A disturbing tendency

2008-03-01 00:00

With the Inkatha Freedom Party having walked out of the session and the Democratic Alliance voting against the measure, the African National Congress has used its majority in the provincial Parliament to dismiss the African Christian Democratic Party’s Jo-Ann Downs from chairing the legislature’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa). There are several very disturbing aspects of this matter.

Firstly, the reason given for her dismissal by ANC chief whip Cyril Xaba, that she had leaked information to the media, is hardly convincing. If credible allegations of misconduct against Downs had been made, then Parliament surely has procedures for dealing with them. The accusations would have to be made publicly, witnesses called to substantiate them, Downs should have been given the opportunity to respond and defend herself, and a verdict would have been reached. Only if she had been found guilty through these proper processes should she then be removed from her position. The fact that none of this has been done and that the ANC chose instead to push a hurried decision through on a party political vote, suggests that the ruling party actually has no legitimate case to make against her, and simply wants to be rid of her incisive criticism.

Here is the second cause for serious concern. Constant critical appraisal of the actions of the government is the primary function of Scopa and the role of the chairperson is to ensure that the committee performs its duty of protecting the public’s interests without fear or favour. In short, Scopa’s job is to hold the executive to account. The idea that the executive and ruling party can, without following due process, arbitrarily dismiss Scopa’s chairperson contradicts the whole notion of democratic accountability.

This decision suggests that there are powerful forces within the ANC that have either a very limited understanding of democratic principles or an arrogant disregard of them. With Downs now mounting a legal challenge to her dismissal, revelations are coming into the public domain of aggressive conduct by the executive that point very strongly to the latter.

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