Note to Editors: The following brief on the DA’s priorities for Parliament’s Third Term was delivered today by the DA’s Chief Whip, John Steenhuisen MP, who was joined by his Deputy, Mike Waters MP, and the DA’s new Executive Director of Communications, Siviwe Gwarube.
The significance of Parliament’s Third Term cannot be overstated. South Africa is confronted with an aggressive cancer called State Capture and those who enable and assist the looters have evaded accountability for far too long.
Parliament is uniquely placed to confront State Capture and the time to do so is now.
For months now the media, civil society and opposition parties have worked tirelessly to expose the nature and extent of the Gupta family’s influence over President Jacob Zuma and the ANC government. The DA’s upcoming Motion of No Confidence in President Zuma looms large and one week from now, on 8 August, every Member of the National Assembly will have to search within themselves and decide: does the looting continue unchecked, or do we act and remove the Looter-in-Chief.
The Motion of No Confidence in President Zuma has never been more relevant or more pressing. For far too long he has been allowed to escape accountability, with the ANC in Parliament an all too willing accomplice. Not even the damning findings of the Public Protector or the Constitutional Court could move a single ANC MP to take a stand against Zuma’s ruinous presidency in the House. When history judges this chapter in the story of South Africa, the DA in Parliament will not be found wanting. We have been and remain the vanguard in the fight against corruption and State Capture, and we are unwavering in the defence of our young democracy.
We are concerned that, on the matter of the secret ballot, the Speaker of the National Assembly will delay her decision to the last possible moment, hoping that the House will descend into chaos and the President will escape accountability. This strategy is extremely reckless and prejudicial to both the institution of Parliament and opposition parties who may choose to take her decision on review.
The DA does not, in principle, support secret ballots, except if there are extenuating circumstances, most notably when an individual member’s safety or life is threatened. In the present motion, there is objective evidence that such extenuating circumstances do exist. ANC MP Makhosi Khoza has been the most notable person to suffer threats against her family and her life, but others have been similarly threatened and intimidated. Only yesterday, the Chief Whip of the ANC launched a broadside aimed at Mondli Gungubele, describing his stated intention to not toe the ANC party line as “a defiance campaign”. We can only reasonably infer that ANC MPs who vote with their conscience will be the subject to punitive action, threatening their livelihood or even worse. For this specific motion, we support a secret ballot. Nevertheless, the DA’s vote is no secret.
We have all noted, with interest, that some in the ANC have grown vocal in their condemnation of State Capture. Even Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to have found his voice, crowing that he will “not remain silent” or “turn a blind eye”. We say to the Deputy President and Leader of Government Business in Parliament, the time has come to speak out where and when it matters: not at carefully stage-managed events advancing your presidential aspirations, but in the House where the ANC has time and time and time again voted to keep Zuma in power. On every previous occasion, Ramaphosa has nailed his colours to Zuma’s mast, and has blithely continued to keep his government on even keel.
The Third (Short) Term
Sadly, the Third Term will be all too brief. Although it has officially commenced, the first ‘normal’ sitting of the National Assembly is only set for 22 August and is followed by a mere eight more scheduled sittings. During this brief three week period, the NA is scheduled to have only four oral questions sessions, including the President, Deputy President (twice) and the Peace and Security cluster. As such, the accountability-shy ministers of Finance, Public Enterprises or Social Development will not be called upon to explain what they’re doing about the ailing economy, our failing SOEs, or the social grants crisis. Opportunities for these and other ministers to answer to Parliament via their committees are also limited and, considering their indifferent attendance record, there is the very real possibility of some ministers not accounting to Parliament at all in the Third Term. The DA will do everything possible in the third term to hold these Ministers to account. DA Members serving on crucial committees will insist that errand ministers are called to explain the state of affairs at their departments.
There are currently only three slots to deal with legislation and, as with previous years, the Fourth Term is set to be another panicked scramble to clear the backlog. There are currently no fewer than 30 bills in NA committees and only two on the Order Paper for second reading. Of these bills, 16 date back to 2016 or 2015. Another bill, the Medical Innovation Bill, dates back to 2014. The Legislature is fast losing its right to be so called.
State Capture probe moves to committee
The DA recognises the limited opportunity for dealing with the most pressing matters in the House. Nevertheless, we believe that Parliament’s investigation into State Capture should now move to its committees.
We have on several occasions called for the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee on State Capture. The DA has successfully lobbied opposition parties to support this initiative, but the ANC remains opposed. We are undeterred and will move our motion for the establishment of this crucial committee at the first opportunity in the House. Those who are opposed to State Capture being investigated by a dedicated ad hoc committee should explain why, or for whose benefit.
On 15 June, House Chairperson of Committees, Cedric Frolick, instructed chairpersons of the portfolio committees on Home Affairs, Mineral Resources, Public Enterprises and Transport to “get to the bottom of the [State Capture] allegations”. We immediately warned that Frolick, acting entirely outside his powers, was limiting the scope of the inquiry and without justification. Worse still, subsequent events in some of these portfolio committees have further raised concerns about this already limited probe being frustrated. As illustration, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs twice failed to get Malusi Gigaba to appear and explain the Guptas’ questionable naturalisation; the chairperson and the ANC members of this committee have also shown little appetite to summon the only man that can explain.
The DA will not accept any effort to limit the state capture probe and will instruct all of our Members serving on any relevant committee to table any and all evidence of State Capture. The e-mails will be tabled and committees will be forced to confront the allegations. This will not be limited to the four committees mandated by Frolick. Importantly, while we will do everything that we can to see an ad hoc committee established, in the absence of this central investigation, we will ensure that any and all committees of Parliament do their part to hold the ANC led government accountable for allowing the capture of our State.
It has become a habit of President Zuma to shuffle his Cabinet and re-deploy his failing ministers, allowing them to escape accountability. Serving ministers that have been positively linked to the Guptas include:
- Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, formerly of Home Affairs and Public Enterprises;
- Minister of Public Service and Administration, Faith Muthambi, formerly of Communications; and
- Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Des van Rooyen, fleetingly of Finance
Some committees have proven unwilling to call on former ministers to account for executive decisions made in their previous role, instead summoning the incumbent, or even department officials, who did not make the decision.
The foolishness of fragmenting the State Capture probe is fast becoming self-evident. Individual committees have already stressed the need for Evidence Leaders, legal support and technical expertise. We will be writing to both the Secretary and Speaker of the NA asking for assurances that each committee will be properly capacitated and staffed. Ultimately, you will be able to measure the seriousness with which Parliament is taking the State Capture probe by the resources that are dedicated to it.
Addressing unanswered questions
The Executive is not only failing to meet their committee obligations. They are also undermining another crucial Parliamentary mechanism, namely written questions. Questions posed by Members exercising their oversight mandate are, according to the rules, supposed to be answered within ten working days although responsible ministers may ask the Speaker, in writing, for an extension not exceeding a further ten working days “on good cause shown”. Despite this rule, some ministers have questions dating back to the beginning of the year which remain unanswered.
It is genuinely concerning that ministers in crucial departments have such astonishingly high numbers of outstanding replies. The Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, has no fewer than 97 unanswered questions, some more than 20 weeks old. The ministers of Communications, Social Development and Basic Education have 33, 19 and 18 unanswered questions, respectively, with Bathabile Dlamini failing to answer questions which were first submitted in 2016 and have, after lapsing, been resubmitted.
Another disturbing trend is replies with information being withheld on dubious “security grounds”. By illustration, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans refuses to answer valid questions on the presidential jet. These are refused on the grounds that they relate to the “movement of the VVIP, and for security reasons, the response to this question can only be presented to a closed session of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence.” Meanwhile, the Minister of State Security’s standard response is that the reply has been tabled with the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, a closed forum.
Our otherwise preoccupied Minister of Police has failed to answer questions on issues ranging from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s security detail; the VIP protection unit; airport robberies; drugs; detective-to-docket ratios; firearm safety; domestic violence; sexual violence; the restructuring of Crime Intelligence; and police officers doing business with the state.
Yet increasingly the Minister of Police is also refusing to provide replies on security grounds. When asked to explain on what grounds VIP protection details are assigned to persons who are not a President, Minister, Deputy Minister, First Lady or foreign dignitary, the Minister vaguely replied that “the reasons for protection are based on the outcome of individual threat assessments” and provided no further insight. On challenging a 2015 reply relating to the number and cost of trips completed by President Zuma’s VIP Protection Services – even exempting operational, geographical, chronological or other details – the Minister vacuously responded by saying “[t]he required information has direct security implications, which cannot be disclosed”. Perhaps recent revelations about the President’s trips to Dubai explains his reticence.
Individual ministers have also been reticent to reply to questions related to State Capture. Notably, the Minister of Public Enterprises has failed to answer questions relating to the Dentons Report and the Eskom Board; contracts signed by Mr Brian Molefe during his brief reappointed at Eskom and, previously, Transnet; and various contracts state-owned entities (SOEs) entered into with companies tainted by State Capture allegations, such as VR Laser SA. Minister Brown has also chosen to withhold information due to its “commercially sensitive nature” when asked about SOEs like Transnet and Neotel.
The DA continues to take the lead in using this crucial Parliamentary mechanism to hold the Executive to account, asking 1,798 written questions since the start of the year compared to zero from the ANC and a paltry 243 from other parties combined. Yet this important tool is also under threat due to the Executive’s intransigence or willful neglect.
It is important to recall that the Leader of Government Business is tasked, among others, with monitoring replies and he reports back to Cabinet on a bi-weekly basis once he receives the Leader of Government Business Reports – essentially the Summary of Questions at the end of the Question Papers – on unanswered questions. In his own words, the Deputy President said on 11 May 2017 that “[w]here problems are identified, especially with regards to outstanding Parliamentary Questions, all Ministers are reminded of their obligations to reply to questions per the arranged schedule”. The DA will impose on the Deputy President to show leadership and address the matter of unanswered questions as a matter of priority. Parliamentarians cannot be hampered in their Constitutional mandate to hold Government to account.
The way forward
Despite the challenges identified, the DA keenly anticipates a productive Third Term punctuated by Parliament confronting State Capture through its many mechanisms, be it committees or Parliamentary questions. The ANC’s long-standing project of undermining Parliament will not succeed as long as we serve the Legislature.