Opposition MPs bay for absent ministers' blood

Cape Town – When President Cyril Ramaphosa famously said "send me" in his State of the Nation Address, it apparently did not include sending his Cabinet to Parliament.

On Thursday afternoon, not a single member of Cabinet was present in the National Assembly for members' statements, one of the ways in which Parliament exercises oversight over the executive.

Furthermore, the only deputy minister (deputies are not members of Cabinet) present was Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, who is an NFP member.

Thursday's sitting started with Speaker Baleka Mbete saying she sent a letter to leader of government business Deputy President David Mabuza, who was also absent on Thursday, to raise her concern over ministers failing to appear for question sessions.

READ: 'Concerned' Mbete writes to Mabuza over absent ministers Gigaba, Sisulu

This after beleaguered Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu were both absent during a session on Wednesday where they had to answer questions.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen also said he would write to Mabuza in this regard.

As House chairperson Grace Boroto announced that it is time for members' statements shortly after 17:30, ANC whip Lerumo Kalako, acting on behalf of the absent ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu (whose mother recently passed away), asked that the statements be referred to a later sitting as there were no ministers present.

Kalako also asked that the matter be referred to Mbete, to bring it to Mabuza's attention.

"We strongly recommend that the speaker looks into the matter," he said.

Steenhuisen said this behaviour constitutes contempt of the House and members can be sanctioned for it.

ALSO READ: DA concerned about ministers not showing up for the 'new dawn'

He said Parliament must take a much harder approach against absent ministers and start charging them.

"Otherwise this new dawn will turn into a false dawn," he said.

Other opposition MPs agreed that ministers should be charged.

'Don't protect them'

"All of them, they must be charged," said EFF MP Veronica Mente. "We cannot have ministers that can just be AWOL."

IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the "niceties must come to an end".

"In the absence of consequences, ministers will continue to treat this House with disdain."

"It's clear this new dawn is only there for morning runs."

NFP MP Moses Khubisa said: "This is nothing else than dereliction of duty."

UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa the situation would only change if sanctions are imposed.

"It's almost like they're doing us a favour coming to Parliament."

ACDP MP Steve Swart pointed out that the Constitutional Court criticised Parliament for failing to hold the executive to account. He said it was "disgraceful".

AIC MP Lulama Ntshayisa suggested that absent ministers must be hurt where they'll feel it: their wallets.

"If they cannot be paid for one month, that will be good," he said.

Ministers earn more than R2m per annum.

Agang's Andries Tlouamma concurred and said some of the ministers were recent appointees, but they were already "drunk on power".

"Don't protect them, to be a minister is not a privilege, a birthright."

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