Media wrong to say minister ‘dodged’ questions on Grace Mugabe
LAST week, several media outlets ran stories to the effect that Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was “dodging” responding to questions on the incident concerning Grace Mugabe, and Gabriella Engels.
In the reporting, however, a number of significant factors were ignored.
The meetings attended by the minister were arranged well before the request for her to attend the parliamentary sessions was made.
Given the minister’s mandate, it is not possible to simply cancel prearranged bilateral meetings with foreign affairs counterparts, especially in view of the fact that these are part of the deliverables in Dirco’s Annual Performance Plan.
On September 7, for example, Nkoana-Mashabane, in addition to the meeting with her Vietnamese counterpart on the back end of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa business communities) Summit, she was also attending the Asia Regional Heads of Mission Conference.
The minister had been more than willing to participate in parliamentary processes relating to the Grace Mugabe issue.
Prior to receiving any request for the minister to brief Parliament or respond to Parliament, she herself wrote to both the Speaker of Parliament and the chairperson of the portfolio committee, expressing her willingness to brief them on the issue.
Both the letters from the minister and communication confirming their receipt by the respective parliamentary offices are available.
It cannot be true that the minister was “dodging” questions, since she was the one who had voluntarily availed herself to respond to questions on the matter.
Although there has been criticism of the minister’s reliance on the sub judice rule, it should be noted that the minister did take serious account of the fact that the matter was sub judice (literally under judicial consideration).
It is true, as some have noted, that the scope of the rule has been significantly diminished under the current constitutional dispensation of deliberation and justification.
Even so, where any process is likely to prejudice judicial proceedings, such a process would fall foul of the sub judice process.
Parliament’s role is to hold the executive accountable.
Any process within Parliament is, therefore, intended to determine whether Nkoana-Mashabane appropriately exercised her discretion under section 7(2) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act.
But that is precisely the question before the court.
It does not come much closer to prejudicing the judicial process than that.
The DA wants to have its cake and eat it too – to have both a judicial process and a parliamentary process at the same time.
It would be more appropriate to either:
1. Follow the parliamentary route first, then if dissatisfied with the minister’s explanation, approach the court.
2, Follow the judicial route first and if successful, seek parliamentary censure.
A related matter concerns the availability of the minister to respond to parliamentary questions on September 7.
The minister had already informed the leader of government business that she would be away on official duty and that she would be unavailable to personally respond to questions.
However, the rules do permit the minister to be represented either by one of her deputies or another cabinet minister.
The minister will be in North America until September 22 as she is attending a UN General Assembly high-level session in New York and the North America Heads of Mission Conference in Ottawa.
It is observed that the full portfolio committee of Parliament are currently in Ottawa on a study tour which ends on Sunday.
The minister has expressed her willingness to meet the members of the committee to discuss these and other issues.
What is important to note, however, is that the minister is not at all afraid to answer questions concerning the granting of diplomatic immunity to Mrs Mugabe.
As she has expressed before, the decision was not an easy one to make but one that, in her discretion, was justified.
DIRE TLADI Special adviser to Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane