Moseneke calls for review of presidential powers

2014-11-12 17:55

Deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke has called for the review of the powers of the national executive, saying too much power rests in the presidency.

Speaking at the Mapungubwe Institute and Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute conference on 20 Years of Democracy, held at the University of South Africa this morning, Moseneke said as much as the constitution is supposed to rest on co-operative governance between the different levels of power, “a careful examination of the powers of the national executive chapter in the constitution displays a remarkable concentration of the president’s powers of appointment.”

Moseneke suggested that in the next two decades South Africa should revisit the dispersal of public power because the manner in which power is currently allocated is not always optimal for advancing the democratic project.

Moseneke said that unlike in other countries where the deputy president is a running mate who is elected on his own, here the deputy president is appointed by the president.

“This means he or she may be dismissed summarily by the president. Our own history has shown how the dismissal of a deputy president could be deleterious to the executive function”.

Moseneke pointed out that the president also appoints chief justice, the deputy chief justice, appoints all judges and heads of institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority, the Public Protector, the Auditor General, members of the Commission for Gender Equality, Human Rights Commission etc, and may remove them on specified grounds.

He also appoints the head of police, military, intelligence service, governor of Reserve Bank, commissioner of South African Revenue Services and similar institutions.

“As you would expect, powers of appointments are often coupled with powers of removal, albeit subject to some prescribed process.”

He said the question was how appointments of such public functionaries could be shielded from personal preferences and vagaries of the appointing authority.

“How best must we safeguard the effectiveness and integrity of public institutions indispensable to the democratic polity?”

Moseneke also questioned whether it was wise to appoint members of Cabinet from within parliamentarians who have the duty to hold the executive accountable.

“If their (MPs) career logical advancement is within the national executive, are members of parliament likely to rattle the executive cage?”

“Will they fulfil their constitutional mandate by holding the national executive to account?

He warned ominously: “This uncanny concentration of power is a matter which going forward we may ignore, but only at our peril.”

Moseneke was criticised by the ANC in 2008 when at his birthday celebration he said: “I chose this job very carefully. I have another 10 to 12 years on the bench and I want to use my energy to help create an equal society. It’s not what the ANC wants or what the delegates want; it is about what is good for our people.”

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