Janet Heard

Small-party MPs keep the ball rolling

2017-03-14 10:17

Many of the 400 members of Parliament (MPs) are often neither seen nor heard from, and don’t deserve their annual R1.03 million pay packets (plus perks).

But a sizeable number of public representatives are not just plodding along; they do have an effect. The recent performance of the MPs in the ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC is an example of such grit and purpose.

There are achievers across the political spectrum, but a handful of overextended MPs from the smaller political parties also deserve special mention.

Instead of being drowned out by the larger parties, their familiar faces pop up all over the show, often with well-considered input.

While the ANC has 249 members, the DA 89 and the Economic Freedom Fighters 25, members of the smaller parties do not have the luxury of having an MP represented everywhere.

They are spread thinly across more than 50 committees, with the fourth largest party – the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) – having 10 members. The others only have between one and six.

These “rats and mice” parties have tough choices to make every day in the parliamentary programme.

For instance, IFP whip Liezl van der Merwe is a member of two committees – the department of women in the presidency and the department of social development, which has been a pressure cooker due to the grants debacle at the SA Social Security Agency.

She is also an alternate member of the department of telecommunications and postal services, and of the department of communications, which this week selected an interim SABC board.

Every Wednesday morning, Van der Merwe should be in three meetings at once – the chief whips’ forum, social development and telecommunications.

Van der Merwe (36) has persistently sought accountability on the social grants problem – not only now, but for at least the past year. She has raised the issue in the committee and the National Assembly, and has twice questioned Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and the president.

Van der Merwe is so busy that she often misses weddings, family celebrations and dinner dates, instead taking reams of documents home so that she can formulate targeted questions and arguments for the next day.

Her colleague Narend Singh is also effective and visible. He was present everywhere this week, asking pertinent questions and making astute observations in the National Assembly, and also when Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown briefed the portfolio committee on Eskom and her “problem child”, SA Express.

Other MPs from smaller parties who are adept at multitasking include the IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa, who, at 29, represents the younger generation of MPs who are stepping up to the plate, and the United Democratic Movement’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, who plays an active role in the House and is on least three committees, including the Finance Standing Committee.

Kwankwa’s colleague, Mncedisi Filtane, was named the hardest-working MP for attending the most committee meetings – 70 – in 2015, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. The Congress of the People’s Deidre Carter is another energetic MP from a minority party who has a large footprint in Parliament.

The smaller parties represent a few pieces of the multiparty puzzle in Parliament, but, thanks to the consistent dedication of some, Parliament would be incomplete – and poorer – without them.

- Janet Heard is Media24’s parliamentary editor.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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