Janet Heard

As Parliament resumes, MPs could save SA

2017-07-29 23:48
Janet Heard, Media24 parliamentary editor.

Janet Heard, Media24 parliamentary editor.

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Expect the temperature to rise during the third term of the parliamentary year, which kicks off this week.

It has not been business as usual for honourable members from day one of the fifth Parliament. But now, more than three years later, the country is on a knife’s edge, with Parliament at the centre of the political and economic storm.

If MPs fulfil their constitutional duty to act in the interests of the people, they will take the work cut out for them very seriously.

First up is the inquiry into shenanigans at Eskom by the public enterprises portfolio committee. During a preliminary meeting on Tuesday, it was distressing to hear testimony from church leaders warning that state capture had already gone too far, and we were on the edge of becoming a mafia state. The SA Council of Churches’ (SACC’s) Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said he never thought it possible that in a democratic South Africa people would once again live in fear of the state like they did in the apartheid era.

The message was clear. When it comes to looting of public funds, MPs can no longer feign ignorance, sit on the fence, dilly-daddle or cover up.

“We are drifting into a mafia state … We have a deformed situation … We are at a critical point … If we don’t act, we will slip,” the SACC’s Reverend Pieter Grove told MPs.

Yet, red flags have already been raised by the opposition. In the preliminary meeting, the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu raised concerns about capacity and resources, recommending that an external advocate be brought in to advise the committee.

At least three other inquiries are expected on state capture – in the transport, home affairs and mineral resources committees. The DA’s John Steenhuisen pointed out that the fragmentation threatened to place a “stranglehold” on the effectiveness of the process. He recommended a well-resourced ad hoc committee to oversee a single investigation.

Meanwhile, the standing committee on public accounts has prioritised holding ministers and entities to account over the latest R2bn SAA bailout, the social grants debacle and technical bankruptcy of the water and sanitation department, which all threaten to cripple the country’s functioning.

Overshadowing everything is the build-up to the vote of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma on August 8. If Speaker Baleka Mbete rejects a secret vote, there is likely to be a massive showdown in the National Assembly on August 8. It could mean that the dispute over the process of the motion takes centre stage. This could be exactly what Mbete is hoping for: a distraction once again from the real issue that is dividing the ANC – Zuma.

Amid all of this, MPs will also have to focus on their regular committee programme, which is crammed with important oversight work and processing of legislation.

The sooner the country can move on from this abnormal situation the better, so that the very real challenges can be tackled for the benefit of long-suffering South Africans, particularly the poor. For this to happen, we need ethical leadership, before it is too late.

Follow me on Twitter @janetheard

Read more on:    parliament  |  secret ballot
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