Hounding the watchdogs

2008-02-22 00:00

How deep is the ANC’s understanding of parliamentary process and its commitment to a functioning democracy? If the allegation that Jo-Ann Downs of the ACDP is to be removed as chairperson of the provincial legislature’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) is true, the answer is worrying.

For good reason, Downs has been highly critical of the performance of the provincial government and forthright in pointing out mismanagement. It is rumoured that she is to be replaced by a pliant member of a lightweight political party created by floor crossing. This revives memories of the departure in 2002 of Gavin Woods as chairperson of Scopa in the national Parliament over political interference in the committee’s work.

Traditionally, Scopa has been chaired by a member of the opposition, a sturdy parliamentary watchdog over the fiscal probity and competence of the executive. The day-to-day work of democracy requires checks and balances steered by those unencumbered by government office. At stake is protection of the public interest through early warning of the misuse of power.

The ANC’s apparent disdain for this, together with its current campaign against independent-minded sections of society such as the judiciary, the media and the Scorpions, signals yet another step in the direction of an effective one-party state.

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