Energy Minister Jeff Radebe and his department’s failure, on Tuesday, to show up at a hotly anticipated meeting in Parliament on the fuel price has been described as a “boycott” and “a disgrace” by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Energy.
Neither the Minister, nor his deputy Thembisile Majola, director-general (DG) Thabane Zulu, nor other officials of the department turned up at the meeting, which has been on the agenda for two weeks.
“We will not tolerate this. There are times when there are genuine apologies for people not attending, but they can’t stage a boycott. This is a boycott of the meeting,” said Portfolio Committee chairperson Fikile Majola.
Members of Parliament (MPs) described it as “deeply disrespectful” to the committee, Parliament and the people of South Africa who were battling to deal with a rising fuel price and needed answers.
Majola said he would be writing to the Speaker of Parliament to express the displeasure of the committee and to summon the Minister and officials to Parliament next Tuesday.
The committee chair said he was told that the Minister would not be able to attend today’s meeting, as he would be at a summit in Windhoek, but it was agreed that a team from the Ministry, led by the Deputy Minister or DG, would be present to discuss the critically important rising fuel price.
“I don’t understand why the Deputy Minister is not here, with no apology. The DG and officials are not here, and there has been no apology from anyone.
Majola said the Minister would have known that the delegation had decided not to come to Parliament.
“We were clear with the Ministry that, even if the Minister is not here, the meeting should go ahead. The absence of the officials of the department can only happen with the knowledge of the Minister that they are not coming.
“We haven’t had this before and we will not tolerate it. We do not operate at the legislature on the basis of the priorities of the executive. We are an independent arm of the State. They must report to Parliament. When we ask them to be here, they have got to be here,” Majola said at the committee meeting.
“This no-show by a government delegation was disrespectful to Parliament and, more importantly, disrespectful to the millions of South Africans who are struggling with the high cost of living,” said Democratic Alliance spokesperson on Energy Gavin Davis.
“We can only conclude that the no-show by the Minister, the Deputy Minister and the department is an indication that government simply has no plan to deal with the fuel price. The Minister has an opportunity to prove us wrong by appearing before the Committee next Tuesday and presenting a credible plan to bring down the price of petrol,” he added.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Jan Esterhuizen said it was “embarrassing” and disrespectful that the delegation did not turn up.
“The fuel price is very, very critical. Eighty per cent of all freight in this country is on the roads. The fuel levy has gone up by 165% from 2008 until now. We are selling petrol to Botswana for R11 a litre. We have a lot to discuss.”
Esterhuizen also called on the committee to have more oversight of the department.
African National Congress MP Zukisa Faku said the committee was being undermined.
“This is really unacceptable. It is not the first time that the meeting is postponed because of the nonavailability of the Minister. This is worse now, because the officials are nowhere to be found.”
Majola said committee members had shifted their schedule in the past to accommodate the Minister but he had still not addressed them.
“We will also dispatch a letter to tell the Minister he has got to be here next Tuesday at 10:00 . . . and he will meet us at that appointment,” said Majola.