The Committee met virtually to discuss saving the 2020 academic year, but the meeting was postponed after the Chairperson announced that the Minister would not be attending as he was chairing interviews for the DDG posts for the Department of Science and Innovation. Members were not pleased and suggested that the meeting be rescheduled for another day. There were matters that Members needed to engage the Minister on and there were some questions that Members required responses from the political head
It was also suggested that the Minister was subpoenaed. Today’s meeting was discussed with the Minister and he agreed to it; thus, his absence is indicative of him not taking the Committee seriously. The Committee resolved to give the Minister seven days, failure upon which to appear would result in the Committee exercising its powers to subpoena him.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and said the Committee scheduled a briefing today on saving the 2020 academic year. The briefing was meant to be held last Wednesday but the Minister sent a request as he was attending a Cabinet Lekgotla. The Minister suggested a subsequent date, which was today. The Minister sent an apology that he was chairing interviews for the vacancy of a DDG in the DSI. He instructed the Department to be led by the Director-General of the Department of Higher Education and Training.
Discussion on Minister’s Absence
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) voiced her concern that the Minister was not attending the Committee’s meetings. It seemed the Minister was not taking the Committee meetings seriously. The Committee needs to engage the Minister as there are pertinent matters that have been ventilated in the Committee time and time again that need the Minister’s responses. Members have not engaged the Minister in such a long time.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) echoed Ms Sibiya’s sentiments. The Committee has gone through all the presentations that have been sent for this meeting. The truth is that the questions will require answers from the political head. He agreed that the meeting be discontinued and the Committee write to the Minister informing him that the Committee could not proceed without his presence.
There are certain answers that are required from the political leadership. Saving the academic year is very crucial and it is already October. Students and their parents were promised things but those things have not been delivered thus the presence of the Minister would put Members at ease as he would respond to these issues.
Mr Letsie said the meeting must be cancelled. On the matter of laptops, the commitment was made in April yet five/six months later, student still do not have these laptops. He suggested that the meeting be rescheduled for some time next week Tuesday or Friday. In the letter to the Minister it must be clear that this meeting should take place within the next seven days.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) also agreed to the suggestion of rescheduling the meeting. Each time the Minister is scheduled to come to the meeting; there are always apologies from him. This platform strengthens the oversight function of Parliament. The Minister needs to come and account to this platform so that South Africans can see that leadership is engaging to be held accountable.
Mr B Nodada (ANC) agreed with the suggestions but proposed that the Minister should rather be subpoenaed to appear before the Committee. The Committee does have that power. The political head needs to account on things he said in previous meetings. This Committee is being undermined, as the Minister controls his diary and this meeting was scheduled to take place but suddenly it clashes with the interviews in the Department of Science and Innovation.
Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said the accountability of the Minister was crucial at this point given the serious nature of the implications of Covid-19 on institutions of higher learning. She also agreed with the sentiments of the previous speakers.
Mr B Yabo (ANC) agreed that the meeting could not continue without the political head being present. The Minister requested the meeting today and he should have organised his diary in accordance. The separation of powers exists to ensure that people do not abuse power. The Executive should give credence to the fact that Parliament exists to hold it accountable. What is presented to the Committee must be implemented, if not, it becomes a futile exercise to have the Portfolio Committee. He agreed with the proposal that the Minister should be subpoenaed although this is not a personal attack.
The Chairperson welcomed the suggestions from Members and noted it was a unanimous view that the meeting should not proceed without the Minister. The briefing from the Department required the Minister’s attendance.
He noted the proposal to subpoena the Minister but suggested that it should be the last resort. If the Minister fails to attend next week, or within seven days, then the Committee will be compelled to exercise its powers and subpoena the Minister. One can only hope that the Minister will heed the Members’ frustrations.
The meeting was adjourned.
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