The Citizen received the following message as a right of reply from spokesperson of parliament Moloto Mothapo in relation to an article published nearly two weeks ago.
The article dealt with concerns that the secretary to parliament was attending an ANC speakers’ caucus meeting, which opposition political parties alleged was evidence of the secretary betraying his independence as a senior administrative official in a multiparty institution such as parliament.
We run the reply in full below, followed by a follow-up story dealing with ongoing concerns about the matter, which now continues to be investigated – Ed.
Right of reply from spokesperson of parliament Moloto Mothapo:
Your story published on the Citizen website, “What is secretary to parliament doing at ANC speakers’ caucus meeting?” (19 May 2017), unfortunately resorts to needless and petty mockery of sources, rather than seeking factual responses. Unsurprisingly, is it thus fraught with inaccuracies and ignorance, which could have been avoided by simply sticking to ethical principles of fairness and balance.
Any journalist worth his or her salt would know that only an exchange agreed between a journalist and a spokesperson as on the record can be used in the report. The verbatim citations used in the story, attributed to the Spokesperson of Parliament, were not official responses, and their usage visibly smacks of malice and sensationalism. Indicating to a journalist that his query would be attended to after establishing facts cannot be regarded as an official comment.
Had the journalist reverted to us as agreed, he would have been clarified that there was nothing illegal with the Secretary to Parliament Mr Gengezi Mgidlana’s attendance of the ANC Speakers’ Caucus. As a non-partisan senior official of a multiparty Parliament, Mr Mgidlana is compelled as part of his job to interact with all parties or stakeholders on a wide range of issues relating to the business of the institution. He indiscriminately serves and engages all parties in line with the expected professional service the parliamentary administration he leads must render to enable MPs to discharge their constitutional functions.
Making a mockery of sources instead of seeking facts not only does a disservice to the readers but the reputation of the paper itself.
The Citizen’s response:
On the 19th of May, The Citizen published an article in which we asked what secretary to parliament Gengezi Mgidlana was apparently doing at an ANC speakers caucus taking place in Joburg.
This was after pictures of the secretary flanked by speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete and ANC-aligned speakers of provincial legislatures had surfaced on social media earlier that morning.
To determine the status of the meeting and in what capacity Mgidlana was there, four calls were made.
ANC communications manager Khusela Sangoni, parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo, acting spokesperson of the ANC caucus in parliament Nonceba Mhlauli, and Gcina Magwaza, personal assistant to Mbete in her capacity as national chairperson of the ANC, were all approached for comment.
Sangoni told The Citizen she had no information on the matter while Mhlauli also professed to be in the dark about the meeting. Magwaza insisted it was a parliamentary event. Mothapo, who was in a meeting, explained that he would find out but subsequently failed to answer phone calls from The Citizen.
Mothapo wrote to The Citizen this week to complain that “had the journalist reverted to us as agreed, he would have been clarified that there was nothing illegal with the Secretary to Parliament Mr Gengezi Mgidlana’s attendance of the ANC Speakers’ Caucus”.
However, it has since emerged that the speakers’ conference was in fact an ANC subcommittee on legislature and governance. On the 21st of May, the committee held a press conference chaired by Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo with Khusela Sangoni in attendance to inform the public on the outcomes of their deliberations.
In its press statement, the committee explained that “preparations for the ANC National Policy Conference entail consultations with key sectors of our society, so as to ensure that the ANC is not blinded to the voices of our people”.
This brings into question Mothapo’s assertion that “as non-partisan senior official of a multiparty Parliament, Mr Mgidlana is compelled as part of his job to interact with all parties or stakeholders on a wide range of issues relating to the business of the institution”.
In conclusion, the post-committee meeting press statement made it expressly clear this was an ANC gathering, with very little correlation to Mgidlana’s duties. It never dealt with parliament business.
“Therefore, the attainment of power by the ANC is a means to fulfil the will of the people by ensuring a better life for all,” the statement said.
Mothapo, who was in a meeting prior to the budget vote in parliament this afternoon (Tuesday), was sent a further list of questions that will be published as soon as the responses are published.
The questions included queries about which capacity Mgidlana was appearing to address an ANC legislature and governance sub-committee meeting, along with asking for a list of the other party political gatherings he had addressed in the past to give weight to the consultations he claimed to have had with “with all parties or stakeholders on a wide range of issues”.
The official opposition in parliament was also asked if Mgidlana had ever addressed them in a similar way.
The chief whip of the DA, John Steenhuisen, told The Citizen that he found Mothapo’s response unsatisfactory.
“I have no doubt he [Mgidlana] wanted to keep it [his attendance of the caucus meeting] secret; both Mr Mgidlana and Mr Mothapo struggle to separate their party roles from that of the institution,” alleged Steenhuisen.
Steenhuisen said “the speaker [Baleka Mbete] could [attend], as she is a political office bearer, but it would be deeply inappropriate for the secretary to attend, as he is the administrative head of a multi-party institution and should jealously guard his independence”.
The DA chief whip also denied that Mgidlana had ever addressed any similar DA meetings.
“Mgidlana has never addressed our party caucus, either on the precinct or off of it. Additionally, he has never once so much as even sought a meeting with the leader of the opposition or myself,” he said.
He dismissed Mothapo’s explanation and said “it proves once again that his [Mgidlana’s] primary focus is not the institution but how he [Mgidlana] can abuse the institution for party political purposes, which is why he has appointed party hacks like Mothapo to senior positions”.