Update on fire damage, with DPWI Minister
Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament
04 January 2022
Chairperson: Ms D Mahlangu (ANC, Mpumalanga) and Ms B Mabe (ANC)
City of Cape Town Fire Department post-incident report
The Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament, together with the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure, the Select Committee on Transport, Public Service and Administration, Public Works and Infrastructure, the Portfolio Committee on Police, and the Select Committee on Security and Justice met on a virtual platform for an urgent meeting to receive reports on the fire that had razed parts of the parliamentary precinct on 2 and 3 January 2022. The Minister and Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and the Acting Secretary to Parliament were invited to brief Members.
The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces provided a brief summary of events that had taken place on 2 and 3 January 2021. The fire had led to the burning of the National Assembly Chamber, the Old Assembly Chamber and some of the offices of Members of Parliament. Some important sections had been saved, including the National Council of Provinces Chamber, some Members’ offices, the library, the museum and art works, but since the initial blaze, the fire had since worsened and Parliament awaited further reports on other losses and damage. Parliament had made a commitment to leave no stone unturned to enable appropriate action to be taken by the various agencies investigating the incident. He assured Members that the work of Parliament would continue.
The Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure informed Members that the Cape Town International Conventional Centre had offered its premises and the Mayor of Cape Town had offered the Cape Town City Hall, the Council Chambers and some recently renovated offices. The Speaker had to do a needs assessment and indicate to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure how much accommodation was needed. Thereafter, the Department could engage with the two proposals for temporary accommodation. The Minister had convened a 10-member engineering experience panel, including structural, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers and an architect. The panel would make an assessment of the extent of the damage, cost of repairs and how long that would take, as soon as it was allowed access to the buildings which first had to be cleared by the fire department and then handed to the Hawks as it was a crime scene. She was hoping for the report within a week. She added that all CCTV cameras had been operational on the night of 2 January 2022 but that no one had monitored the cameras until the police came on duty at 6am on that morning. CCTV footage had been downloaded by the Hawks but that footage was not available as it had been secured as evidence in the case of arson. She praised the professionalism of the City of Cape Town firefighters who had been on the scene within six minutes of getting the call.
The presentation by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure addressed progress on the restoration project pursuant to the fire of 16 March 2021; the Fire Equipment Service Report, including the sprinkler system; the security system report; frequency of maintenance; the power outage incident in central Cape Town on 21 December 2021. The purpose of the presentation was to provide an update on the areas that were potentially linked to the fire incident that occurred on 02 January 2022. The Acting Director-General emphasised that the systems were working as intended and had been tested late in December 2021.
Members raised numerous questions. It was noted that maintenance and inspections had been done, but Members asked whether the inspections had been thorough. If the fire triggers were working, why had the fire spread the way it had? Would the officials be held accountable? Was the incident a result of a failure by SAPS? If there were police officers who had not done what they should have done on that day, were those officers currently on suspension? Had a Certificate of Compliance been received from the Fire Department? Had the fire panels been inspected daily as was the regulated requirement? Had the logbook been completed as required? Had the Department ascertained which panel had been triggered by the incident? How had the gentleman charged with arson spent four hours in the precinct and the buildings, and not been picked up by any of the cameras? Why were there no warm bodies monitoring the cameras? How could Members be told that everything was in order subsequent to the March 2021 fire, even though nothing had been corrected owing to procurement issues? Who had quality assured the response to the March fire?
Several Members asked why the Acting Secretary to Parliament had declined to give a briefing at the meeting. Where had the security breaches emanated from? Why had the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union presented a conflicting report to the media? Was there only one valve, which had been turned off, that controlled the sprinkler system in the whole of the parliamentary precinct? Was it a case of a shortage of funds to maintain the parliamentary precinct? Whose responsibility was it to see that maintenance did take place in Parliament? Where had the parliamentary Committee on Health and Safety been throughout the process of inspections and assessments and what was its role in that respect? Was Parliament sufficiently resourced in terms of its health and safety section? Were service providers in the parliamentary precinct vetted as it was a national key point?
Members asked about the costs involved in using the venue offered by the Cape Town International Convention Centre and the City of Cape Town facilities as there was no such thing as a free lunch. Had Parliament been found wanting in its ability to respond? Why had the City of Cape Town representative for Safety and Security given a media briefing when it was a matter that related to Parliament and not local government? Why were only two options being looked at for temporary accommodation when there were a lot of venues around Cape Town, such as the universities that had a lot of space?
The Minister responded briefly to a couple of questions but the Acting Secretary to Parliament declined to respond in the meeting, stating that she would provide written responses within seven days. That led to outrage by several Members while other Members supported the position of the Acting Secretary in the light of the brief timeframe since the fire had first taken hold. The meeting was adjourned abruptly with a promise to arrange a follow-up meeting the following week as presenters and whips had to attend another meeting.
Co-Chairperson Mabe noted that it was an urgent meeting and there were 76 persons on the platform. (During the meeting this figure increased to around 100 persons.) She was aware that the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure and the Select Committee on Transport, Public Service and Administration, Public Works and Infrastructure had been invited to attend the meeting. She was not sure if there were any Committees from the Security Cluster in the meeting but the invitation had been extended to the Portfolio Committee on Police and the Select Committee on Security and Justice. She thanked the support staff for always being available and for supporting Members of Parliament.
Co-Chairperson Mabe stated that, following the events in Parliament over the past few days, Members should conduct oversight but should become more organised in doing so, which was why Members had been asked to put their constituency duties aside to attend the meeting to map a way forward. In the next few weeks, i.e. in the first or second week of February 2022, Parliament was due to hold the State of the Nation Address but might not be in a position to host the event in the parliamentary precinct and a decision had to be made about what would be done in that regard.
The Minister and Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), Mr N Masondo, had also been invited to attend the meeting. The Presiding Officers would be invited to open the proceedings before the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Minister Patricia De Lille, was invited to brief Members. She warned that it might be premature to expect answers at that point in time.
Mr N Singh (IFP) greeted everyone and noted another meeting scheduled for 17:00 that afternoon to which the Presiding Officers had invited Party leaders and Chief Whips, etc. He hoped that the presentation in the current meeting would be the same as the information presented at the later meeting and that reports from presiding officers and the Minister would be same as received at the later meeting as he did not want confusion to be sown, especially amongst members of the media.
Ms Penelope Tyawa, Acting Secretary to Parliament, presented apologies on behalf of the Speaker of the NA who was still engaged in a meeting and would join the meeting as soon as possible.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu explained that she was having challenges with her connectivity to the virtual platform. She understood what Mr Singh was saying but advised caution as she did not want to scare away those presenting reports as one did not know what could happen between the current time and 5pm.
Co-Chairperson Mabe noted that it could be a long meeting but that there was a meeting later in the afternoon. She suggested that the majority of the time be spent on clarity-seeking questions, even though there might not be answers as yet to those questions. She invited the Chairperson of the NCOP and possibly the Secretary to Parliament to address the meeting.
Mr Masondo suggested that the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure be given an opportunity to speak. That would minimise the numerous reports that could be conflicting at a later stage. He was pleased to participate in the meeting but would prefer to respond after the presentation.
Co-Chairperson Mabe explained that he was being asked to lay the foundation for the meeting.
Introductory Remarks by the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
Mr Masondo noted that the year had started under stressful circumstances. The fire that had broken out in Parliament and affected the buildings in the precinct was a matter uppermost in the minds of many people. Everyone accepted that SA had a legislature that played an important role in the lives of everyone in the country and had an ongoing impact on the country. The Members of Parliament (MPs) were elected representatives and the voice of the people; they represented the people. Parliament was accountable to the people of SA. The legislative power of the country was vested in Parliament, i.e. Parliament passed laws and the NA chose the next President and the President publicly debated in the NA. The NA scrutinised and oversaw the actions of the Executive. The NCOP had to ensure that provincial interests were taken into account in national governance and was the place where issues of importance to the provinces were debated. The key functions of Parliament also included the promotion of cooperative governance and international relations.
Mr Masondo stated that on 2 January 2022, a fire was reported to the CoCT Emergency Medical Services (EMS) which responded within six minutes and activated its services. Members would also remember that on the evening of 16 March 2021, Parliament had experienced a fire-related emergency and the blaze had been contained in the early hours of 17 March 2021 with no injuries reported. The cause of fire had been an electrical fault and the SA Police Services (SAPS) found that no one was to blame. The fire of 2 January 2022 led to the burning of NA Chamber, the Old Assembly Chamber and some of the offices of MPs. Some important sections were saved, including the NCOP Chamber, some Members’ offices, the library, museum and art works, but since the initial blaze, the fire had since worsened and was probably under control at the present time. Parliament awaited further reports on other losses and damage.
Mr Masondo commented on meetings with stakeholders. The previous day, 3 January 2022, he and his team had spent the day with management, emergency services, the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, the media and SAPS senior officers who had assured them of their commitment to enforce the law and that ongoing investigations would be thorough. He was grateful to President Cyril Ramaphosa and a number of Ministers who had provided support in a hands-on manner and who had provided moral support to the firefighters and related services. Members of Parliament had made a commitment to leave no stone unturned to enable appropriate action to be taken by the various agencies and to take the work of oversight to its logical conclusion. Work was ongoing.
On being resilient and adapting to the situation, he reminded Members that given the Covid-19 situation, Parliament had learnt to be resilient to ensure the ongoing provision of services. Parliament had to support the State of the Nation Address (SONA), the Budget and various programmes of government. He knew many were still reeling from the shock of the fire. Parliament was a national key point and the loss was beyond any measure, although a proper assessment of the damage still had to take place. He reiterated that the appeal was for calm and caution and to avoid speculation and to give space for the investigative teams to investigate and provide conclusive information. As he spoke, there were tentative discussions on the way forward. Work was ongoing to ensure that the work of Parliament continued.
Co-Chairperson Mabe said that, viewing images on TV, the damage seemed very severe. She was pleased that Mr Masondo had made a commitment to ensure that the work of Parliament would continue in terms of budgets, the SONA and oversight. She was not taking questions until after the briefing by DPWI. She asked the Acting Secretary to Parliament if she had any comments.
Ms Tyawa declined to make a comment.
Co-Chairperson Mabe invited Minister De Lille and her Department to brief the Members.
Briefing on Fire Incident
Briefing by the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure
Minister De Lille stated that she would give two reports and the Acting DG of DPWI would give more information. She began with the issue of alternative accommodation. In a meeting with the Speaker of the NA the previous day, she had addressed the issue of accommodation by putting two options before the Speaker: the Cape Town International Conventional Centre had offered its premises and Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis had offered the Cape Town City Hall, the Council Chambers and some recently renovated offices.
The Speaker had to do a needs assessment and indicate to DPWI how much accommodation was needed. Thereafter DPWI could engage with the two proposals.
Secondly, the Minister reported the convening of a 10-member engineering experience panel, including structural, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers and an architect. The panel would make an assessment of the extent of the damage, cost of repairs and how long that would take. On Monday the team had been confident that it could provide its preliminary report by Friday of the same week, but the previous day the temperature in the building was 100º C and they had been unable to enter; the previous day, the temperature had been 440º C. The team had decided to use drones to gain access to the building but just as that process had begun, the second flare-up had occurred and no work had been able to take place the previous day. That meant that the team might not be able to present the preliminary report by the end of the week. A fire expert had been appointed to work with the forensic team from CoCT to investigate the cause of the fire and where it had started. She was waiting for CoCT EMS to hand over building to SAPS as it was a crime scene and then to hand over the building to DPWI to allow the engineering team and professionals access to the building.
The Minister stated that she had briefed the Speaker the previous day as she had been on site from early morning on Sunday but the Speaker had been unable to get a flight from East London and had eventually driven to Cape Town. DPWI had given the Presiding Officers and their teams a progress report on the restoration project following the fire of 16 March 2021.
The Minister’s team had also provided a report on the total power failure in Cape Town City Centre and the Atlantic seaboard on 21 December 2021 and what the DPWI had done at the time and to ensure after the restoration of power that all safety measures were in place. DPWI had provided a report on fire equipment service. She added that DPWI had reported on the procurement of the CCTV cameras for Parliament and the maintenance contractor who maintained the cameras on behalf of the Department.
The Minister had briefed the President and the Premier of the Province on Sunday. She remarked on the amazing outpouring of help from the city, the province and local residents. The firefighters were very professional and had done their very best working around the clock. Her gratitude went out to the City of Cape Town and its Fire Department.
She stated that the Acting DG would present the preliminary report compiled to brief the Speaker. As more info was gathered, the report would be updated and she and her team would present it to Parliament management or to any Committee that requested such an engagement.
Briefing by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure
Mr Imtiaz Fazel, Acting DG, DPWI, stated that the DPWI report would cover several topics: progress on the restoration project pursuant to the fire of 16 March 2021; the Fire Equipment Service Report, including the sprinkler system; security system report; frequency of maintenance; power incident on 21 December 2021. The purpose of the presentation was to provide an update on the areas that were potentially linked to the fire incident that occurred on 02 January 2022.
Ms Thembeka Kolele, DPWI Project Manager responsible for Parliament, informed Members that she worked very closely with her colleague from Parliament on the maintenance of the parliamentary precinct.
A fire related incident was reported in the “Old Assembly” building in Parliament precinct during the evening of 16 March 2021. The final report was presented on 17 May 2021, indicating that the cause of the fire was ‘an electrical fault’ and no foul play was found by the South African Police Services. All departmental processes for the restoration project had been completed and had been planned to commence on 15 January 2022. After the incident in March 2021, there was an issue with the water in the fire hydrants and fire hose reels. The leaking and corroded pipes were replaced with galvanised piping on 20 April 2021 and leaking pipes in the New Assembly building were replaced by 19 October 2021. The Fire Panel system was rewired and tested and a gas supressing system was also reinstated.
Following the extended power outage on 21 December 2021, lasting almost 24 hours, all equipment in the precinct had been tested and found to be working, although part of the video wall in the monitoring room could not be repaired until January 2022. Nevertheless, all cameras could be viewed on the computer screens in the monitoring room. She provided a detailed timeline of the follow-up to the 21 December outage.
Ms Kolele reported on the current situation, stating that the Department had dispatched technical teams to provide support to the fire fighters on the facilities management aspect; a second technical team (Engineers, Project Managers and Architects) would be responsible for the technical assessments and costs estimates. The site remains inaccessible until the area was declared safe for further investigations and assessmentsmaintenance plan for the precinct.
Mr Faizel emphasised that the systems were working as intended and had been tested late in December 2021.
Co-Chairperson Mabe asked the Minister to share pictures of the fire and buildings with Members and also pictures of the security systems about which the presenter had spoken technically. Pictures would assist her and other Members to understand the situation.
The Minister said that CCTV footage had been downloaded by the Hawks but that footage was not available as it had been secured as evidence in the case of arson. She had footage from the EMS drone that had flown over Parliament. EMS was not allowed to share the footage but had given access to two 30-second snippets of footage. She would ultimately have footage from the technical teams but currently the inside of Parliament was pitch dark and no one was permitted to enter. She would share the available pictures on the following day.
Co-Chairperson Mabe informed participants that only MPs could speak and she asked that speakers introduce themselves fully.
Ms A Siwisa (EFF) noted that maintenance and inspections had been done, but asked whether they had been thorough. The presenter had said that systems were checked in February 2021 before SONA, but in March 2021, a fire had broken out. The Department did not hold people accountable and it had moved from one incident to the next and had moved away from what it was supposed to be doing. It did not give consistent responses and there was a lack of continuous maintenance, so some people were not surprised at what had happened to the parliamentary buildings. Even basic buildings, such as hospitals and clinics, were not maintained properly by DPWI. She complained about the report that Members had had to sit and listen to.
If the fire triggers were working, the fire should not have spread the way it had. The reports on inspections raised doubts. There had been an inspection in December and in January, a fire had broken out. Would the officials be held accountable? The Committee was just being given paper work. She wanted a report about the officials responsible. The Minister had to provide a detailed disciplinary report. She had to say what would happen and what the consequences would be for the officials responsible and she had to report when action had been taken.
Ms S Graham (DA) had some technical questions. She noted that the report stated that the requirements of the Fire Department had been met. If that was so, had the reports been signed off by the Fire Department and had a Certificate of Compliance been received? Although some inspections appeared to have taken place monthly or annually, had the fire panels been inspected daily as was the regulated requirement? Had the logbook been completed as required? Had the DPWI ascertained which panel had been triggered by the incident? That data could be downloaded as up to 9 000 incidents could be captured. Did the DPWI have access to that data?
Regarding the CCTV system, the reports showed that the system was working but the homeless gentleman had apparently accessed Parliament around 2 am, according to reports, but the call regarding the fire was only made at 6:15am. How could the gentleman charged with arson spend four hours on the precinct, in the building, and not be picked up by any of the cameras? Ms Graham noted that numerous reports, from 2018 onwards, about the system not functioning were doing the rounds and yet Members were told that everything was in order. How could everything have been in place before SONA but a fire had occurred in March 2021. Subsequent to the March fire, the report had been completed but nothing had been corrected owing to procurement issues and yet the meeting was being told that everything was in order. She requested clarity on that point.
Ms S Gwarube (DA) asked the Minister about the report compiled following the fire in the Old Assembly building in 2021. How many recommendations had there been and how many; which recommendations had been implemented? It was 10 months since that fire and it was important to see what deficiencies there had been and which had been rectified with regards to fire prevention.
She was surprised that Acting Secretary to Parliament had declined to give input. She would have assumed that both she and the Minister would have briefed the Members as her mandate was separate from that of the Minister. The DPWI had a mandate but the Acting Secretary had a mandate from Parliament and it would have been useful for Members to hear an account of the day from the point of view of Parliament and the parliamentary protection services. What had happened; what had gone wrong? Members were getting a myopic view of the situation by hearing only from DPWI. According to the Speaker, there had been security breaches and it would have been useful to understand where those breaches emanated from so that Members could get to the bottom of the situation and to understand who had allowed the situation and who should be held accountable, particularly as there had been conflicting reports from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU) which said that protection services had been, over time, reduced due to issues of finance. The Speaker had disputed that fact the previous day and so it would have been useful to hear from the Acting Secretary to Parliament on those issues.
Mr Singh was also concerned that the Acting Secretary to Parliament had not said anything. The Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) Report of May 2018 commissioned by Parliament, pointed to non-compliance with regards to a number of issues. Could DPWI say to what extent the Department had looked at that report and acted on its recommendations?
He agreed that it was good to have cameras, but warm bodies were needed to monitor the cameras. One did not wish to catch people after the act but to act decisively at the time that something happened. However, it seemed to him that there were no warm bodies in the monitoring room at the time because, if there had been, whoever was in the building could have been apprehended. Why were there no warm bodies monitoring the cameras?
Thirdly, Mr Singh drew attention to the sprinklers. He appreciated the hands-on approach of the Minister and her colleagues. She had indicated that a particular valve had been shut off so one could assume that the sprinklers in a particular locality would have not worked in the event of a fire, but reports stated that the fire had started in two different places in the precinct. Was there only one valve that controlled the sprinkler system in the whole of the parliamentary precinct? If that was not the case, why had the sprinklers in the New Assembly building not worked?
Fourthly, he asked what remedial work, requested by Parliament, had not been done by the Department. Why was it not done? Was it a case of a shortage of funds? Reports suggested that work had not been done because of budgetary constraints. Media reports suggested that it would take R1 billion to repair the damage to Parliament. Who had come up with that figure, or was it a thumb suck? He thought a careful investigation was needed before one could come up with an estimate, although no monetary value could restore the historic significance of the buildings. He had been in Parliament for 30 years and it was really sad to see what had happened.
Mr M Moletsane (EFF Free State) shared the expressed concerns about compliance reports and the monitoring of the cameras. He noted that COCT was prepared to assist but asked if there were financial implications and what would it cost Parliament if it accepted the offer of assistance.
Ms S Boshoff (DA Mpumalanga) stated that many questions had been posed in the NCOP sitting that morning but she was particularly concerned about the inspection that had taken place prior to SONA in 2021 and, although a fire had broken out in March 2021, there had been no findings following the inspection prior to SONA. She requested a copy of that report so that Members could examine it. Minister De Lille had referred to a fire equipment service report that had been sent to the Speaker. She also requested copy of that report. Had that report noted any deficiencies in the fire equipment?
Ms M Hicklin (DA) referred to the Minister’s briefing in which she had said that there had been an issue with the water in the fire hydrant and with fire hoses. She had also referred to a leak in one of the lift shafts where galvanised pipes had been replaced but she had not stated whether the fire hydrants and fires reels had been replaced. She assumed that they had been replaced but she had to ask the question.
Ms Hicklin was a Member of the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure and the Committee did oversight over the Department that seemed to bypass maintenance issues quite a lot and no one ever seemed to take responsibility when maintenance did not happen; the blame was simply passed on. Whose responsibility was it to see that maintenance did take place in Parliament? The Department was reactive and not proactive in respect of maintenance. What could be done to ensure the Department became proactive in respect of maintenance? Facilities maintenance in the parliamentary villages was a good example. Horrific fires had broken out in the parliamentary villages on 21 December 2021; no horticultural maintenance was done, etc. It was all related. Ms Hicklin reiterated that she wanted responses on the question of the fire hydrants and hoses.
Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) pointed out that normally a Committee received a report beforehand to go through and prepare questions, so Members were a bit disadvantaged as they had not had prior access to the report presented by Ms Kolele. He suggested that another detailed report be provided, especially in relation to the sprinkler system. He knew there were issues in relation to the frequency of servicing fire equipment but he wanted to know exact dates on which the sprinklers, smoke detectors and monitors were assessed. Was it not time to re-assess the frequency of the assessment of such services? For example, to assess the sprinkler system annually was inadequate.
In one meeting of the Joint Standing Committee for Financial Management of Parliament, he had raised the question of a parliamentary Health and Safety Committee. The Acting Secretary had confirmed that there was indeed such a committee. Where had that committee been throughout the process of inspections and assessments, etc. and what was its role in that respect? The issues that the meeting was discussing all had to do with health and safety. Had the reports that had been referred to been shared with the Health and Safety Committee in Parliament as there was a duality of responsibility between Parliament and DPWI?
Mr Rayi added that some issues were in the public domain, such as the issue of the protection services staff, the financial situation and policy issues. Members needed a briefing on that issue and clarity as to why the services were not on site at the time of the incident.
Mr X Qayiso (ANC) appreciated the presentations and commended the work done by the fire team from Cape Team. He apologised if his questions seemed probing or as if he was investigating but it was the manner of the presentation that had given rise to such questions.
He, firstly, addressed the issue of the parliamentary protection services. The committee needed a report on whether anyone should have been on duty and had not been on duty that morning. He wanted to see if a protection services team had been deployed on that night and morning and, if there was a shortcoming, whether there were any reasons for that. He wanted a well-crafted report; not information that appeared to be a thumb suck.
Regarding service providers in Parliament, he asked if those service providers were vetted, as should be done with all people working in a national key point. A report on vetting would enable Members to clear up any suspicions relating to service providers. Concerning fire protection, he said the report should show if any abnormality by a fire sensor had been found and whether a fault had been detected in any part of the system. It was those finer details that were required. Could the system show if there were any problems? Did the system itself have an ability to detect faults?
Ms O Maotwe (EFF) said that the SHE report had not been fully implemented and any report that suggested otherwise was misleading. Members should not be taken for a ride.
She asked the Minister about the costs involved in using the venue offered by the Cape Town International Convention Centre CTICC). She was sceptical as there was no such thing as a free lunch. What arrangements had the Minister locked Parliament into in respect of the Convention Centre and the CoCT venues? The Minister had also said that a professional team would provide a preliminary report but she had said the building would be handed to the Hawks, or SAPS, so how and when would her team access the building? Were the panel members internal officials or persons external to the Department?
Concerning the sprinklers, Ms Maotwe stated that Parliament needed a full report before that matter could be discussed as people were currently speculating. She was sure there was a team that involved all stakeholders involved in the issue and that could provide a coordinated cohesive report. The media had already suggested an estimation for the repairs. It was unprofessional for the media to come up with a figure that was a thumb suck about how much it would cost to repair the building. The Speaker should get the thing together and not allow just anyone to speak on the issue.
Ms S van Schalkwyk (ANC) expressed her concern about the absence of the parliamentary protection services report. Was Parliament sufficiently resourced in terms of its health and safety section? She also expressed concern about the frequency of maintenance checks and asked for a specific, detailed report, including all the final maintenance reports of 2021: not only dates but findings and interventions conducted.
Mr K Mmoiemang (ANC; Northern Cape) noted that it was a challenge to understand what had transpired on the morning of 2 January 2022. The report gave an impression that all systems were in place, including sprinklers and alarm system. He wanted to know about the interaction between the management of Parliament and SAPS regarding Parliament as a national key point. Had there been a failure of some sort by the police that had allowed an intruder to enter the precinct and whether there was a consequence to that? The media had suggested that it was breaches in the systems that had led to the intruder, a homeless person, accessing the precinct. According to the media and what had been presented in court, it appeared that there were issues around the alarm and the sprinkler systems. Had those issues been addressed by Parliament and the DPWI? Members did not want to wait for the Portfolio Committee on the Police to brief Parliament. Questions would be raised if those details were not addressed in the report.
He noted that the report provided details of what had been done since the previous year but there were no details relating to the current situation. If there were police officers who had not done what they should have done on that day, were those officers currently on suspension?
Mr Mmoiemang asked about the ability of Parliament, as a national key point, to respond to disaster. Had Parliament been found wanting in its ability to respond? He expressed his appreciation for the work done by CoCT but the media briefing given by the CoCT representative for Safety and Security concerned him. Should the City respond to the situation and not Parliament? Parliament should not have to rely on the other spheres of government.
Mr T Brauteseth (DA) stated that Capt Strydom, a SAPS officer, had inspected the camera system on 21 September 2021 and had found that the system was not working optimally but there appeared to have been no escalation of that problem. The Acting Secretary to Parliament had made it clear that morning at an NCOP briefing that the security of the perimeter of Parliament was the responsibility of the SAPS. Was she saying that the current incident was a result of a failure by SAPS? He wanted an assurance that the report would include a strong section on the actions of SAPS, including Capt Strydom, the only person named. He had never seen SAPS patrolling the back perimeter of Parliament and asked what hourly patrols were being referred to.
Ms N Mahlo (ANC) had questions on maintenance. What procedures did the Department follow in respect of maintenance? She requested a report on the monitoring and evaluation of the work done by the Department so she could find out why the incident had happened. The Department had to clarify the unavailability of funding to protect national key points. What did the Department mean when it said that there was insufficient funding? Parliament was responsible for seeing that all went well, and did so, if properly informed by the technocrats. She supported the request for a detailed report as soon as it was ready. She was not happy about the situation and that the national key points could not be protected.
Ms R Lesoma (ANC) said her questions had been covered but suggested that there should be a special project to pay close attention to and oversight of the process moving forward. She suggested frequent meetings were necessary to determine the situation and any mitigating factors.
She added that the purpose of that meeting had been to receive a briefing, although the short time since the incident had placed limits on the amount of information available. However, Members had not received even a draft report prior to the meeting. Members should receive a copy of the report plus the Health and Safety Plans of Parliament and how they had been implemented or challenges that had been experienced. She was pleased that some work had been done in response to the March fire. She asked who had been the project manager and whether it had been an internal person or someone from outside the Department. Who had quality assured the response to the March fire? That would also talk to the mandatory frequency of the Health and Safety checking requirements versus the actual frequency of such checks.
Lastly, Ms Lesoma requested a report on the way forward and where SONA would be held as well as the financial implications of holding SONA.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said she had wanted to comment on many of the items that had been raised. She was fortunate to have attended the morning meeting in Parliament. The Speaker was on the platform and she acknowledged her presence.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu stated that lessons had to be learnt and her first thought on seeing the incident in the media, had been to wonder what Parliament had learnt from previous incidents. She had thought that the Joint Standing Committee would have been able to take the report and do its own in situ oversight visit but, after listening to the Minister and her team who had said the temperature in the building was such that no one could access the building, she realised that the Committee could not take such an approach. She understood that kind of oversight was not possible.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu had expected the Acting Secretary to Parliament and the Minister to speak on the loophole: DPWI was the implementing agent but Parliament management was responsible for the personnel onsite and had to account for who was there and whether the cameras were working. Did management have the footage from the camera? The incident had happened just after the funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and she was concerned about how safe the President, Ministers and all mourners in the Church had been as the Church where the service had been held was close by. Parliament was not really treated as national key point because it was surrounded by people who could get into the precinct whenever they wished but the Joint Committee and the Portfolio Committees had to have oversight. She was embarrassed. Parliament was surrounded by homeless people who slept on the doorstep of Parliament.
She reminded Members that while the Minister had been speaking to the media, a reporter had been at the home of the “homeless” person. There were so many questions. The Minister had reported that the fire had been extinguished and then it started again. She shared the Minister’s frustration. It was the Parliament of the People, but it was also the workplace of the Members. The Minister did not even know if she would get the preliminary report that Friday. Would the team be able to access the building? She doubted if they would be able to but she knew the Minister was engaging with stakeholders and organisations that were there to help with the situation.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said that the issue of whether there were people at work or not in the early hours of 2 January 2022 was key and Members needed to know whether people were at their work stations or not. Management had to take responsibility and not try to make other people into scapegoats. She wanted to hear factual reports before the Committee could come up with a way forward, which should be informed by the technical experts. She had had a whole list of things she wanted to raise but she had wanted to give others a chance and they had covered most of her questions. What had happened was devastating.
Mr B Radebe (ANC) stated that one of the reasons for calling the meeting was to inform Members about the situation and to end speculation. Members should not receive their information about Parliament and government from the media. The authorities in Parliament and the Executive should keep Members informed. Mr Masondo had emphasised the role of Parliament. The four Committees that were on the platform had to be commended for dropping everything in order to attend the meeting.
He said that parliamentarians could not take decisions based on the media reports but had to base decisions on hard facts. There was a narrative that the man in custody was homeless, but court records showed that he was not homeless, but had a family and a home. The issue to be addressed in the meeting was how he had got into Parliament which was a national key point and therefore guarded 24/7 by the police and the parliamentary protection services. The only way that he could have gained entry was with the assistance of someone inside Parliament. That was why the cameras were so important. A national key point could not be exposed because suppliers were closed and could not supply the necessary cards for the monitoring system. When it came to certain equipment in Parliament, suppliers had to provide their services 365 days a year. In municipalities, water and sewer contractors were on hand 365 days a year to deal with any matters that arose.
Mr Radebe stated that the only report that Parliament should accept was the report of the 10-man investigation team that would undertake a factual assessment. The other reports were not the truth but were there to create chaos. When the report from the experts was released, it had to be released to Parliament management and the four Committees which were currently on the platform, i.e. the four Committees to which the Executive and the management of Parliament had to account. Before the report went to the press, it had to be presented to the Committees. People must know that the Parliament of SA had not been destroyed. The parliamentary work of Parliament had to continue. Within the next two weeks, all parliamentary Committees would begin their work. He was worried that only two options had been looked at. There were a lot of venues around Cape Town. What about all the universities that had a lot of space? Parliament could assist universities with their financial problems. Two options were too few – even the tendering system required at least three quotations - and the decision should not be taken until it had been reviewed by the Committees.
He noted that SA was taken seriously as all international media had covered the fire live. Members should appreciate the work of the Speaker of Parliament, the executive management of Parliament, the Minister and the presiding officers for the work that they had done in addressing the situation. However, Parliament was to blame in that the problems that had arisen in March 2021 had not been dealt with timeously. When the Parliament dealt with the issues arising from the 2 January 2022 incident, it had to deal with matters in a professional way.
Co-Chairperson Mabe thanked Members for their valuable input. In the main, it was about lessons learnt. She believed that pictures would help Members to understand the situation. The fire in Room 454 of the Old Assembly building had cost around R11 million and that had also been affected, as had offices that were in the process of being renovated. It often appeared that the renovations occurred in an un-coordinated manner so she wanted DPWI to give a breakdown of how much had been spent on Parliament in maintenance, renovations and consultants. If possible, the figure should also include the cost of renovations following the current incident. As a national key point, Parliament could not be compromised.
Co-Chairperson Mabe asserted that some countries destroyed all buildings older than 20 years as older buildings were more expensive to maintain. She was not an expert but Parliament was an old building. However, the best option was the one that could save money.
She hoped that the incident was not an attempt to undermine the revolution; hence she requested that the relevant authorities conduct a thorough investigation into the matter as maybe it was not the work of a homeless person, although that was the only suspect at the moment. Parliament tried to be transparent and speak only of facts. So far no report had been tabled other than the DPWI report. The Department should not be rushed but should be given time to provide a comprehensive report. She suggested weekly progress reports to the Committees were required initially.
She handed over to Co-Chairperson Mahlangu who assured the Members that she was aware that there was another meeting at 17:00, which was in 28 minutes’ time.
Agreeing that frequent meetings would be necessary, Co-Chairperson Mahlangu requested the Acting Secretary to Parliament to respond to the questions posed to her. She requested the Minister to provide the report presented so that the Committee Secretary could circulate the report to the media. She was aware that the Minister was relying on others to give her information but she also requested responses from the authorities in Parliament. She also requested that guidance on the way forward be included in the responses. She called on the Acting Secretary to Parliament to commence the responses.
Ms Tyawa thanked Members for the questions but said that she did not have a written report so she would take all the questions raised and then respond to the Committees in writing. She requested permission to do that.
Co-Chairperson Mabe asked for a proposed timeframe for the response.
Ms Twaya said she would respond within the normal seven days given for responses.
Co-Chairperson Mabe asked for comments from the Members.
Mr Rayi agreed to the suggestion of the Secretary as she could add any new information, but he asked that the finer details, particularly about the functionality of the areas to be maintained and the monitoring of CCTV, be provided. He agreed to the proposal that an updated report be submitted within seven days.
Mr Singh said that it was unfortunate that Members could not be given answers to any of the questions but he accepted that if the Acting Secretary required seven days, the Committee would have to agree to the request.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu understood what the Acting Secretary was saying, but she urged Members not to be pressurised into agreeing to a proposal that they did not agree with.
Ms Lesoma said that if the report could be submitted in fewer than seven days, it would be appreciated.
Ms Maotwe was worried that the Committees had spent nearly three hours in a meeting because the issues were urgent and yet no responses were being given. All Members wanted were answers to the questions posed. Why had the meeting been convened when Members could not receive a single response? The nation was asking questions and had asked Members, who were public representatives, to pose the questions. It was setting a dangerous precedent. Already the country had a President who did not take questions from anyone, including the media at press conferences. Were the people of SA expected to wait seven days for responses? Members were told that there were no reports but there would be reports from the media that would fill the gaps in the next few days. That was not correct. Some questions could be deferred, but not all. She rejected the delayed response.
Ms Gwarube said the Committees had to be careful about paying lip service to accountability. There were reasons why meetings were called, Ministers were called to account and why the questions were posed. Otherwise, Members could simply have written letters to Parliament indicating their concerns. As her colleague had said, some questions could be deferred if there were no answers currently, but not all answers. She found it mind boggling that the accounting authority of Parliament had not said a single word about what had happened. Members had not heard from the Acting Secretary. She had not uttered a single word about what had happened and what was being done to determine what had gone on.
Ms Gwarube stated that as MPs, they could not accept the situation as it would mean that they were neglecting their responsibility to get answers and to hold those responsible, accountable. She pleaded for answers, regardless of the time constraints. If there were no answers, Members had just wasted their time. It was an embarrassment to the people that were following the meeting to see Members simply rubberstamp the presentations. It was an insult and Members should be given the opportunity to interrogate some of the presentations.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu stated that there was a reason why she had given Ms Tyawa an opportunity to speak. She noted that the seven days referred to the normal timeframe for responses to Committees but stated that Members should not feel pressurised to accept that timeframe. The majority of Members had not been at the morning meeting and so had expected the Acting Secretary to engage.
Ms N Mazzone (DA) said that she felt the cart had been put before the horse – the 17:00 meeting should have occurred first because at that meeting the presiding officers would give the chief whips and the acting chip whips, who were ultimately responsible, and who were the spokespersons in their respective caucuses, an opportunity to ask questions and to interrogate what had been going on.
She added that, to be fair to Parliament, the fire had happened within the last 48 hours and that the last of the fire had been put out only 24 hours previously. Earlier in the day, when at Parliament with her colleagues, she had seen the fire chiefs still on site to monitor the situation in case the fire flared up again, so she understood that it was early days to require answers. However, the public needed to hear that Members were defeating those who had tried to defeat democracy by making sure that democracy continued to work, regardless of the circumstances. A fire of that magnitude could not have been started by a homeless man who had broken into the building. One did not have to speculate to know that there was something sinister about the fire, especially seeing that it was so strong that it had been able to re-start. Something was afoot, but Committees should not be sitting there singing praise to one another or looking to harm reputations or to pass on the blame; Members needed to show SA that, despite any kind of an emergency, Parliament could keep working, whether it was in another venue or on Zoom. That was an urgent message that the public needed to hear.
Ms Mazzone stated that it was very important that the 17:00 meeting took place and that meeting should provide feedback to the current meeting. She told the Co-Chairperson that it was not her fault that meetings of the Joint Standing Committee rarely took place. Parties needed to answer for the fact that the Committee rarely met as the Members were not regularly available for meetings. It was the first time that she had seen so many participants. It was an important forum that had to meet regularly. It was the job of the chief whips to ensure that those they appoint to the Committee make themselves available for meetings. The Co-Chairpersons could not be blamed and had done the best they could but there were some questions that could not be answered. She had spent many hours in the parliamentary precinct since Sunday morning and knew that many questions had to be answered. She hoped that the meeting at 17:00 would be open to the media which had to be taken on board in all the investigations as the public had to know that there were no cover-ups.
Ms Lesoma said that she had not said answers were not required. She felt that Members needed a coherent, written report and hence the authorities needed to have time to respond. A proper report was the way to be accountable. She had had a particular technical, professional logic for agreeing to written answers. There was an agreement that the Committees would be meeting weekly and that needed to be emphasised when the Co-Chairperson closed the meeting.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu stated that she had emphasised that the Committee would meet as frequently as possible because Members were dealing with a crisis. She had not yet suggested a date. However, she believed that the meeting had agreed that the Acting Secretary should be given seven days to respond.
Ms N Ntlangwini (EFF) said it was disappointing to use the resources of Parliament for a meeting at which there were no answers to questions posed. Parliament was well aware that its authorities were waiting for professional reports and so the meeting had been a waste of time as nothing had been conveyed. Parliament could simply have sent a letter to each Member. The platform should have met more often to prevent such a crisis. Whips had complained on numerous occasions that Parliament was not safe and that the parliamentary villages were not safe. There had been numerous complaints about the police and how they were handling their work but nothing had happened, although, as a whip, she was ashamed to say that.
She noted that there had been many proposals about venues but asked what sense of entitlement led the DA to believe that Parliament had to sit in Cape Town. There was an obsession with having the SONA in Cape Town. It was really ridiculous. The President could present SONA on Zoom. They had to stop thinking that there was a crisis in respect of SONA as the President could even choose to present his address from his office and save Parliament a great deal of money. There was no crisis. It was disappointing as Natasha Mazzone, although a chief whip, acted like a child attacking her whenever she spoke. Cape Town was not a high and mighty place. A homeless man was being framed by the perpetrators.
Co-Chairperson Mabe called for Ms Ntlangwini to complete her input. She said that Members should not be emotional or disrespectful. It was not for the President to make the decision regarding the venue for SONA; it was the prerogative of the Speaker, the Chairperson of the NCOP and the Executive authority to make the decision regarding the holding of SONA. She asked Members to allow the Minister to respond before she left for the 17:00 meeting.
Minister De Lille put it on record that the DPWI was always willing and able to attend any meeting in Parliament to enable Members to play their oversight role.
Minister De Lille stated that she had presented the same report on the progress on the fire that the Speaker had requested as she had been unable to be in the precinct on Sunday. It was only the DPWI report; the Speaker had had separate meetings with all the other stakeholders, such as emergency services, the police, etc. It had not been a comprehensive report and she assumed that a comprehensive report would be given at the 17:00 meeting.
The Minister responded to some general issues. Members should stop speculating. The man had appeared in court and had a home, so they should stop referring to him as a homeless man. She added that there had been no one to monitor the CCTV cameras from 2am until 6am when SAPS arrived on duty. She could not answer to that; it was a matter that Parliament should respond to. Concerning accommodation, she reiterated that nothing had been confirmed. No one had made any decisions regarding accommodation – she had simply informed Members of the outpouring of support from all South Africans, including the City of Cape Town. It was up to the Speaker to decide what should be done. SAPS and the parliamentary protection services could answer for themselves.
She noted that certain statements had been made by Members about DPWI but her Department always met with the relevant Portfolio Committee and reported as requested. She stressed that the Department always complied. There was no evidence as yet as to the cause of the fire and without evidence, the first fire could not yet be linked to the recent fire. The meeting was premature but she would include answers to all questions raised by the Members in her final report.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu agreed that it was too early to present a way forward; everyone had to be patient, but the Minister had responded to most of the issues that had come up following her report. She thanked all participants for their attendance and she would inform Members of a follow-up meeting.
Ms Maotwe said that she wanted to put it on record that Members’ questions had not been responded to; it had been a tick box exercise. She was very disappointed by the meeting and the role of the Co-Chairperson.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu said that she was not going to respond even though she was being manipulated into a response.
There was an interaction during which Ms Maotwe continued to bemoan the fact that there had not been a response to the questions posed by Members while several other Members spoke over her and each other, some trying to prevent the ongoing squabble.
The Speaker asked for permission to leave the meeting as she had arranged the 17:00 meeting and needed to be there. It was rude to make senior members of political parties waiting. She acknowledged that some questions had not been responded to, but the Acting Secretary had been there throughout the meeting as had the Chairperson of the NCOP, and she had been in attendance for some time. They could have given Members information about the situation.
The Co-Chairperson stated that she had asked the Speaker to respond as a final item in the meeting.
The Speaker said that she had to go to the meeting at 17:00 and that the Members would receive a report following that meeting. It had been agreed that there would be regular meetings of the current platform and she would provide whatever information she had at the next meeting. She would share whatever information she had access to. She reiterated her request to be excused from the meeting.
Co-Chairperson Mahlangu excused the Speaker and thanked Members for availing themselves, the stakeholders who had attended and the media for communicating the information about the meeting to the public. She thanked the executive authority of Parliament and the Minister.
Ms Maotwe said that Zoom meetings were a waste of time; she wanted a face-to-face meeting with Co-Chairperson Mahlangu. She wanted to hold people accountable.
The meeting was closed.
Mabe, Ms BP
Mahlangu, Ms DG
Boshoff, Ms SH
Brauteseth, Mr TJ
Dangor, Mr M
De Lille, Ms P
Graham, Ms SJ
Gwarube, Ms S
Hicklin, Ms MB
Lesoma, Ms RMM
Mahlo, Ms NP
Maotwe, Ms OMC
Mapisa-Nqakula, Ms NN
Masondo, Mr NA
Mathebula, Mr EF
Mazzone, Ms NW
Mjobo, Ms LN
Mmoiemang, Mr MK
Moletsane, Mr MS
Moshodi, Ms ML
Ntlangwini, Ms EN
Ntobongwana, Ms N
Qayiso, Mr XS
Radebe, Mr BA
Rayi, Mr M
Singh, Mr N
Siwisa, Ms AM
Van Schalkwyk, Ms SR
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