Motsoaledi lashes out at ‘unprecedented’ parliament committee request for names, details of UAE Sheikh entourage
Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has told the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs he had asked for a written request from the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs regarding its demand for documents relating to the visit of UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The Portfolio Committee’s demand included details of the Sheikh’s entourage and a list of visitors.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, on Friday, requested a list of outstanding documents that the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee requires from him in relation to the private visit of the UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in writing warning that it would be unprecedented to release the identity of visitors.
Referring to suspicions that something wrong was done in relation to the visit, an irritated Motsoaledi said it was difficult for them to “chase ghosts.”
“Write a letter specifically as Parliament, telling me what documents you are looking for. You are talking as if a slew of docs are missing,” he said.
He said the Note Verbale informing South Africa of the visit by the Sheikh and his entourage must be obtained from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
“It is not for me to release,” he said.
Motsoaledi issued a temporary designation making the Bhisho Airport a port of entry so that the UAE president’s plane and those of this entourage could land there. The sheikh was on a private visit to the Eastern Cape, where he owns a game farm. The airport was upgraded at the Sheikh’s expense.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Generator included — how Eastern Cape government fixed up dilapidated airport for UAE royals
With regards to copies of visas and passports of visitors who arrived with the Sheikh, Motsoaledi said this was “a new request.”
“It has never happened before. At no stage has there ever been a request like this,” he said.
“You believe it is the UAE and there must be some shenanigans,” he told the committee. “I say be careful. Don’t look at one issue and open the country to all the other consequences that you might not like. I say think very carefully about it. I would like it in writing,” he added.
“I am also asking, not with arrogance, I respect the fact that you have taken an oath and that you have power and you have oversight. But there are legal things that you do not have power over… I want clarity on the documents I must produce. I want it in writing.”
Motsoaledi quoted from an unrelated case where the committee had instructed Home Affairs to withdraw a waiver granted to a person working in the mining industry. He said the judge, in that case, said that they cannot take instructions from “third parties” and in this case referred to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.
“Were there shenanigans on this trip? That is why the Public Protector is there. Tell us there is a shenanigan here or a shenanigan there. You must tell us exactly what shenanigans you are referring to,” he said.
He admitted that he did not use the Border Management Control Act that required him to give 30 days’ notice of his intention to declare a new port of entry, saying that it was not applicable because it will not be a permanent arrangement.
“I didn’t ask for a legal opinion, in my understanding, it was very clear. I am aware that the word permane [Public Protector] decides if I was wrong,” he said.
The designation for the airport will lapse on 12 May.
On Friday last week, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said during a press briefing that there had been a “range of insinuations” that suggested something improper had unfolded during the Eastern Cape’s preparation for this visit “by a prestigious guest to our country”.
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Ntshavheni added that South Africa’s preparations were in line with the internationally practiced hosting provisions that countries offer heads of state or government and other dignitaries on a mutual basis.
Motsoaledi, quoting from a letter written by the Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, said an investment benefit was also at play.
Earlier this month, the premier’s spokesperson Khuselwa Rantjie said this was still in the discussion phase and no agreements have been concluded.
Motsoaledi said he received the request to temporarily designate the Bhisho/Bulembu airport as an international port of entry on 7 April 2023 from Mabuyane.
“It contained supporting documentation including diplomatic communications.”
According to the presentation made by Motsoaledi, the request reads as follows: “The Eastern Cape province has received a request from the UAE for diplomatic overflight and landing rights for the UAE Presidential flight — scheduled to land on 12 April.”
Motsoaledi said his understanding was that there is a firm commitment to investments in the Eastern Cape with regard to oil, gas, tourism, and agriculture.
He explained that proper immigration control had been instituted at the airport but not all visitors needed visas.
“The mere fact that [the visit] was not made public does not entitle people to malign the government,” he said. “It is unfortunate that it is now likened to the Waterkloof landing of the Gupta family,” he added.
While the Public Protector’s office had acknowledged receipt of a request to investigate, Motsoaledi said he had not received any formal communication.
The chairperson of the Home Affairs Portfolio Committee, Mosa Chabane said the committee has “the full right to interact with the department” and cannot “auction their responsibility” to the Public Protector’s office. He said their probe will be a “complementary process”.
Chabane said parliamentary legal services will be approached on the interpretation of the Border Management Act.
“We note the investment process,” he said. DM/MC