Melanie Verwoerd

What performance will the secretary general really monitor?

2019-07-03 08:15
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule addresing journalists.  Photo by: Jabu Kumalo

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule addresing journalists. Photo by: Jabu Kumalo

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Ace Magashule will not be checking if ANC MPs are in their constituencies or attending the committee meetings. Instead, he will be checking if MPs are consistently pushing through ANC resolutions, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

Have you ever wondered what exactly the job description of a member of Parliament is?

You would think that it would be clearly spelled out in a contract like any other job. After all, MPs get paid over R1m per annum excluding benefits, so surely there would be a clear job description that they can be measured against, right?


There is no contract with Parliament (who pays them) because it isn't Parliament that "appointed" them. There is the oath of office in which they promise to uphold the Constitution, but then that is fairly vague.

So how can we judge whether an MP is doing a good job and is therefore worthy of our hard-earned tax money and re-election?

If you look at the duties of an MP, they can be categorised as follows: pass legislation – both in committee and in Parliament/National Assembly – and do constituency work. This would imply that MPs should conscientiously attend committee meetings, read all background material, and be sure to be in the chamber during sittings. It also requires of them to be in their allocated constituency offices during constituency days and to respond to constituents' requests and needs.

In countries with constituency-based political systems, MPs are likely to be re-elected if they are responsive to their constituents, get some local and national press, attend to their parliamentary work, and remain out of trouble. It is the electorate that rewards them at the next election for doing a good job – if they don't get re-elected, chances are they didn't.

However, things are far more complicated in our party list system.

If an ANC MP, for example, wants to be re-elected to the national list of the party in order to get into the National Assembly again, s/he has to maintain a national profile within the party. This would involve travelling and being available to do party work all over the country. More importantly, it demands a lot of sucking up to party leaders. This requires a lot of time and energy – both of which would be in short supply if that MP was diligent about her/his parliamentary and constituency work.

In fact, if MPs want to be re-elected to the national list, it is usually a very bad idea to spend too much time in their individual small constituencies or focus too much energy on committee work, since neither of those areas of work would result in enough national exposure within the party.

So what would and should make them a good MP (i.e. being diligent about parliamentary and constituency work) can in essence work against them when it comes to the next election. If you don't believe me, ask the numerous MPs, especially from the majority party, who were according to all objective measurements excellent parliamentarians, yet did not make it back after the recent election.

As things stand now, it is ultimately the party that decides whether someone performed well and whether they will be returned to Parliament. This was emphasised by Ace Magashule, the ANC's secretary general, in a recent interview with News24's Tshidi Madia.

Referring to elected officials he said, "We have agreed with the chief whip and the speaker of Parliament, that we are going to rigorously evaluate and assess the performance of people not after five years, but every six months and every year. We will say, 'Hey, …you are not doing the work.'"

Now keeping parliamentarians accountable is a good thing, but the question is what criteria the parties use. The problem in this regard became apparent in what Magashule said next.

He emphasised that the rigorous monitoring and enforcement of the MPs' performances are important "… because we must all be more radical in implementing the ANC decisions (from the national conferences)".

Here-in lies the real danger. Magashule will not be checking if ANC MPs are in their constituencies or attending the committee meetings. According to his own admission, he will be checking if MPs are consistently pushing through ANC resolutions – even if those might be detrimental to the country and the constituents that they are meant to serve. For example, nationalising or changing the mandate of the Reserve Bank might have an ideological appeal to some of the more radical elements of the ANC, but will undoubtedly have a massive negative impact on the markets and thus on the growth prospects of the economy. That, in turn, would certainly make any real progress in terms of Radical Economic Transformation much more difficult and slower.

It is also no secret that many ANC members and leaders do not agree with some of the controversial resolutions that were passed at the ANC's Nasrec conference; resolutions that Magashule is now so insistent that MPs must implement. These resolutions were pushed through because of factional battles, in an attempt to set the president up for failure.

By breaking the direct link between the MP and their constituents and making them solely accountable to their political parties, MPs who want to do their job properly and who truly care about the welfare of the country and their constituents are often put in impossible situations. We witnessed this first hand during the Zuma era.

Although a simple constituency system is not ideal for our country, it is high time to start the debate about what is, because the current system produces party-sycophants rather than true representatives of the people.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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Read more on:    ace maga­shule  |  parliament  |  parliamentary committee


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