Some of the damage caused by the fire at the parliamentary buildings. Picture: SUPPLIED
Some of the damage caused by the fire at the parliamentary buildings. Picture: SUPPLIED

MPs are expected to be briefed on Friday about the fire that gutted National Assembly buildings on January 2.

House of committee chairperson Cedric Frolick told MPs on Thursday that the acting secretary to parliament will table a preliminary report on the blaze at a meeting of the joint standing committee on the financial management of parliament.

“At this stage, what is being prioritised is the alternative office space for the affected parties including the ANC, PAC, Good and NFP ... We do not know at this stage the extent of the destruction ... because the building has been declared unsafe,” said Frolick.

Frolick updated MPs during a joint programming committee meeting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Thursday morning, where the two houses discussed business for the year ahead.

While investigations were continuing, there were “certain difficulties because the National Assembly chamber, with the offices around and above it, have been completely gutted and have been rendered by the public works engineers to be unsafe”, he said.

This had affected police work, Frolick said. “There is a closing report ... in the public domain that emanates from the Cape Town fire department on what their assessment is. That report in no way replaces the forensic work that needs to be done inside the building to try to come to a point where we can say where and how the fire started. That is the work of the police and they are continuing with that.”

He said the report was given to the speaker and subsequently handed to the police.

“We immediately identified different work streams that we have to focus on when we deal with this matter, which include the investigations, the contingency plans being made in terms of Sona [the president annual state of The Nation address] and related processes, tabling of the budget, security and communication.”

Discussions on plans for the state of the nation address at the Cape Town City Hall on February 10, Frolick said.

“Since the fire started, there was immediate discussion and consultation between the chairperson of the NCOP, speaker, leaders and representatives of various political parties. This was followed up on Monday afternoon where the speaker had a meeting of all political parties in the National Assembly and 10 parties were briefed on the developments taking place,” he said

All outstanding matters will be addressed on Friday, he added.

Questions including the role and involvement of the department of public works and infrastructure as well as security issues will also be addressed.

“But we must be mindful that these are preliminary reports and will be updated, and the different political parties will be taken on board as and when information becomes available,” Frolick said.

NCOP chair Amos Masondo told MPs that the fire should be seen in the context of recent events.

“The fact that this happened when the country is faced with the Covid-19 pandemic is important and there is also that [it occurred] just a few months after the July 2021 unrest, and we also note that this happened when the state capture report had been reported to the president,” Masondo said.

Chairing a programming committee meeting earlier on Thursday, National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told members that the damage to the chamber and other spaces members deeply saddened.

Mapisa-Nqakula has held meetings with party leaders and chief whips since the blaze discuss various options on how parliament will do its work.

“These discussions have included issues around appropriate spaces for the convening of not only the forthcoming joint sitting for the state of the nation address but also future sittings of the National Assembly,” she said.

Also discussed was the multiparty security task team, which was intended to be established when parliament reconvened this year.

“The matter will now be fast-tracked,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

The ACDP’s Steven Swart said, “in hindsight, had we taken up all our responsibilities in this matter then maybe the devastating fire could have been avoided”.

The IFP’s chief whip, Narend Singh, said MPs must agree on the composition of the task as soon as possible.

“I would like to suggest that every political party has a representative because it is such an important committee that is dealing with all of us. Perhaps the administration can come up with a composition of the committee so that we can start our work in earnest,” he said.

MPs agreed that the committee will initially have representatives from all political parties to set out the terms of the work required before it is reduced to about six members.

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