A journalist photographs parliamentary security staff sent to remove the media contingent from a briefing on investigations into the national water department. Picture: ANA

Parliament - Parliamentary correspondents left a meeting of the portfolio committee on water and sanitation under protest on Wednesday after it was declared in camera for a briefing by law enforcement agencies probing the national water department, which is in a state of financial collapse.

The closing of the meeting had not, as is required, been announced in advance in parliamentary papers.

While the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association was querying the decision with Parliament's chair of chairs, Cedric Frolick, more than a dozen members of the parliamentary protection services were dispatched to committee room V227, where the meeting was held.

Committee chairman Lulu Johnson said the committee had in fact secured permission to close the meeting last week, but due to an oversight, this had not been announced on Parliament's Z-list.

"It was signed off by Mr Frolick," he said.

Opposition MPs told reporters they were unaware of the decision, as well as the content of the upcoming briefing.

Johnson then allowed representatives of the National Prosecuting Authority, the elite police unit the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit to motivate why they felt the media could not be present.

The SIU and the Hawks both stressed that they would be unable to divulge "the granularity" of their ongoing investigations, while the NPA said there was a risk the sub judice rule would be flouted.

The department is under investigation for maladministration and unlawful expenditure. This relates to software sourced from German company SAP. It was reported earlier this year that the department spent more than R770 million on software licences for all its water boards, regardless of whether they needed these.

Parliament's watchdog standing committee on public accounts has pointed a finger at former water minister Nomvula Mokonyane, who President Cyril Ramaphosa moved to the communications portfolio after he came to power in February.

It said she left the department in a state of collapse with a R2.9 billion overdraft with the SA Reserve Bank.

African News Agency (ANA)