Parliament is shirking its oversight responsibility during the lockdown

A response from National Assembly Deputy Speaker, Lechesa Tsenoli, to my letter requesting the establishment of an ad hoc committee demonstrates a gravely worrying suppression of oversight and the gagging of parliament during the Covid-19 lockdown.

In his refusal to establish the committee, Mr Tsenoli states that my request is “so broad and of such a nature that it would not be feasible to expect a single ad hoc committee to perform”, further stating that the work “must be done by all existing parliamentary committees and Members of Parliament”.

What Mr Tsenoli fails to realise is that the National Disaster declaration, and the subsequent lockdown, have led to the establishment of a National Command Council creating a unique scenario in which wings of government are rolling out programmes which are out of the ordinary and thus cannot be effectively held to account by Parliament’s existing committees.

In its oversight role, Parliament is supposed to mirror government in order to exercise oversight comprehensively. Because the structure of government has adapted to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, so must Parliament adapt its oversight capacity to oversee it. This is precisely why I have called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee.

Furthermore, Mr Tsenoli’s statement that “Parliament was using information and communication technologies for parliamentary committees and members to effectively continue to engage in their oversight and monitoring role” is worryingly misleading. Not one member of the DA’s Shadow Cabinet has received any such correspondence from Parliament’s standing committee chairpersons.

Parliament also has a pressing responsibility to help prepare South Africa for the realities of a post-Covid-19 world. We need an urgent economic recovery plan which parliamentarians have a duty to flesh out during this time.

Following Mr Tsenoli’s directive, every member of my Shadow Cabinet will be writing to their respective committee chairpersons requesting for committees to be urgently convened via videoconference during the lockdown period.

Considering the numerous acts of police brutality and the rising number of deaths allegedly at the hands of police officers during the lockdown, oversight over the executive has never been more crucial in our country.

Essentially, Parliament has been rendered obsolete by refusing to adapt to the changing government during this time and the changing circumstances surrounding its work. Mr Tsenoli’s failure to ensure oversight in this regard is a worrying manipulation of democratic processes which demands immediate attention.

It is incomprehensible that at the time of our nation’s greatest crisis, parliament remains disengaged from what is going on in our country and is not being utilised to prepare South Africa for the changing environment in a post-Covid-19 world.