We don’t want no ‘ethics what-what’

2017-09-10 05:59

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An issue that has lingered in the presidency for the past seven years came to a head in Parliament this week – and, in an ironic move, a former ally of President Jacob Zuma was the one agitating to put the matter to rest.

ANC MPs tried to stonewall an attempt by Parliament’s justice portfolio committee to comply with the remedial actions put forward by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her State of Capture report.

But in an ironic twist, committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga argued against further delaying the matter. Even the DA was moved to say that, for once, it agreed with the former ANC chief whip. The DA is usually at loggerheads with Motshekga.

It all started back in April 2010, when Madonsela recommended that Parliament amend the Executive Members’ Ethics Act, a law that governs the conduct of Cabinet members, deputy ministers and members of provincial executive councils.

Madonsela advocated more clarity on who the president should make declarations to regarding the acceptance of gifts valued at more than R1 000 – and where a Public Protector should submit the report after investigating the ethical conduct of a president.

In her State of Capture report, published last year, Madonsela again recommended that Parliament review the act within 180 days to provide better guidance regarding integrity, including avoidance and management of conflict of interest.

“This should clearly define responsibilities of those in authority regarding a proper response to whistle-blowing and whistle-blowers,” Madonsela said.

“Consideration should also be given to a transversal code of conduct for all employees of the state.”

On Tuesday, the National Assembly’s justice and correctional services committee met to discuss reviewing the ethics act, as recommended by Madonsela.

But, from the word go, it appeared as if ANC MPs were not keen on this exercise. They kept interrupting the committee’s content adviser, who was briefing the MPs on the background to the matter and on the process to be followed.

After complaining that the briefing was “fundamentally wrong” in terms of process, the MPs questioned why the review of this act had turned up on the committee’s agenda. They then moaned that the adviser was getting into technicalities and was not limiting her briefing just to what needed to be done.

"Our spirit is not the same"

Opposition MPs hit back by defending the content adviser’s approach and arguing that if they were to amend the act, they needed the detailed presentation they were getting from her.

Things got heated, with Motshekga and the ANC MPs repeatedly interrupting each other as they made their points.

Motshekga, backed by the opposition, prevailed and the 40-page content advice was presented in its entirety.

ANC MPs then questioned the status of the State of Capture report, saying Parliament could not deal with its findings as Zuma was challenging the report in court.

“First, you must articulate the status of the State of Capture report in relation to this particular amendment. That’s what you must take us through,” said ANC MP Madipoane Mothapo, adding that, since there was pending litigation in respect of Madonsela’s report, the committee ought to respect the sub judice rule.

Another ANC MP, Bongani Bongo, questioned why the committee was responding to the former public protector’s recommendations regarding “the executive ethics what-what”, but not addressing Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s recommendations for remedial action regarding the SA Reserve Bank.

Addressing Motshekga, he said: “Recently, the Public Protector wrote to you to amend [the constitutional mandate of the Reserve Bank], and so we must get a briefing on how you have processed those remedial actions. Today, we are responding to the [former] public protector, and tomorrow we oppose the Public Protector’s remedial action … when she says the Reserve Bank and Standard Bank must pay back the money,” he said.

“Now our language is no longer the same and our spirit is not the same,” added Bongo.

In fact, the Pretoria High Court set aside Mkhwebane’s report on the Reserve Bank, and the bank in question was Absa, not Standard Bank.

Motshekga would not budge, reminding his comrades that the matter went as far back as 2010 and had to be dealt with, albeit in the context of the State of Capture report. He pointed to the fact that, initially, Madonsela’s recommendation had been a stand-alone matter dealing with the executive members’ ethics.

“We cannot have a situation where we spend seven years as Parliament, with all the resources that we have at our disposal, just to understand a simple piece of legislation and how we must deal with it,” he said.

The committee eventually resolved to ask Mkhwebane, through the National Assembly Speaker, for an extension to amend the act.

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Read more on:    mathole motshekga  |  thuli ­madonsela  |  parliament  |  anc

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