/ 5 March 2015

Ramaphosa refuses to answer questions on signal jamming

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Signal jamming in Parliament and the additional security measures employed during the State of the Nation Address (Sona) were back in the spotlight in the National Assembly on Wednesday, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa refusing to answer questions on the matter, citing the sub judice rule. 

Indicating that he would be willing to answer the questions once the issues were resolved in court, Ramaphosa said it would not be appropriate to dwell on them now. 

The deputy president was responding  to  a written question, posed by Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, asking on what date was he made aware of the intended use of signal jammers in the house, and other additional security measures, during President Jacob Zuma’s Sona address. 

“The issues are the subject of two legal cases at the moment. I have been reliably informed that hearings into these matters will be happening in our courts in next few days and for that reason I feel constrained to answer the question. I’ve been advised that it is best to let the legal process work and thereafter one can put forward views.

“I’d like to state as a matter of principle that in Parliament, the incident that occurred here should not happen again. I’d be willing to answer the specific issues raised [by Maimane] once the legal case has been concluded,” Ramaphosa said.  

Raising points of orders and supplementary questions, DA, Economic Freedom Fighters and the United Democratic Movement MP’s asked the deputy president to answer broadly about the matters, with DA chief whip John Steenhuisen saying they were not asking about the merits of the case. 

Maimane said it would be a point of interest to find out when the deputy president was informed [about the jammers]. “And I’d like to know, with regard to the removal of the entire caucus, not just members who were asked to leave, should similar conditions prevail in the same conditions, will the deputy president be willing to give a guarantee that the use of the same security measures in fact will not be allowed in this house.”

Deliberate jamming
EFF MP Sipho Mbatha asked if the deputy president would agree that the signals were jammed deliberately “to hide the ill intentions you had of assaulting and dragging out of the members of the EFF out of the chamber”.  

The deputy president again reiterated that he would not be able to answer as the matter was in court. Trying to close the line of question, Speaker Baleka Mbethe said they could not “put deputy president on the floor and extract the answer from him. 

“And that’s as far as we can go.”

Steenhuisen, pointing out that questions were sent to the Deputy President nine days prior to the sitting, said he should have indicated when the questions were tabled that he would not be able to answer. 

“If the deputy president was going to come here today,  and hide behind the sub judice rule, I think it would have been far more honest of him to have indicated that when the questions were tabled at his office, rather than wait for the day to come here and refuse to answer the questions from the house,” he said to cheers from his MP’s and heckling from African National Congress MP’s. 

Accept responsibility
The sub judice rule came up again later over a written question posed by DA MP David Maynier to State Security Minister David Mahlobo. Maynier asked if Mahlobo would be prepared to “accept political responsibility for the operational error involving the use of a signal jamming device” during Sona.  

After saying the question should stand over, house chairperson Thoko Didiza, after consulting with legal services and the minister, gave Mahlobo an opportunity to answer. 

“The issues are in front of the court, and we will respect our oath and rules and not deal with them. We have indicated that in terms of operational efficiency, an error occurred. We regretted the error. And on that basis, we indicated there was no intentional disruption of the signal, but I can’t get to details because they are in front of the court.”