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Mixed reaction from MPs on parliamentary fire reports

The fire at Parliament gutted the National Assembly and the Old Assembly. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

The fire at Parliament gutted the National Assembly and the Old Assembly. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Jan 15, 2022


Cape Town – The reports on fire and fire security systems at Parliament drew a mixed reaction from MPs on Friday, with some saying they cleared the air on matters in the public domain, while others said they found difficult to reconcile them.

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), and Parliament gave their preliminary reports and updates on work done to repair and maintain fire systems in the national legislature.

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The department said the fire and related systems were functional at the time the fire broke out and gutted the National Assembly and the Old Assembly.

The officials said there were certificates to prove that maintenance and inspections were conducted up to last month and that it was done annually.

ANC MP Kenneth Mmoiemang said what was comforting was the assurance that there was maintenance and the certificates clearly gave a picture on matters such as the fire sprinklers and fire extinguishers.

“What gives one comfort is the report from the internal audit unit which clearly categorises the work done by the management with regard to occupational and safety work,” Mmoiemang said.

He said there should be mitigation of scapegoating by the stakeholders.

“What we don’t want is this incident being turned into a game of blaming. It is clearly an unfortunate incident,” he said.

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Another ANC MP Nolitha Ntobongwana said the reports cleared some issues in the public domain.

“Tests have been done and conducted up to December last year. What happened is not something anyone envisaged,” she said.

Ntobongwana said she was happy to learn that the sprinkler system was working when the fire broke out in March 2021.

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“The City of Cape Town fire department report presents a bleak report that the sprinklers were not working and last worked in 2017. I appreciate that this report clears some air,” she said.

Ntobongwana said the department did its work to ensure that all that was supposed to work was functioning on that fateful day.

But she was not pleased that they only received the report by auditors BDO the night before their meeting.

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“If we received and discussed as the portfolio committee doing oversight on the department, some issues would have been prevented. It would have made sure there is work that is being done,” Ntobongwana said.

But, DA MP Samantha Graham said the BDO report had revealed the massive risk in every single area of the parliamentary precinct.

“I find it hard to reconcile the findings in the BDO report to what was presented in terms of inspections and maintenance,” Graham said.

She noted that the department’s report claimed that the fire panels were fully functional, yet a post incident report of the fire department said not a single fire alarm went off when the fire broke out.

“The first alarms that went off are in Tuynhuis – adjacent to the buildings – after the fire fighters were in the precinct. I fail to see how the fire panels could have been effective,” she said.

Her colleague Madeleine Hicklin was more scathing of Minister Patricia de Lille, saying all the problems highlighted in the BDO report were not new.

“They are things we identified as the portfolio committee for the last three years,” Hicklin said.

She accused De Lille of sitting on the report for over a year after commissioning it.

“BDO says they gave this report to the department in October 2020 and you gave out a statement in September 2021 saying heads must roll because this report was not handed to you.

“Well, heads have not rolled, have they? The first head that must roll must be yours,” Hicklin said.

Equally scathing was NFP’s Munzoor Shaik-Emam who asked whether De Lille should be taken seriously for not acting after receiving the BDO report 13 months ago.

“If you read the report and the findings, it is very clear that had anybody been on the premises at the time, it would have been horrific.

“From 2018, I am concerned why you had not paid serious and appropriate attention on the risks,” Shaik-Emam said.

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Political Bureau