Parliament report proves fire should have never happened

Issued by Siviwe Gwarube MP – Chief Whip of the Official Opposition
18 Oct 2023 in News

Please find attached a soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The report by the Secretary to Parliament, Mr Xolile George, on the fire that engulfed Parliament in January 2022 demonstrates criminal negligence which led to the destruction of South Africa’s symbol of democracy – its Parliament.

While we await the release of the full, unabridged report, the Secretary’s revelations today are deeply troubling and show crucial deficiencies that should have prevented the fire:

The Secretary outlined a series of critical lapses:

  • Parliament did not meet minimum security standards. Parliament failed to deploy Parliamentary Protection Services on weekends and during the public holidays;
  • The assailant was able to climb the perimeter fence, which was meant to have been upgraded in 2004, and enter the precinct with ease. Officers on the ground who were meant to monitor CCTV footage were found to have been sleeping on the job;
  • The precinct was a fire hazard, as the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure had failed to maintain the building;
  • Parliament’s fire system was unreliable. It could not detect the fire and make the necessary alert. More so, exit doors malfunctioned and could have hindered an evacuation;
  • As Parliament’s fire system was dysfunctional, this delayed the emergency service’s response. The fire then spread and could not be contained in time. This worsened the damage;
  • And Parliament was without a permanent Head of Security for several years.

This fire is the epitome of the ANC’s leadership which is underscored by neglect and incompetence.

The details revealed today affirm that the fire was caused by institutional failures. Ultimately, the custodian of the parliamentary precinct is the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. The buck stops with Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa – Nqakula and Mr Amos Masondo. The Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act stipulates that the Speaker and the Chairperson exercise joint control and authority over the precinct on behalf of Parliament.

I will be writing to the Acting Speaker, Mr Lechesa Tsenoli and the Acting Chairperson of the NCOP, Ms Sylvia Lucas urging them to urgently table the report before the Joint Standing Committee of Financial Management of Parliament (JSCFM) for public discussion and interrogation.

We need to understand who is to be held accountable and how the Executive Authority will take responsibility for the fire that will be remembered for decades to come. Accountability must begin in Parliament before it can be exercised over the executive.