The suspension of nine parliamentary staff members facing disciplinary action has been welcomed as a step towards accountability over the fire that destroyed the National Assembly and Old Assembly buildings.
Last month a probe into the fire found that minimum physical standards of security measures were not adhered to, and that enabled Parliament to be breached without detection.
The investigation uncovered various system and maintenance failures, from perimeter issues to malfunctioning emergency exits, a lack of monitoring, the absence of on-site protection services and CCTV monitoring, which all contributed to security breaches and the inability to prevent and contain the fire.
Zandile Christmas Mafe, who was charged with arson, is currently before the Western Cape High Court in connection with the incident.
Parliament at the weekend said the causes and alleged administrative irregularities linked to the incident had pointed to systems and conduct of specific Parliament employees that were “cause for concern”.
“Upon reviewing the consequent allegations of misconduct among these staff members, Parliament has engaged external legal counsel for guidance on appropriate actions to take against those implicated,” Parliament said.
Its legal team had pinpointed 28 individuals facing significant allegations that required their response. Of these employees, 26 had responded. One did not, while another was in hospital at the time but has since indicated a willingness to address the allegations.
“Some employees offered satisfactory justifications for their actions, which Parliament has acknowledged, absolving them from the charges. For these individuals, Parliament is contemplating alternative measures such as professional development or additional training to address any identified skill gaps.
“Others failed to provide adequate explanations. Consequently, Parliament is arranging disciplinary hearings for these staff members, who will soon receive notice of the specific charges they face. The preparations for these hearings are particularly delicate. In organising the disciplinary proceedings, Parliament must balance protecting its interests with the rights of the employees concerned.
“Due to the serious nature of the allegations, nine out of the 13 staff members facing disciplinary action have been placed on precautionary suspension with full pay and benefits.
This decision takes into account their senior positions and the possible influence they could have on their colleagues within the organisation,” said Parliament.
For the upcoming hearings, Parliament said external legal experts and chairpersons would be appointed to “guarantee impartiality and eliminate any suspicion of bias”.
Cope spokesperson Johnny Mokome said they applauded Parliament for their efforts to expose parliamentary staff implicated in negligence that led to the gutting by fire of the parliamentary buildings in January 2022.
“We welcome the report by the independent internal investigation that recommends consequence management for their human errors and their technological failures.,”
Mokome said. We hope this will be a lesson to other public servants.” GOOD Party secretary-general Brett Herron added: “The fire that destroyed our National Assembly and Old Assembly buildings was an attack on our democracy and has severely affected the functioning of Parliament and its committees.
“Public access to sittings of the National Assembly is not possible under the current arrangements and that preclusion undermines an important foundation of democracy – transparency.
“The fire was entirely avoidable had the various risk-reduction systems been properly managed and the staff responsible been vigilant about caring for the buildings.
“While we don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of the disciplinary process, we do welcome that accountability is being implemented.
“Those who are unable to accept the high level of responsibility to the institution and to the people of South Africa do not deserve to be there,” Herron said.