If only Parliament did its job

2016-10-02 06:03
Janet Heard

Janet Heard

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‘Minister, do you really think the South African public is that stupid?”

An exasperated journalist, Marianne Merten, put this question to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko at that infamous sweaty-brow press briefing last year after he exonerated President Jacob Zuma of all accountability over upgrade costs at his Nkandla homestead.

Nhleko’s laughable report was subsequently endorsed through majority vote in the National Assembly.

It was an embarrassing decision that saw Parliament being hauled over the coals by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng six months ago.

In his Constitutional Court ruling on Nkandla, Mogoeng found that Parliament had failed in its duty and had acted “inconsistently” with the Constitution.

I was reminded of Merten’s question this week after the SABC announced the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as general executive of corporate affairs, despite a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that he be removed as chief operating officer.

Increasingly, South Africans are being treated as fools as the executive stuffs up with impunity.

They have also watched their public representatives, the MPs, who are meant to hold power to account, fail when it came to Nkandla, the SABC and state capture.

Their intransigence, hubris and complacency have compelled the opposition and civic organisations to turn to the overloaded office of Thuli Madonsela and the courts – a costly, multilayered and time-consuming route.

But if Parliament exercised its oversight duties without fear or favour, many of these court processes could be avoided.

After the damning ruling on Nkandla, former speaker Max Sisulu, who remains an ANC national executive committee member, pointed out that Mogoeng had merely confirmed what everybody knew all along – that Zuma was liable for some of the expenses.

MPs have a toolbox at their disposal to demand oversight.

They are empowered to demand answers from the executive during written and oral question-and-answer sessions, yet all too often the tough questions are asked by the opposition and met with defensiveness and silence from ANC benches.

Portfolio committees are empowered to “monitor, investigate, inquire into and make recommendations concerning any such executive organ of the state, constitutional institution or other body or institution”.

It was ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu who reminded Parliament of this function this week when he read the riot act to the SABC board.

Intent on stopping the “shenanigans” at the state broadcaster, he promised that enough was enough, and that oversight would be swift and furious.

“Parliament would be failing in its responsibility if it allowed the deteriorating situation at the SABC to continue,” he said.

Despite good intentions, he was hammered by journalists who asked why the ANC had procrastinated for so long when the crisis at the SABC had been worsening for months.

The ball is in the governing party’s court. Let’s see if Parliament can finally rise to the occasion. South Africans are not stupid and they are getting tired of the shenanigans.

Heard is Media24 parliamentary editor


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Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  sabc  |  nkandka

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