Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The curious case of why Zuma keeps Faith Muthambi around

2017-08-18 09:22
(File, Beeld)

(File, Beeld)

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Whatever it is that President Jacob Zuma and Minister Faith Muthambi share, it must be something very special. It certainly works for the two of them. Sadly, not for the country.

In early March, Parliament unanimously told Zuma to “seriously consider” the “desirability” of Muthambi as communications minister. She was responsible for among other important institutions, the SABC and Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS).

By effectively calling for her dismissal, Parliament unleashed an unprecedented but well-deserved censure. She had fudged her submission to the ad-hoc committee that probed the SABC governance crisis partly caused by her. She gave the matric-less Hlaudi Motsoeneng powers he ordinarily wouldn’t have in terms of governance processes.

She proved to be an unreliable witness when she testified in the open inquiry. The only thing she did with absolute distinction was to fiddle with documents in front of her.

It was suggested that she be referred to the ethics committee for further investigation. So disastrous was her testimony that only she would be surprised to find that she is on the yet-to-be-released list of witnesses who could be criminally charged for misleading Parliament.

But Zuma, the person with whom she has an inexplicable relationship, has rubbished the censure. Instead of acting on Parliament’s recommendations, he promoted her. Within weeks, she was in charge of two portfolios.

In addition to the communications, she was appointed to act as justice minister while Michael Masutha was on leave. In Masutha’s place, she went on to become a member of the Judicial Services Commission and interviewed judges. 

In one swoop, Zuma had tarnished all three arms of the state. He gave Parliament a middle finger by not only disregarding its censurer, but also giving Muthambi added responsibilities. He threw mud at the judiciary by allowing a discredited minister to interview judges. And by keeping Muthambi in his Cabinet, he showed he cared very little, if at all, about the integrity of the executive arm of government. Anyway, integrity is a swear-word in Zuma’s world.

On March 30, Zuma further promoted Muthambi in a midnight Cabinet reshuffle, appointing her minister of public service and administration. The responsibilities of a minister in charge of that portfolio includes the promotion of the highest ethical conduct in the public service. 

Muthambi is responsible for promoting Batho Pele, aimed at ensuring that government puts people first in whatever it does. It is one of the government’s most progressive policies adopted during President Nelson Mandela’s administration. 

If you had mistakenly thought Muthambi’s new portfolio didn’t constitute a promotion, consider the fact that South Africa’s public service is nearly as big as the population of Namibia. Now imagine, the entire population of Namibia under Muthambi. She is responsible for enforcing professionalism across all national and provincial departments. 

Buoyed by Zuma’s support despite previous transgressions, Muthambi stood up Parliament’s portfolio committee on public service and administration, the primary structure where she accounts. The committee wants answers on allegations that she blew hundreds of thousands of rands in taxpayers’ money to sponsor a holiday for her acquaintances in Cape Town. Of course, the official line from her office is that the acquaintances flew to Cape Town to watch her speak. 

Thanks to the undying support she enjoys from the top, there has been no threat that Muthambi will face any disciplinary action or demotion. Instead, Makhosi Khoza, who has led the committee’s efforts to ensure Muthambi accounts for her misuse of taxpayers’ money has been demoted from her post. 

One won’t be surprised if the Muthambis are celebrating for the elevation of mediocrity and the demotion of excellence.

Muthambi is a fast learner of unethical conduct. She learned her disdain for Parliament from her boss. And she consistently gets rewarded for it. For her and her boss, Parliament is not a representative of the people. The Constitution which suggests otherwise should be ignored. What matters is what the leader of the governing party, Zuma himself, wants. What he wants is what is right. Constitutional legalities are a nuisance. 

It is within this context that we must understand Muthambi’s conduct. She has broken the values of Batho Pele. Below are the provisions contained in the Batho Pele guidelines. Next to each guideline, I indicate the verdict of her performance. 

• Access: Citizens should be told what level and quality of public service they will receive so that they are aware of what to expect. 

Not only has Muthambi prevented Parliament, the representative of the people, from gaining access to her department’s information, she has never told the public that it was her turn to eat with friends and relatives. 

• Courtesy: Citizens should be treated with courtesy and consideration. 

Muthambi has treated Parliament – and by extension citizens of the country – with disdain.

• Information: All citizens should have equal access to the services to which they are entitled. 

Muthambi seems to believe that government information in her possession is private.

• Openness and Transparency. 

These concepts are an insult to Muthambi’s intelligence. She has displayed all the characteristics of subterfuge.

• Redress: Establish mechanism for recording any public dissatisfaction such as toll-free numbers. 

Is there a toll-free number to call when Muthambi can’t be found in Parliament?

• Value for money: Public services should be provided economically and efficiently in order to give citizens the best possible value for money. 

Flying friends and relatives to Cape Town to watch Muthambi, of all people, speak can hardly constitute value for money.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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Read more on:    faith muthambi  |  jacob zuma  |  parliament
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