Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was accused of hiding behind the sub judice rule on Wednesday when he declined to answer a question in Parliament on signal jamming during last month’s state-of-the-nation address.
“Hearings in relation to this matter will be happening in our courts in the next few days and for that reason I feel constrained to answer the question because the matters are before court,” he told MPs in the National Assembly.
Ramaphosa was responding to a written question, posed by DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, on when he was made aware of the intended use of signal jammers, and other additional security measures, during President Jacob Zuma’s February 12 address.
Ramaphosa told MPs he had received legal advice not to respond to the question until the court cases were over.
“Save to say, as a matter of principle, I believe that it is correct we should have a free flow of information [in Parliament] and the incident that occurred here… should not be allowed and should not happen again.
“As regards the specific issues raised… I will be prepared to answer those once the legal cases have been concluded.”
Ramaphosa repeated this answer three times, in response to follow-up questions from MPs.
This provoked a point of order from Democratic Alliance Chief Whip John Steenhuisen, who accused Ramaphosa of hiding behind the sub judice rule.
“What has essentially happened here today is the deputy president has been allowed to hide behind a spurious interpretation of the sub judice rule, and the opposition has been denied the opportunity to exercise oversight over him,” he said.
Earlier, Steenhuisen appealed to Speaker Baleka Mbete that members of the House should be allowed to refer to a matter before a court, but should not be allowed to discuss the merits of a matter before the court.
The deputy president was not being asked to pronounce on the merits of the matter.
“We’re not asking him to go into specifics about the merits… there is a broad principle we are asking him to answer on. And that is his view on the use of police in this House,” he said.
Ramaphosa again repeated that he would be willing and ready to respond to questions on the matter once the court cases were settled.
The matter of answers being sub judice arose again in the House later on Wednesday over a written question that State Security Minister David Mahlobo was set to answer.
The question, posed by DA MP David Maynier, was whether Mahlobo was prepared to “accept political responsibility for the operational error involving the use of a signal jamming device” during the state-of-the-nation address.
But before the question could be answered, House chairwoman Thoko Didiza told members she had received a letter from Mahlobo concerning “certain matters” that might be sub judice.
She asked that “the questions should stand over”, saying the rules of Parliament allowed this.
The questions referred to were Maynier’s plus another, put by the EFF’s Sipho Mbatha, concerning the jamming of signals.
After objections from MPs, Didiza agreed to refer the matter to Parliament’s legal service, and said she would come back to the House.
“Can you give the presiding officer a chance to consult with the legal services (and) the minister with regard to this question?” she asked.
This was agreed to, and Didiza undertook to come back to the House before the end of Wednesday’s session.