Nkandla will be first test for MPs

2014-05-12 06:00

The 400 people who make up South Africa’s fifth democratic Parliament have some urgent unfinished business to deal with: the Nkandla saga.

Political analyst Richard Calland says parliamentarians’ handling of this and whether Parliament can respond to the pressing issue of job creation are immediate tests.

The National Assembly will be made up of 249 ANC members (down from 264), 89 from the DA (up from 67), 25 members of the Economic Freedom Fighters and a few from smaller parties.

It is likely that the ANC will conduct itself in pretty much the same manner as before, Calland told City Press.

However, the potential for a more robust, relevant Parliament was possible now that the main opposition party, the DA, had increased its share of the vote. “The DA, with more MPs, can spread themselves more thickly across the various portfolio committees and have more oversight.”

The EFF, Calland said, would need to make “strategic decisions’’ on which of Parliament’s many portfolio committees to focus on.

However, a single MP who was committed to the job could make a big impact.

For example, the DA’s David Maynier fought doggedly for transparency and answers in issues around defence and national security during the fourth democratic Parliament.

“He was effective in an oversight role and in holding ministers to account because he used parliamentary committees, he dug deep for information and tabled difficult questions.’’

Political analyst Steven Friedman predicted that it would be business as usual after May 21, when the first session of the National Assembly is held.

“The ANC is returning with only a few less members. There will be a few more voices with one key new entrant, the EFF. This will bring more noise from MPs dressed in red overalls, making things literally and figuratively more colourful,” Friedman said.

However, the EFF’s lack of experience in parliamentary affairs could limit its effectiveness.

“It is one thing to be on the campaign trail. Parliamentary business is hard work. It entails asking hard questions and reading documents.’’

Pieter Mulder, the leader of the Freedom Front Plus, is one of a handful of veterans who have been in Parliament since 1994.

Mulder, who has been deputy minister of agriculture, misses the early days of post-apartheid South Africa when Nelson Mandela was president.

“Mandela would consult parties, he would compromise and negotiate behind the scenes in the best interests of South Africa. That atmosphere has now gone. The ANC has become arrogant.

“Our experience is that once in Parliament, the ANC gets instructions from Cabinet. MPs do what Cabinet tells them.”

The DA had not helped either, he said, adopting a “tit-for-tat style’’ instead of cooperating with other parties.

ANC parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo brushed aside criticism that Parliament was at risk of losing relevance.

The 2009 Parliament was ushered in as an “activist Parliament” he said, where all MPs were tasked with playing an oversight role over the executive “without fear or favour’’.

There was always room for improvement, Mothapo acknowledged.

“Any MP will be doing a disservice to his or her constituency if he or she does not take their job seriously.”

» Heard is parliamentary editor at Media24

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