DA: Statement by Mike Ellis, Democratic Alliance Deputy Chief Whip, on Crime statistics (29/09/2009)

29th September 2009

Last week the Democratic Alliance objected to the fact that the media and general public was barred from the portfolio committee on police's on crime statistics hearing, in blatant violation in section 152 of the National Assembly's Rules.

Following on from this, I will today write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, to urge him to establish a disciplinary committee in terms of sections 191-194 of the National Assembly Rules, to review the concerning decision to close this meeting.

Idasa's Judith February underscored on SABC News exactly why the committee chairperson's decision to hold this hearing behind closed doors is so troubling:

"It is important that South African citizens are able to see, in the open and transparently, what is happening in committees and whether MPs are indeed holding the executive to account for what is happening."

Instead, last week we saw the parliamentary process abused just so that the ANC could stage manage the release of crime statistics on its own terms.

As further evidence that this is precisely what happened, Lydia Chikunga, the committee chairperson, essentially admitted as much on SAFM:

"If you invite media to that session, it will longer be the minister who informs the people of South Africa about crime statistics, it will be [the] media."

"...If in that meeting we have the media... then of course it means that by 12 o clock [when the press conference was scheduled] it will be out in radio stations and so on, therefore it will no longer be the minister informing the people of South Africa."

The problem, as February put so clearly, is that committee sessions are open for a reason. We cannot have a situation where the ANC makes up Parliament's rules as it goes along. Yet, that is precisely what appears to have happened last Tuesday.

Section 152 of the National Assembly Rules states very clearly the instances in which committees may be closed to the public. It states that legislation, the National Assembly's rules, or resolutions of the National Assembly, may permit closed committee sessions. It additionally states that the only other permissible reason for closing a committee is when that committee is considering a matter that may prejudice a particular person, or when the subject matter is protected under parliamentary privilege, or when it is confidential in terms of legislation, or when its release would be detrimental to an open and democratic society.

It is quite clear that none of these provisions apply to a discussion of crime statistics - information that was, in any event, busy being released to the public, and which can thus, in no way, be considered prejudicial or protected under parliamentary privilege. Further, the National Assembly's rules in no way sanction a closed committee using Ms. Chikunga's rationale of preventing the media from reporting on an issue.

So obvious is the violation that parliamentary spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs resorted, on SABC News, to claiming that the meeting was closed because "crime statistics was not the only issue that the committee was dealing with". Of course, if this were the case, section 152(2) ought to have been invoked, which allows a particular part of a committee session to be closed, and the rest to remain open. But Mr. Jacobs's statement is actually very revealing, because it shows that even Parliament can find no reason for barring the public from a discussion on crime statistics.