Opinionista Ian Ollis 21 November 2013

Lost in Translation

It’s always dangerous to attack someone in the media, personally. It’s even more dangerous to attack organisations and political parties, when you don’t do your homework. The Freedom Front Plus and the ANC Government seem to be especially good at doing exactly that and strangely are in government together, or at least in cabinet.

However in this particular case, the Freedom Front Plus’s Anton Alberts hasn’t just got egg on his face, he has ended up with the whole breakfast!

On the 14th of November in press release, reported in Politicsweb online, Anton Alberts asserts that  “The DA caucus member in the portfolio committee, Ian Ollis, clearly stated that he did not agree with Adv Alberts and that he felt that the Act should not be classified as a Section 76 Bill, because the Bill only aims to deal with the regulation of traffic and does not have an impact on the functions and economy of the provinces.”

He further asserts that the DA is dishonest and implies that Helen Zille should offer an apology, as “The DA did not intend opposing the e-toll system any further until the FF Plus announced their legal action. Voters can therefore not trust the DA with their votes in next year’s elections.”

As evidence, Honorable Alberts offers only one line from a typed summary of events at the Parliamentary committee of 19 Feburary 2013, which he attended: “A DA Member felt that the Bill should not be tagged as a Section 76 Bill as it regulated traffic and its intention was as such.”

It struck me as a strange quote. Anton Alberts has only attended the Parliamentary Transport committee once in the past two years, on the day in question, to table his amendments to the bill, none of which were accepted by the committee.

What he doesn’t know is that during the initial debate on the bill, I argued extensively FOR the tagging of the bill as a section 76 bill (He wasn’t present). What he also doesn’t know is that my colleagues in the National Council of the Provinces similarly argued for the bill to be tagged section 76.

Presumably he also doesn’t know that I assisted my Chief Whip, Watty Watson, in the drafting and submitting of letters to the speaker et al arguing that the bill was incorrectly tagged and asking for a section 76 tagging (we have dated copies). He has presumably forgotten or again was absent when we voted against the bill in its entirety in the NCOP and in the National Assembly (My personal vote, together with all my DA colleagues is a matter of public record as reflected in the Hansard).

However this reference in the summary of the meeting was puzzling. As I usually do in these cases I did further “homework” by pulling the sound recordings of the meeting of the 19 February 2013 where the alleged comment arose. The full recording of the meeting reveals that what I actually said was the following:

Chairperson Ruth Bengu MP: “Unless there is a member who feels otherwise… responding to the first issue raised by Honorable Alberts…  Honorable Ollis?”

Ian Ollis MP: “Chairperson, you will remember last year when we were meeting in the old assembly chamber, we had um.., I think it was a Mr Rhoda, state law advisor, and you will remember he and I had an argument about this, because he felt very strongly that, in terms of that court decision, and I don’t know whether the lawyers can remind me, the “Tumani?“ decision, there was a long list of specific wording that had to be in the act in order for it to be tagged a section 75 in terms of this, the specifics of this case.

“You will remember, I disagreed with him very strongly, and I think the committee’s conclusion was that they agreed with him, and that I eventually… essentially was a minority voice. The argument at the time was that this bill does not refer to the regulation of traffic, nowhere in this bill is the wording contained that refers to the regulation of traffic, and on those grounds, on those very specific wording grounds, this should not be tagged section 76.

“You will remember my counter argument was the intention of the bill is to regulate traffic, so even if the words ‘this bill regulates traffic’ are not in the bill, the intention of the bill is to regulate traffic, but, you know, I only have one vote and one voice, and (if) I can’t persuade the committee then I can’t persuade the committee. But my thought then was that it would be very difficult for the courts to rule that this bill does not regulate traffic at all. That would be a difficult argument. That is my personal view, that’s not even… my party have their view, this is my personal view, that the bill does talk about the regulation of traffic, even though that phrase, and the lawyers that were present said that they totally disagree with me, and, you know, we all make our point, and we all win or lose arguments, but my view remains that it is about the regulation of traffic, because you are charging tolls to drive on the highway and if you don’t want to pay, you must not use the road.

“So you are regulated in a way. You either pay or you go drive somewhere else. That’s a way to regulate traffic. And one of the arguments are that the reason you should pay is because there are going to be less cars so the congestion will be reduced, so the benefit, economic benefit, to trucking companies are that they, if they pay, they will get there quicker. I mean that is in a way regulating traffic, so that was my view and I have not been persuaded that my view was wrong. But I have a minority view and … sometimes you loose, so I did not carry on whining about it because I did not win the argument.. HERE… but it remains my view that the bill does speak to the regulation of traffic and therefore should be a section 76 bill because the bill in total regulates traffic even though the phrase is not specifically in the bill, this bill will regulate traffic by stopping you at a toll booth or whatever.

“So my comment is that I still feel that but if the committee overrules me then I do accept that I have lost the argument, I can’t carry on whining for ever, but you (again) put the question now so I have just put it in.”

State law advisors responds: “Thanks chair, I don’t think I was present at the meeting that the honourable member was referring to….”

How this became: “A DA Member felt that the Bill should not be tagged as a Section 76 Bill as it regulated traffic and its intention was as such” in the summary included in the press release by the Freedom Front’s Anton Alberts, I don’t know, but it is clearly a misinterpretation of what happened in the meeting.

Anton Alberts has misrepresented both myself, and the DA. I guess that’s what happens when you rely on other people’s summary notes and do not do the hard work of checking the actual source material. I hear a rumour that the state seems to have fallen into the same trap with the e-toll tagging court case that the DA is pursuing. Just play the recording in court, I say.

So, really the people who should be apologizing here are Anton Alberts and the Freedom Front and their dubious sources. Having been in the meeting on this one occasion, you might expect that he would actually have listened! DM


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