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MPs demand answers after cops suspended over parliament blaze

Four police officers have been suspended after a fire gutted buildings in the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town on January 2.
Four police officers have been suspended after a fire gutted buildings in the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town on January 2.
Image: Moloto Mothapo via Twitter

MPs on the joint standing committee on finance management of parliament on Friday demanded answers after the suspension of four police officers for their role on January 2 when the parliamentary precinct was allegedly set on fire.

The first to fire a salvo was ANC MP Bheki Radebe, speaking during the sitting in which a report was presented on the role of police in providing security in the precinct.

This was a joint meeting for members of the national council of province (NCOP) and the National Assembly. 

Radebe said it appeared as though the police did not play their role to protect the national key point.

“The property was not secured and this fire was not prevented. That is why we have crime detection. I think the police have violated their mandate. The precinct was only declared a national key point in 2018,” said Radebe.

The DA’s deputy chief whip Siviwe Gwarube asked City of Cape Town fire chief Ian Schnetler who was responsible for fire prevention measures, “which were critical in the prevention” of the fire that occurred in parliament.

The EFF’s Mathapelo Siwisa asked about the internal investigation police are conducting into the matter.

“Since there are four people who have been pointed out to have been on duty and there is an internal investigation going on, are those people actively on duty? If they are, why are they actively on duty while there is an investigation?” Siwisa asked.

She also asked public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille about the fire that ignited while firefighters were at the precinct.

“This means whichever official was responsible for ensuring everything was working as it was supposed to needs to be held accountable and there needs to be an investigation,” said Siwisa.

Schnetler told MPs his report was based on an observation made by officers at the time of the incident. The report was made available to the city’s mayor and parliament.

“It’s not an official report. It is an observation which is provided to alert about shortcomings. In terms of the sprinklers, they did not activate.”

We are not responsible for the video wall. It was reported to the relevant authorities.
Gen Sehlahle Masemola, deputy national police commissioner 

Police minister Bheki Cele said the police could not answer most of the questions as there was a case in court about the matter.

Cele welcomed the suggestion of a meeting between the police, public works and parliament that will “come with a factual report, instead of coming with 'eeny, meeny, miny, moe' in this joint standing portfolio committee”.

Deputy national police commissioner Lt-Gen Sehlahle Masemola told MPs police were responsible for the outer perimeter of the parliamentary precinct.

“Employees have been issued with a notice of suspension. They are busy with their representations and these will be considered,” Masemola said.

“We also have to take note that the video (CCTV) was malfunctioning and the police were using a small monitor to look at what was happening outside.

“The video wall is a wall where you can see much better and bigger. In the absence of that, we were left with a 19-20 inch monitor.

“We are not responsible for the video wall. It was reported to the relevant authorities.”

On physical protection, Masemola said police conduct a security assessment and generate a report. Implementation is done by the national key point owner, being parliament, or jointly with public works.

The police have declined to name the four officers.

“The suspension of members in general is an employer-employee matter on which we are not at liberty to comment publicly. We can, however, confirm that a departmental investigation is under way,” said police spokesperson Maj-Gen Mathapelo Peters.

National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula clarified that leave was granted to its Parliament Protection Services (PPS) at the time.

“Members were not on duty from the PPS. The secretary of parliament can explain because it has been tradition in parliament that during  certain dates they release the members of the PPS,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said parliament would institute an independent investigation to “assist all of us”.

Regarding the perimeter fence, department of public works director-general Imtiaz Fazel said: “For security purposes there was consensus that the fence be raised to 2.7m for aesthetics.”   

Regarding the cameras, Fazel said there was a project in place to replace all analogue cameras. He said an attempt was being made to upgrade security around parliament.



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