Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen MP, during the Budget Vote on Parliament.
A few weeks ago, as the Speaker was beating a hasty retreat from the newly constituted Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament (JSCFMP), she had an emotional outburst where she asked me a very interesting question. She said, and I quote, “don’t you ever get tired of fighting?”
Given events at the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) over the weekend, perhaps the Speaker should rather have been directing that question to colleagues in her own party!
Nevertheless, this weekend’s meeting of the NEC and the release of emails confirm the fact that President Zuma’s cabinet is captured by an extensive network of parasitic vampires who are sucking the very lifeblood from our state and the State-Owned Entities.
They have set up a parallel government that operates through mutually nefarious means and evades all forms of accountability through its tentacles that extend all the way from the Union Buildings, right through organs of state like the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and reach deep down into local municipalities.
Two things have emerged, as clear as daylight, from this weekend’s events:
1. South Africa doesn’t have a Jacob Zuma problem, it has an ANC problem – the rot in the ANC goes deep and wide.
2. The ANC knows what the problem is; their alliance partners know what the problem is (which is why Mr Zuma is no longer welcome at their events); South Africans know what the problem is; religious bodies know what the problem is (which is why they have taken to the streets in record numbers not seen since the advent of democracy); and those commentators and ANC members who keep holding out for the “self-correction” are going to grow old waiting for something they will never see. The ANC is incapable of self-correction and it will be up to the voters to force the spring of correction through the ballot box.
And that is why Parliament cannot continue to turn a half glance to the seriousness of the crisis our nation faces through capture of our state. This is exactly why the Leader of the Opposition has proposed that this House establishes an ad hoc committee to probe the extent of state capture.
Witnesses must be subpoenaed, documents must be demanded and those Ministers implicated must face full and proper enquiry by this House. The Constitution gave us the power to do this and we must exercise those powers on behalf of the people to get to the bottom of this scourge and expose and remove this network, root and branch, from our government, State-Owned Entities and wherever it has planted its poisonous roots.
Simply chipping away in individual committees may expose some of the branches but will not deal with the rotten root. That will require a broad and overreaching enquiry that will be able to get a full picture of the extent of the problem. Parliament must do the job that the framers of our constitution intended it to do.
What should a Parliament do?
The Constitution is explicit on what we should be doing as Parliament and section 42(3) sets out very simply the four things we must do:
1. Choose a President;
2. Providing a national forum for the public consideration of issues;
3. Pass legislation;
4. Scrutinize and oversee executive action.
Now you can have all the plans, protocols, intentions and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you like, and we have listened to the Speaker rattling off how well she thinks Parliament is doing. But the reality is, once all the management jargon has been stripped away, if we are not meeting these four simple Constitutional expectations then we are not performing our job. They are the core functions of Parliament and we should be measured by them. So how are we doing on these?
Choosing a president:
Well, the less said about this the better. The truth is that we have a President who has been found by the Constitutional Court to have failed to uphold his oath of office, violated the very Constitution he was supposed to protect, and who continues to ride roughshod over democratic institutions and process.
We elected him in this House and we should have had the courage to remove him when he failed us and the people of South Africa. Yet we allow him to continue in office. The Ipsos poll released today showed that 62% of ANC voters disapprove of Mr Zuma and his approval rating is the lowest of any of the country’s democratically elected presidents. Clearly, South Africans, particularly the 9 million unemployed, don’t think too highly of this Parliament’s performance on this score.
Providing a national forum for the public consideration of issues:
Again, hardly a stellar performance here. The freedom of speech in this House, bequeathed to us by the Constitution no less and which should be a right protected with all the might our presiding officers can muster, is being eroded and undermined every day.
Simple terms, quite ordinarily used in Parliaments and debating forums around the world, have been banned. Members’ rights to say the things that need to be said, particularly members of the opposition, are restricted through a stranglehold of insecure presiding officers. Time and again the members of this House have had to approach the courts to get them to uphold this right, yet time and again the rights are eroded.
Just last week, opposition Members were prevented from calling a minister “an invisible minister”. A Parliament where Members, as public representatives, cannot raise matters in a forthright and robust manner is not good for democracy and not worthy of the name.
This should be one of the most important functions performed by us and, given how long we have been doing it, something which should be improving and not declining. Yet on a regular and steady basis legislation passed in this house is struck down by the courts as invalid or unconstitutional.
Shoddy, job-wrecking legislation is pushed through and, despite their obvious failings and legal problems, the ANC cannot bring themselves to correct the errors and omissions. Here in the House they stubbornly march on incorrect paths passing legislation (that’s when they are actually able to get their MPs to pitch for work on the day!) and are then repeatedly beaten in court.
The Speaker has had a lot today to say on empowering and capacitating MPs to do their job. It would be nice if we could just start by making sure that we have enough researchers, legal advisors and content advisors at a committee level so we can properly scrutinise the legislation that the Executive send to us and play the role of proper legislators.
Scrutinising and overseeing Executive action:
Anybody who thinks that this 5th Parliament has met its expectations in this regards must have been living on another planet. This is probably the requirement where we have witnessed the worst failures. At every turn the Executive has been protected from proper accountability and scrutiny.
The Nkandla Report should have been the massive wake-up call that this Parliament needed to overhaul and reconsider how we hold the executive accountable. There was a single tick-box meeting after this devastating indictment on this Parliament’s failure and zero action arising from it. The protection and shielding of the executive has simply continued.
Nowhere is this more evident than the manner in which the Executive is protected by Speaker Mbete during oral question sessions. Bearing in mind that these are the only unscripted exchanges where MPs can truly hold the Executive accountable, the Speaker always defaults to protecting the Executive from difficult and probing questions posed by MPs.
It is for this reason that the SABC was virtually brought to its knees before Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, who belatedly felt the firm hand of parliamentary accountability in the ad hoc committee probing the SABC. For an entire year before this, Muthambi was allowed to regularly evade parliamentary accountability with impunity by simply not answering written and oral questions by opposition MPs or by not showing up. There were never any consequences
We witnessed the same pattern with the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, who was also consistently aided and abetted by the Speaker to avoid answering the tough questions relating to the impending South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) grants crisis. Minister Dlamini was allowed to regularly mislead the House over her Department’s readiness to take over social grant payments on 1 April 2017.
When opposition MPs challenged these glaring factual inaccuracies in the House, the Speaker was the first to rush to Dlamini’s defense.
When the anatomy of both these crises is properly examined it is plain to see that both could have been avoided had Parliament been doing its job, without fear and favour, and had those Members who take their role seriously been protected in performing their role by a Speaker who actually placed the institution above her organisation.
South Africa requires a functioning and vibrant Parliament if our multi-party democracy is to survive. It also requires a Parliament that is unafraid of holding the Executive accountable as the Constitution prescribes.
Given the myriad of institutional failings, the Speaker’s dismal record of court losses, the daily own goals and organisational foul-ups, one could be forgiven for thinking there was not enough institutional support for the office. Quite the opposite actually, the Speaker has over 42 employees in her organogram costing over R37 million.
I was particularly interested to note that there is an entire office of nine full-time employees who form the so-called Office on Institutions Supporting Democracy, which includes a Director who rakes in over R1.5 million per annum, a Constitutional and legal advice specialist earning R1.4 million, two legal assistants and a manager.
All this and yet when I made a simple inquiry of the Speaker about some outstanding reports from Chapter 9 institutions I received a letter confirming there were none. Surprise, surprise, less than one week later the reports were magically ATC’d. You have an entire office of people whose full time job it is to liaise and monitor with chapter nine institutions and they couldn’t even pick this up. What a disgrace.
The rules of the National Assembly, in acknowledging the key importance of impartiality, directs the Speaker to conduct herself impartially. Rule 26(4) states that “the Speaker must act fairly and impartially and apply the rules with due regard to ensuring the participation of members of all parties in a manner consistent with democracy”. Whenever the Speaker acts in a way that is partisan, biased or conducts herself in a manner that favours a single political agenda, she breaks that covenant.
So it may be convenient to “not hear” when a member is being sworn at under your nose (despite the fact that the whole nation heard it) or refuse to take action when a female member of the opposition is called a “straatmeid” or become conveniently deaf when Mr Dicks shouts out “rented Darkie”. But every time you do this, Speaker, it undermines the very rules that you are tasked with upholding and enforcing. You do this at your own peril and by extension open yourself up to attack and also place the consistent enforceability of the rules of the National Assembly at great risk.
The Secretary to Parliament
Parliament is much more than just bricks and mortar, it is a living institution made up of people. It cannot function without them and today I want to pay special tribute to the hard-working men and women that make up our staff. I want to say to those that really care about this institution and are invested in its success that your work, under difficult circumstances, is greatly appreciated.
And that’s why I am filled with deep sadness when I see the way that many of you are disrespected, targeted and treated like criminals, sidelined and marginalised, threatened or intimidated by the Secretary to Parliament. Since Mr Mgidlana’s arrival in our Parliament there has been a rapid decline in industrial relations and for many this is not a happy place to work.
On top of this the staff have now received notice that there will be no pay increases this year because there is not enough money. Given inflation and rising cost-of-living, this essentially amounts to a decrease.
It never ceases to amaze me that when it comes to the luxuries there is never a problem finding money. Take for example the international travel of the secretary to Parliament. Given the amount of international travel he does I sometimes think he believes he is the secretary to the United Nations, not the secretary to the Parliament of South Africa. In March last year he spent seven nights in a Lusaka Hotel at R21 000 a night, and enjoyed a rented limousine that cost R800 per hour, adding up to some R37 000 for the duration of his stay. We have, through the JSCFMP, asked for a full breakdown of all international travel costs by the Secretary.
This is of course on top of the blue light brigades, and VIP European and international travel. It seems when it comes to the Secretary to Parliament there is no destination too far or conference to obscure that he isn’t ready to pack his bags for. Despite his multi-million rand salary he has added insult to injury by awarding himself a bursary. Why does somebody who earns what he does require a bursary? There must be countless of our employees who are more deserving and more appropriate recipients.
I would also be remiss if I were not to express concern at the spate of new appointments at a senior management level. It is very clear that a determined and unashamed cadre deployment strategy is at play. How else would somebody like the deeply partisan former ANC spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, simply drift through the swing doors, suddenly be appointed as the spokesperson for a multi-party, non-partisan institution like Parliament. The employment procedures were rigged and subverted to make sure that the ANC’s dark arts practitioner could get work. He has wasted no time in proving his critics right by turning the Parliamentary media operation into an extension of the ANC attack machine.
I also suppose that we shouldn’t expect any different when the Secretary himself cannot distinguish his role between the Party and the Institution, which is why he sees no problem attending ANC speakers’ forums at Luthuli House to carry out party business. Of course, “Goebbels” Mathopo promptly tried to spin the Secretary as this non-partisan who attends to all party caucuses. I bet there is not a single other party caucus or training that has been graced by his presence. I’m going to investigate who paid for those flights and accommodation costs to attend this meeting. I have a sneaking suspicion what the answer will be.
How funny then that Mgidlana punts the recently launched “new organisational values”, values which include professionalism, integrity, accountability, openness and teamwork, when he and his closest affiliates practice none of these.
Take for example how “special bid adjudication committees” are set up where the Secretary appoints himself to serve despite the fact that the supply chain regulations do not provide for this and where the Secretary is supposed to act as the adjudicator, essentially being both player and referee. We believe that this is a serious breach of the Supply Chain Management (SCM) regulations and the Financial Management of Parliament and Legislatures Act (FMPPLA). We have further concerns about the process used by the Secretary to simply write off fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
It’s clear that the secretary wants to deal with the deficit by making the staff pay for it through denying them bonuses, which they have worked hard for, and by retrenching those staff members who do not bend to his whims. I have a message for those staff members to stand firm. The time is fast approaching when this Parliament will be under new management and we can turn it into a world-class operation by truly working together for the betterment of this special institution.
We can have a functioning and effective Parliament. It’s going to require leaders both political and administrative who put the needs of this institution first, ahead of self-interest, ahead of party interest.
We can truly be an institution that represents our people, their hopes, their concerns, their needs and aspirations, but that means we must always put the people first, ahead of selfish interests and narrow partisanship.
We believe passionately in this institution. We believe that when Parliament works, South Africa works and we must, as an institution, strive harder every single day to live up to the expectations placed upon us by the framers of the Constitution and the people of this great nation.
And so, back to the beginning if I may. Madam Speaker, the answer to your question is an emphatic no!
No, I will never get tired of fighting for a Parliament that does what it is supposed to do.
No, I will never get tired of fighting for the 9 million unemployed South Africans who have suffered through the policies of the Zuma administration.
No, I will never get tired of fighting for greater executive accountability from the President and his cabinet.
And most of all no, I will never get tired of fighting to hold you accountable, and for you to just do your job as the head of this institution.