We are facing a challenge to restore integrity to the corridors of power, writes Mcebisi Ndletyana.
Characteristic of an unusually turbulent beginning, the fifth Parliament is running multiple, parallel probes. We are told that the outcome of one investigation will restore integrity to Parliament.
However, the proceedings in the other two committees promise outcomes that threaten to undermine the supposed attempts at regaining integrity.
Frankly, the three outcomes combined may even yield a facade that is likely to conceal the real problem, leaving it to persist unresolved.
The inquiries in question relate to the recent parliamentary fracas that involved a trio of Economic Freedom Fighters, President Jacob Zuma, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, and is conducted by the rules and privileges committee; inappropriate expenditure of public money on Zuma’s private home, Nkandla which is done by an ad hoc committee; and to the chairwoman of the SABC board, Ellen Tshabalala, led by the portfolio committee on communications.
None doubts the merit of the investigation by the rules committee. The president should never be evacuated from Parliament, rescued from aggressive howls coming across the aisle demanding accountability. A head of state should be allowed to provide satisfactory answers to questions posed in a civil manner by MPs in their exercise of accountability.
Similarly, the Speaker, whose responsibility it is to ensure that Parliament functions optimally, should ensure that the executive takes the National Assembly seriously, instead of simply going through the motions giving meaningless answers.
None of the above happened on that historic day of parliamentary upheaval. Something is obviously wrong in the corridors of power.
Any attempts to ensure that all parliamentary business happens, as it ought to, should be applauded.
It is not clear whether the rules committee can ever devise rules that strengthen executive accountability. Nor are there any indications that the current Speaker of Parliament can lean on the executive to answer parliamentary questions candidly.
And, there are no guarantees that the Opposition will remain silent when Parliament is reduced into a cheerleading contest.
It’s still early in the life of the fifth Parliament, but one is sceptical that this committee will yield an outcome that restores respectability to Parliament.
And, this leads me to the proceedings in the other two committees. They don’t inspire hope either, but add to one’s despair.
While the rules committee feels some contrition to make claims purporting to restore decorum to Parliament, the ad hoc committee on the Nkandla report has not made any such promises.
It has dispensed with any pretence at noble goals. This committee is determined that Parliament remains a lap dog.
In its zeal to empty Parliament of any meaning, the Nkandla committee has not only ignored precedents, but has also invented fantastic, if not quasi-legal arguments.
Mathole Motshekga, an MP representing the ANC on the committee, says that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela cannot tell Parliament what to do. If she was allowed to do so, then that would be a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.
A legal scholar and clearly demonstrating what is apparently his own understanding of the law, Motshekga goes on to add that complying with Madonsela’s recommendations would “mean that the public protector was elevated (above) the jurisdiction of Parliament”.
The implications of what Motshekga is saying make his argument quite intriguing.
It means Zuma has had it wrong all along. The man has fired many of his ministers purely on Madonsela’s recommendations.
This also means that even his legal advisers have been wrong.
Remember the president would have sought their advice, especially when it came to firing Bheki Cele.
The general was a trusted friend, and the president would have most likely explored some loopholes to avoid firing him. But, he did, which means Madonsela’s recommendations are binding and can only be overturned by court.
And, where was Motshekga all along with such rare legal insight to relieve the president of what must have been a painful experience complying with Madonsela?
Could it be that Motshekga is a legal genius? Maybe, but this is clearly political manoeuvring rather than a constitutional breakthrough. If the Nkandla committee is complicit in stifling Parliament, then proceedings in the portfolio committee on communications suggest that leaders of the house are indifferent, if not approving, of the parliamentary slide.
Chaired by Joyce Moloi-Moropa, this committee doesn’t seem to be getting any assistance from the high-ups when it is clearly doing its work.
While undertaking an inquiry into claims that Tshabalala lied about her qualifications, the committee recommended that she be suspended.
And, that decision can only be implemented by the president.
But, the president hasn’t done any of that. The Presidency claims that the Speaker, never forwarded the recommendation to their office.
It is now reported that Cedric Frolick, an ANC MP and chairman of the National Assembly, rescinded the committee’s decision.
Frolick’s intervention is bizarre.
The committee did not arrive at that decision lightly. It has been dealing with this matter for almost four months.
Because of the self-evident case of deception, one would have thought that Frolick would support the committee.
It has correspondence confirming that Tshabalala does not have the qualifications she claims, which she would have anyway furnished by now if she had them.
This is why the committee is also charging her with breaking the law, by obtaining an affidavit on false information.
The affidavit, submitted to Parliament, claims that her certificates were in a bag that was stolen when her house was burgled.
Frankly, Tshabalala’s has shown downright disdain towards the communications committee.
And, she has done so in a manner that suggests that she is untouchable. She was furious that the committee even dared to suspend her.
She wrote to them saying they were motivated by malice and their actions are unjust.
That letter was also copied to the president. Tshabalala clearly wanted Zuma to know that she didn’t like the way Parliament treated her and that she was hurt by it. But, why would the president care if Tshabalala was hurt? Or maybe she was snitching on the chairwoman, Moloi-Morope, to the president.
But again what could possibly give Tshabalala the confidence that the president would side with her over the duly elected lawmakers?
I truly don’t know, and can’t even venture a guess.
The portfolio committee, with powers vested in it by the constitution, had to wait for Tshabalala to fit them into her busy schedule.
Yes, that’s what she said when she showed up on October 14 for what was meant to initiate the inquiry. It never started because her lawyer needed time to familiarise himself with her situation.
Tshabalala is not keen to go to Parliament, and she explained her dilemma: “I am a non-executive director, I don’t suck my thumb all my life waiting for things to happen. I’m running a business.
“The date must be reasonable for me to have consultations with my lawyers,” she insisted.
However, Parliament is determined not be bossed about by Tshabalala. They decided on the date of the hearing last Thursday. Typical to form, Tshabalala took them to court to stop the hearing. How dare they set a date without her approval?
Clearly Tshabalala has no regard for Parliament. Shouldn’t someone – Frolick, Mbethe or the president – say something to show that the institution does matter? Or does it?
* Ndletyana is head of the political economy faculty at Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.