Pretoria - While ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga says he is “satisfied” with the work of his party in Parliament this year, the DA has accused him of being a stumbling block to progress.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said on Wednesday efforts to advance the legislature had met with “resistance” from the ANC under Motshekga.
Briefing journalists on her party’s parliamentary review, Mazibuko said much more would have been achieved this year “if the ANC had a chief whip who understood and respected the constitution and Parliament”.
Mazibuko - who was accompanied by DA chief whip Watty Watson and deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan - also accused Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu of having “bowed to pressure” from the ANC and Motshekga.
Sisulu had failed to “assert himself” as the leader of the National Assembly.
This had been evident when she had requested that the House debate “matters of public importance” such as the “Nkandlagate scandal”, said Mazibuko.
She said the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma proposed by a coalition of eight opposition parties, including the DA, had been an “opportune moment” for Sisulu to show that he would not be dictated to by Motshekga.
Sisulu’s refusal to schedule the motion had “ushered South Africa into a constitutional crisis” which had now ended up in the Constitutional Court.
The Speaker said at the time, following a meeting of Parliament’s programme committee at which the ANC opposed the motion, that since the committee had been unable to reach consensus on the matter, it was not within his powers to schedule the debate.
This was later found by the Western Cape High Court to represent a lacuna (gap) in the rules that needed to be fixed.
Motshekga’s spokesman, Moloto Mothapo, earlier said in a statement that his party was “satisfied with the work of the ANC in Parliament during the year”.
Mothapo slammed the “fist-banging” of tables by DA MPs during a sitting as one of the most “disgraceful” days in Parliament this year.
“It would seem that what the DA chief whip lacks in basic leadership, he makes up for with rowdiness and howling,” Mothapo said.
He cautioned against the involvement of the judiciary in political matters.
“The court cases by (Cope leader) Mosiuoa Lekota against the deputy speaker of the National Assembly and the other by the DA aimed at forcing Parliament to debate a no confidence motion with urgency are both vexatious and unnecessary,” Mothapo said.
“It is not the responsibility of the courts to babysit Parliament.”
Mazibuko, however, told journalists that if the ANC as the governing party failed to do its job effectively, the DA would “not hesitate to go to the courts”.
“If the ANC doesn’t do its job effectively and we in Parliament are unable to prevail on it to do its job effectively, then we must run to the third arm of the state,” Mazibuko said.
“We must tell it that the constitution is being undermined, our work is being scuppered and our democracy is being unravelled by a government which has no respect for the constitution.
“You may be the president of the republic but you are accountable to the constitution and the law, we test that accountability in court if the president disagrees.”
Mazibuko said the DA had turned to the courts as a last resort.
African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe - who was also responding to the ANC’s review of its performance in Parliament this year - said MPs should make more of an effort to “play the ball and not the man”.
Meshoe said it was unfortunate that the chief whips forum - led by Motshekga - had not been able to forge better inter-party relations to ensure “mutual respect and tolerance”.
“The chief whip of the ANC cannot pass the buck altogether on this, but chief whips of larger opposition parties do appear to have positioned themselves to be in constant opposition mode,” he said.
Meshoe said, however, that tension was a necessary part of life and in politics it was useful in holding things in check and finding balance.
The DA said other issues, including the poor response to oral and written parliamentary questions, were also cause for concern.
There were now 218 parliamentary questions to which ministers had yet to write their replies.
“It is unacceptable and an insult to accountability for any single question to remain unanswered,” the DA’s Watson said.
Questions that have not been answered by the end of the year fall away and must be asked again the following year.
RESPONSE TO THIS ARTICLE
From Luzuko Jacobs, Spokesperson: Parliament
Journalistic principles trampled on to malign the Speaker of the National Assembly
Vital and basic tenets of journalism were flouted – fairness and covering all sides to a story - in the report this week on the evaluation by the Democratic Alliance (DA) of Parliament during 2012. The report was carried in three print titles of Independent Newspapers – The Star, the Pretoria News and the Mercury – and on Independent Online.
In the report, it is stated that DA Parliamentary Leader, Ms Lindiwe Mazibuko, accused Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Mr Max Sisulu, of having ‘bowed to pressure’ form the ANC and Mr Mathole Motshega (the Chief Whip of the majority party in Parliament).
Ms Mazibuko is further quoted as saying that Mr Sisulu, “failed to assert himself as leader of the National Assembly.” She is also quoted as stating that Mr Sisulu’s “refusal to schedule the motion (of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, which was proposed by a coalition of several opposition parties, including the DA), had ushered South Africa into a constitutional crisis which had now ended up in the Constitutional Court”.
There were three key court judgments involving the decisions taken by Speaker, or his deputy, which are central to the matters to which the ‘evaluation report’ relates. The outcomes of these court processes and, in particular, the observations made by the judges in delivering them are instructive and could be a useful basis to evaluate the serious aspersions cast on the Speaker in the DA’s review.
In the latest action brought against Parliament, the full bench of the Western Cape High Court dismissed an application by the Congress of the People instituted against the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the NA.
The application was in respect of the eviction from the House of Cope’s leader, Mr Mosiuoa Lekota, after he had refused to accept and obey a ruling by the Deputy Speaker.
In dismissing the application, the Court noted that the trite principle is that the Speaker, though affiliated to a political party, is required to perform the functions of that office fairly and impartially in the interests of Parliament. When presiding over sittings, the Speaker has to maintain order and apply and interpret rules, conventions, practices and precedents, it said.
Clearly, the court vindicated the decision and action of the Deputy Speaker in dismissing the application when it found her to have acted in good faith.
In November, the Constitutional Court dismissed the urgent application from the DA regarding a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma. The application for leave to appeal, the appeal (if leave is granted) and the application for direct access is set down to be heard on 28 March 2013.
The Constitutional Court action is a sequel to an application to the Western Cape High Court earlier where the Democratic Alliance had sought to compel the Speaker to exercise powers, which he did not have, to unilaterally schedule a motion.
The Speaker was also expected to run rough-shod over the rules of the NA and rearrange the House’s programme at the eleventh hour. He refused to do this. Allegations about the Speaker acting to frustrate processes were made in court.
The matter was dismissed.
In his judgment on the matter, Justice Davis warned Members of Parliament that there was a “danger of politicisation of the judiciary” by drawing it into “every and all political disputes” He said judges cannot dictate to Parliament when and how it should arrange its order of business. An overreach by the judges and their intrusion into issues which are beyond their competence and which are within the purview of the other arms of the state could only result in jeopardy for our constitutional democracy.
Despite this dire warning by the judge the matter was escalated to the Constitutional Court for direct access on an extremely urgent basis. This too, as stated, was dismissed by our highest court as the application seemed both defective and premature.
The responsibility of the Speaker is similar to that of the judges. It is a position which presupposes independence, fairness and impartiality. The various parties in parliament, including the majority party, relate to the decisions of the Presiding Officers in different ways – at times with utter jubilation and in some instances with vitriolic opposition.
The institutional role of the Presiding Officers, however, requires that they take decisions in the interests of Parliament and uphold its rules, conventions and practices.
The judges’ take in the above matters, through their seminal judgments and observations, seem to give the lie to the bold assertions of a ‘pressured, non assertive and obstructionist Speaker who refuses to schedule important business on behalf of the National Assembly.’