Cape Town - 100813 - National Assembly at Parliament in Cape Town - Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town -

Parliament lost its relevance and failed to be the centre of critical debate in 2012, DA Chief Whip Watty Watson said on Wednesday.

A day after ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga tore into Democratic Alliance MPs for their “rowdy” behaviour during National Assembly sittings, Watson hit back.

In what appeared to be a tit-for-tat exchange between the two, Watson went as far as demanding that Motshekga step down for his “poor performance in the Chief Whips Forum”.

Watson said Motshekga had contributed to the fact that Parliament had failed to debate matters of national importance.

“We've become a House where we debate motions of condolences, things on heritage, and all sorts of other things that really don't answer the questions asked by the electorate, while the debates that are important take place outside of Parliament,” said Watson.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko accused many in government of undermining Parliament, but said there were some ministers who respected the institution.

“We have ministers like Rob Davies who are here practically every week... There are ministers presiding over quite terrible departments, like Thulas Nxesi (public works) and Gugile Nkwinti (rural development and land reform), who are also very good at coming to Parliament and being held accountable,” said Mazibuko.

However, there were also ministers who had no respect for the legislature.

“You have ministers who think Parliament is like a mosquito they have to swat away... who don't turn up for Scopa (Standing Committee on Public Accounts) inquiries, who don't answer questions, or who answer them in a cheeky, dismissive way.”

Mazibuko said this not only reflected badly on government, but also on Parliament.

“The most damning thing is that Parliament allows this dismissiveness to happen... It's one thing for MPs to be dismissive, it's quite another for Parliament to be okay with it.”

Mazibuko said she and fellow opposition MPs would be pushing National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu and the leader of government business Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, to ensure that in 2013 ministers accounted to Parliament and were punished when they did not.

Mazibuko spoke highly of Sisulu, describing him as a considerate, reasonable and pleasant presiding officer. However, she did want to see him stick his neck out more.

“I believe there's more political risk he can take to protect the credibility of the institution he swore an oath to.

“While I find him to be a man of integrity who understands the Constitution, who understands Parliament, I don't believe he goes far enough to secure those principles to which he is wedded.”

Both Mazibuko and Watson were criticised during Motshekga's assessment of the parliamentary year on Tuesday.

He singled out an incident when DA MPs banged their fists on their desks during a heated debate as being the most disgraceful day in Parliament in 2012.

“The worst part of the whole shameful conduct is that it was led and encouraged, in full view of the public, by both the party DA Chief Whip and parliamentary leader,” said Motshekga. - Sapa