State and did not operate based on the priorities of the Executive. “When asked to be at Parliament, they would have to be there and where genuine apologies were given, it would be accepted. However, they could not stage a boycott, as their entire non-attendance qualified as a boycott of the meeting”. He stated to the Minister’s Parliamentary Liaison Officer to tell the Minister it had been many years since 1994 when he first became a Minister and he could not do this and if he had done it in other Committees, the Portfolio Committee on Energy would not allow him to do it and this was the last time in which this incident occurred otherwise there would be a deep fight.
The Chairperson stated: “He must know it, he will never do it again! Never, again, otherwise we will have a big problem with him! I agree we must tell the Minister to report here next week Tuesday at 10:00 and, he must just refuse to come and then he will meet a dark cloud.”
The Chairperson emphasised that it was unacceptable for the Minister to stay away or allow the department to stay away from meetings, they could not do that.
The Chairperson apologised to the Members of the Committee and the public at large. The Executive would not disrespect Parliament, the Committee or South Africa at large, it would not be tolerated, irrespective of which Minister and they needed to be made aware of this.
Mr Esterhuizen stated that he found it odd and surprising as to why the Deputy-Minister of Energy, Ms Thembisile Majola, was not present at the meeting and wanted to know if anyone knew where she was and why she had not attended the meeting.
The Chairperson stated that they could only tell if the Deputy-Minister was around and did not wish to speculate, but it was common knowledge that if the Minister was not around, the Deputy-Minister was meant to be there. He once again emphasised that for all of them not to be here was a ‘boycott’!
The Chairperson thanked everyone present and stated that they would all be dealt with at the meeting on Tuesday, 21 August 2018.
The meeting was adjourned.