Minister Gordhan is spuriously abusing the National Assembly Rules to undermine the Constitution and the law

On the 17th of June 2021, the Democratic Alliance (DA) wrote an open letter to Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, putting no less than 30 pertinent questions to him with respect to their decision to choose the Takatso Consortium as the preferred strategic equity partner for South African Airways (SAA).

Today, more than a week later, Minister Gordhan finally opted to respond to our questions with a complete non-answer.

Instead of providing us with detailed answers, the Minister opted to abuse the Rules of the National Assembly in a spurious manner by instructing us to follow the official parliamentary questions procedure, citing Deputy President Mabuza’s reiteration of the same line of reasoning.

Yet the Minister is well aware of the following facts:

1. That Parliament is in recess and questions to Ministers cannot be currently submitted;
2. How impractical the Rules make it for extensive, detailed questions such as those we put to him; and
3. That Members of Parliament are not prohibited by either the Rules of Parliament or the Rules of the National Assembly to write letters to Ministers seeking clarity on matters of national concern.

It does, however, seem as if the Minister is unaware of the following:

1. That section 195(g) of the Constitution mandates him to foster transparency “by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information”;
2. That section 55(2)(b)(i) of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly – and by extension those elected to it as public representatives – to oversee the exercise of national executive authority; and
3. That section 7(a) read with sections 12(1), 13(a), 27(1) of the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act (PPIPPLA) of 2004 makes it both a criminal offence as well as an act of contempt of Parliament, punishable by a fine and/or jail time, amongst numerous other possible punitive measures, to impede Parliament in the exercise of its oversight powers.

Last, but not least, section 1(c) of the Constitution states unambiguously that the Constitution and the Rule of Law are supreme, not assertions made by the Deputy President in Parliament that, on top of being irrelevant to the matter at hand, do not even provide an iota of justification for the Minister’s violation of the Constitution and the law. Neither do the Rules of the National Assembly provide the shield against scrutiny that Minister Gordhan seeks, as the DA acted well within the Rules by writing directly to the Minister.

It is noteworthy that open letters regarding the same matter were also sent to the President, the Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni, and to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise MP, with specific questions also having been put to Minister Mboweni. All of the aforementioned parties acknowledged receipt almost immediately. However, Minister Mboweni has still not responded to the questions we put to him.

The response on behalf of President Ramaphosa by Dr Gerhard Koornhof MP was also unacceptable. In the open letter to the President, the DA specifically urged the President to utilise the powers vested in the office he holds to compel Minister Gordhan to respond to our questions in a timeous manner. But instead of affirming that the President will do so in the name of upholding the constitutional value of transparent public administration, Dr Koornhof simply told the DA to wait for Minister Gordhan’s response. Surely Dr Koornhof will now, in light of Minister Gordhan’s blatant disregard for the Constitution and the law, consider urging the President to hold him accountable for his dereliction of duty, lest both he and the President be guilty of the same gross malfeasance.

The DA urges President Ramaphosa to take swift action against Minister Gordhan in order to force him to comply with the Constitution and the law by answering the questions that we put to him in our original letter dated 11 June 2021 within the next 72 hours. Failing this, the DA will, in defence of the Constitution and the Rule of Law, refer the matter to the Ethics Committee, on the basis that violation of section 7(a) of the PPIPPLA constitutes contempt of Parliament.