It’s a peo­ple’s Par­lia­ment

CityPress - - Voices - Janet Heard voices@city­press.co.za

It ap­pears that Mr Trans­parency, Fikile Ma­jola, is turn­ing his back on an as­sur­ance that the nu­clear pro­cure­ment project would not be con­ducted in a clan­des­tine man­ner in Par­lia­ment. In a meet­ing of the en­ergy port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, which he chairs, he an­nounced this week that the doors would be closed when the depart­ment briefed the com­mit­tee on the nu­clear build plans.

This week’s meet­ing was con­tro­ver­sial in it­self. As it got un­der way, Ma­jola said that the brief­ing by PetroSA, on a damn­ing foren­sic re­port of its R14.5 bil­lion loss the pre­vi­ous year, would be closed be­cause of “com­mer­cially sen­si­tive” con­sid­er­a­tions.

Clos­ing the door on the pub­lic is not unique to the en­ergy com­mit­tee. A few weeks ago, the me­dia were or­dered out of a meet­ing of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions port­fo­lio com­mit­tee with­out ex­pla­na­tion. The chair ad­journed the meet­ing and said the com­mit­tee would re­con­vene im­me­di­ately be­hind closed doors. A sim­i­lar in­ci­dent took place two years ago.

And PetroSA and Par­lia­ment came un­der fire in June last year af­ter jour­nal­ist Carol Pa­ton was re­fused ac­cess to the state oil com­pany’s high-se­cu­rity head­quar­ters to cover a com­mit­tee meet­ing that had been con­vened there, not on the par­lia­men­tary precinct.

The Press Gallery As­so­ci­a­tion (PGA) has writ­ten to the Speaker to re­quest an ur­gent meet­ing to dis­cuss the lat­est in­ci­dents. The Con­sti­tu­tion is clear. Par­lia­ment may not ex­clude the me­dia “un­less it is rea­son­able and jus­ti­fi­able to do so in an open and demo­cratic so­ci­ety”.

A closed meet­ing should be an ex­cep­tion. For in­stance, there are con­sti­tu­tional grounds for se­crecy when wit­nesses who fear vic­tim­i­sa­tion ap­pear be­fore the par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the SABC.

But th­ese de­ci­sions re­quire care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion with pro­to­cols fol­lowed and ex­pla­na­tions pro­vided. If not, the ex­cep­tion can slide into the norm.

We need to keep on our toes. For­mer chair of the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs Du­misile Nh­lengethwa learnt the hard way af­ter or­der­ing jour­nal­ist Andisiwe to leave a meet­ing three years ago. Makinana knew her rights and re­fused to budge. Af­ter a 10-minute stand­off, Nh­lengethwa gave up. In a let­ter of apol­ogy via the PGA, Nh­lengethwa said that the mis­un­der­stand­ing was “re­gret­table” and that she was “very aware that ours is a Par­lia­ment of the peo­ple”.

The topic that Nh­lengethwa had hoped to keep un­der wraps was a pro­posal for tra­di­tional lead­ers to have “tools of the trade” that in­cluded wash­ing ma­chines. The stakes are much higher when it comes to the nu­clear build pro­gramme, amid warn­ings it could crip­ple the coun­try.

ANC MPs should be re­minded that, in terms of the nu­clear plans, a pledge of trans­parency was made – in black and white – in the ANC’s 2015 Na­tional Gen­eral Coun­cil pol­icy doc­u­ments. Ma­jola can­not turn his back on us now when the coun­try can least af­ford it.

Heard is Me­dia 24’s par­lia­men­tary editor

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