Cape Town – Presidential hopeful, but currently "just the deputy president", Cyril Ramaphosa had his leadership credentials questioned in Parliament because of his "failure" to ensure accountability from ministers including Faith Muthambi.
On Tuesday August 15, Muthambi, minister of public service and administration, was due to appear before the committee on public service and administration to explain allegations that she used state funds to fly family and friends to Cape Town for her budget speech in May.
She didn't show up at the committee meeting, even though she attended a meeting with then chairperson Makhosi Khoza earlier where, according to Khoza, she gave no sign that she would not attend the afternoon meeting. The committee, which was boycotted by five ANC MPs because of Khoza's departure from the ANC party line, resolved to summon the minister to the committee and demand that she pay back the money spent for the meeting.
Days later Khoza was fired as chairperson.
During Ramaphosa's question session in the National Assembly on Wednesday, he was asked by EFF MP Veronica Mente what steps has he taken to follow up on Muthambi's "reasons for failing to fulfil her constitutional duty to appear before" the committee on August 15.
In his answer, Ramaphosa did not once refer to Muthambi by name. He said members of the executive were individually and collectively accountable to Parliament and that ministers must regularly provide full reports to Parliament.
"Ah, please man!" yelled DA chief whip John Steenhuisen when Ramaphosa said he ensures ministers report to Parliament.
Ramaphosa said he provided regular reports to Cabinet meetings on how ministers complied with Parliament's oversight role.
"It must be very short!" interjected someone from the DA benches.
"Deputy President, you said a mouthful, yet we remain with empty chairs," said Mente in her follow-up question, pointing to the empty ministers' benches. Muthambi was one of the absent ministers.
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"I specifically asked about Muthambi, yet you don't go there."
She said the committee's summons to Muthambi was withdrawn "from another level".
"She never came here to account for anything. Yet she remains a member of Cabinet. Why is that?" Mente asked.
Ramaphosa said the Muthambi matter was being dealt with by the committee and he would follow up.
"Watch this space," Steenhuisen interjected sarcastically.
'I'm just the deputy president'
Agang MP Andries Tlouamma, who on Tuesday referred to Muthambi as the "princess of the Gupta empire" said it was mysterious that Muthambi was still a minister.
"Can you show some courage and recommend that this minister be fired? This will contaminate you and your chances of becoming the leader of this country," Tlouamma said to a laughing Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said the deputy president doesn't appoint members of the executive.
"So I can't do that. It is not my duty. It is not my burden," said Ramaphosa.
"I'm just the deputy president."
In a follow-up to another question, DA MP Sej Motau said the failure of ministers to account to Parliament was a failure on Ramaphosa's part.
Minister at Brics summit
"If you're not able to whip these members into line now, how are you going to do it when you're president?"
Responding to the question, Ramaphosa began: "What I should have brought here is…"
"Some ministers!" Steenhuisen interjected.
"…a list of apologies," Ramaphosa continued.
He said many ministers were absent because they had accompanied President Jacob Zuma to the Brics summit.
Steenhuisen raised a point of privilege, with a copy of the Constitution in his hand.
"The deputy president knows very well members of Cabinet are accountable to this house, not Brics."
Parliament in March adopted the report of the ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC board, which found Muthambi "incompetent" in her previous role as communications minister and recommended that Zuma reconsidered her appointment.
Zuma moved her to the public service and administration portfolio in his late-night Cabinet reshuffle. A report from Parliament's legal services also found that she might have misled the ad hoc committee.