Parliament to probe R14 million People’s Assembly

By Carien Du Plessis 14 October 2011

In an unusual step, Parliament has confirmed that it would probe the less-than-well-attended People’s Assembly in Mangaung last month if necessary, while the legislature’s chief communications officer, Luzuko Jacobs, who was involved in organising the assembly, confirmed that he’s off to study again. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

DA leader Athol Trollip likes getting results. On Thursday he got a letter from the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, confirming that he had asked the Secretary to Parliament, Zingile Dingane, to compile a report on the People’s Assembly that was hosted in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in September, following a request by Trollip.

If necessary, it would be probed further.

Trollip is unhappy about the poor organisation of the event, which cost Parliament R14 million, but which saw few ministers and members of the public attending.

A number of ministers and their deputies were lined up to address the concerns raised by local communities, but only deputy minister of mineral resources Godfrey Oliphant and deputy police minister Maggie Sotyu, turned up.

Provincial MECs also stayed away.

Other problems listed by Trollip included transport failures, which meant flight bookings were not made for MPs who were supposed to attend the assembly, and the flight details for those flights that were booked were allegedly incorrect.

Transport organised from the airport to the venue in some cases also didn’t arrive, leaving MPs to find their own way there.

A gala dinner hosted on 21 September was poorly attended, as many MPs were left off the invites list. As a result, many MPs ate dinner at their hotels, which meant the state had to pay for the gala dinner as well as the hotel meals.

Few locals attended the first sitting of the assembly, and for the second sitting delegates hand-picked from community organisations were bussed in from all over the country, which defeated the object of taking Parliament to the Mangaung community, Trollip said.

These members were booked into local hotels while Parliament footed the bill.

Even ANC whips were reported to have been complaining.

The assembly, which was held over two days, was intended to enable interaction between the public, MPs and Cabinet ministers, and was taken out of Cape Town to give people who don’t live nearby a chance to attend.

Trollip said although the DA welcomed such interactions, “poorly managed events such as the Mangaung Assembly do little to build public confidence in Parliament”. The institution should learn from its mistakes, he said.

In the corridors of Parliament, some whispered last week that the institution’s chief of communications, Luzuko Jacobs, was on the brink of being disciplined for what some regarded a failed assembly.

Jacobs, however, said this was not possible as a report into the assembly was only being compiled this week.

He confirmed that not as many ministers turned up as they would have wanted, but he said this didn’t make the assembly a failure.

Jacobs, who had been in his position for seven years, confirmed on Thursday that he was set to pursue further studies in the form of a PhD in media studies from Rhodes University, which probably means that he would resign – something he was loathe to confirm over the weekend.

He was also recently involved in a fracas between Parliament and the media after a journalist quoted a parliamentary official saying the ANC’s handling of the Protection of State Information Bill was bad.

Parliament threatened to withdraw the reporter’s accreditation because it claimed he had transgressed Parliament’s draft media code, a document journalists were not aware of.

After a misunderstanding, which saw the Parliamentary Press Gallery being unhappy about Parliament’s intention to meet it as well as with the South African National Editor’s Forum about the issue, it was agreed that all three bodies would meet soon. DM


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