Ministers insult Parliament under Baleka Mbete’s watch

2014-08-26 19:33

The line between party and state is often a fine one in modern democracies. Many political parties that assume state power find themselves battling to draw a visible line between the two. South Africa’s electoral and political systems make it even harder to abide by this line. It’s a winner-takes-all system where the party that assumes power nominates and elects the President and premiers in the provinces that it wins.

That President selects his Cabinet from among members of the National Assembly and even gets the privilege to choose two ministers who are outside of Parliament. The ruling party also gets to deploy directors-general and the Cabinet even ratifies a ministers’ choice of deputy directors-general for their respective departments.

The CEOs of state-owned companies with multi-billion rand budgets, ambassadors and the heads of various state institutions are chosen by the winning party.

But even with this system in place, the doctrine of the separation of powers has largely been respected in the 20 years of our democracy. Accusations that members of the executive treat Parliament with contempt, or want to turn into a rubber stamp of the executive have always been whispered on the corridors. But apart from ministers who often fail to make time to account to committees and to the House, there has never been open and active attempts to tamper with the doctrine of the separation of powers.

That is until this morning when ministers in the security cluster took it upon themselves to completely disregard Parliament, usurp the powers of the Speaker and turn the institution into an organ that is nothing but an extension of executive power.

The ministers – without any representation from Parliament – took it upon themselves to organise a press conference and dictate to Parliament how it should henceforth be dealing with disruptions of the National Assembly and its activities; as it happened last week when EFF members brought the House to a standstill, demanding that President Jacob Zuma Pay Back The Money spent on his Nkandla estate.

No matter how repulsive and disrespectful the actions of the EFF members were, it should have been left to Speaker Baleka Mbete to determine and decide – with assistance from security cluster ministers if she requires – future measures to deal with such interruptions.

What the security cluster ministers did with their briefing this morning was to reduce Mbete into an apparatchik who can be ordered around by the executive and be instructed about the security measures she needs to implement in her institution.

Sitting there at the Imbizo media conference, the security cluster ministers not only insulted Mbete and Parliament; but they managed to completely reduce a separate arm of state into an agency of the executive, whose security is subject to the whims and wishes of mere ministers. The constitution was torn to shreds by the executive this morning; and Speaker Mbete – one of its key custodians – allowed it to happen under her watch.

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