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MPs call for independent probe into Parliament fire

South Africa - Cape Town - It could take government R1 billion and five years to rebuild parliament. Photograph : Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

South Africa - Cape Town - It could take government R1 billion and five years to rebuild parliament. Photograph : Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 16, 2022


Cape Town – More MPs have called for an independent investigation that will get to the bottom of the devastating fire that gutted the National Assembly and the Old Assembly two weeks ago.

The demand was made when the MPs received preliminary reports on the fire and security-related matters pertaining to the national legislature, as well as heard presentations on the BDO report, an internal audit into costs and delays in parliamentary projects, on Friday.

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This comes as the Hawks are busy with their own investigation into the fire and the department prepares to appoint a forensic expert to assist the police to continue with their investigation and assess the extent of the fire damage and what it will cost to repair it.

ANC MP Kenneth Mmoiemang said they needed to get to the bottom of what could have led to the fire.

“One is not leaving the fact that the Hawks are involved and doing their work. It would be important to strengthen that element,” Mmoiemang said.

ACDP chief whip Steve Swart said it was absolutely disgraceful that the fire happened and there was a need to ascertain all the answers.

“There should be a full parliamentary oversight inquiry which will include one of the other members referred to as an independent forensic investigation,” said Swart, who has been an MP since 1999.

He said he appreciated the inputs from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure and Parliament.

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“I am not going to accept the fact that we are to wait for the police report that will come out in a year or 18 months. As Parliament, we must exercise oversight now,” Swart added.

ANC MP Mandla Rayi said the presiding officers should commission the forensic investigation so that all the issues raised by honourable members at the meeting were addressed.

“I agree that it should be independent of Parliament or stakeholders that are involved, to avoid allegations of conflicts of interests,” Rayi said.

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His colleague, Bheki Radebe, said they would support the idea of a forensic audit.

“You can see on the side of SAPS, on the side of Parliament, on the side of parliament protection services and crime intelligence that there must have been a sort of mix-up.

“An independent forensic team must be established so that people cannot cover their faces. Instead, they must just establish the facts of what happened and, after establishing facts, there must be consequences.

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“Whoever dropped the ball must pay the price. This is a disaster for the country,” Radebe said.

Noxolo Kiviet, the deputy minister for public works and infrastructure, said: “I support the proposal from various members who are agitating for a forensic investigation because that is the basis on which we can take an informed decision.”

The calls for an independent inquiry were made as the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure stood its ground and claimed Parliament’ sfire systems were functional at the time of the fire.

The department’s Thembeka Kolele said they had certificates that reflected that inspections and maintenance of the fire safety systems were conducted in the affected buildings.

“We can confirm here that, with all the inspections carried out, we have certificates that the equipment is safe and in good working order,” Kolele said.

She also said the sprinklers that should activate to reduce fire damage were repaired after the March 2021 fire and were confirmed operational.

“In November 2021, maintenance of fire safety equipment was also undertaken to begin to prepare for the 2022 Sona.

“The annual maintenance certificates arising from the November 2021 work again confirm (that) ‘all fire safety equipment is in good working order’.”

Kolele said they understood that the City of Cape Town’s fire department had indicated that the sprinkler system was last serviced in 2017.

“Overdue servicing of a sprinkler system was not raised in the 2020 or 2021 Cape Town fire department pre-Sona reports.

“DPWI may not speak on the 2022 report, as this relates to an active investigation.”

However, Kolele said they were reviewing the servicing of the sprinkler system after a consultant erroneously reported that they had submitted to the department that the sprinklers should be serviced annually, rather than every three years.

“DPWI is reviewing the evidence of works and will implement consequence management if the necessary three-year servicing has not been undertaken,” she said.

Meanwhile, the BDO report made 30 findings relating to construction project management, financial management, and contractor management, among other issues.

It identified that ventilation system design and fire protection in the precinct needed to be reviewed by a fire consultant after a site visit to the 90 Plein Street building.

“If the old design is widespread, a fire could spread through the service shafts between floors,” it said.

The audit also found that a fire door and a fire extinguisher that had not been timeously serviced on the sixth floor were not in compliance with fire regulations.

The legislature was advised that there should be expert assessments and appropriate solutions to improve fire protection in heritage assets.

“Inadequate fire protection for heritage buildings (posed threats of) potential loss of life and loss of heritage assets,” the report said.

Political Bureau

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