Four questions about Cabinet answered ahead of Ramaphosa's announcement

2019-05-29 19:12
Newly sworn in members of Parliament pose for a photograph outside the South African Parliament in Cape Town. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

Newly sworn in members of Parliament pose for a photograph outside the South African Parliament in Cape Town. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

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Over the past few days, the expectations were high as President Cyril Ramaphosa readied to announce his Cabinet. Here are some of the legal things he had to keep in mind ahead of Wednesday's 8pm announcement:

1. Who serves on the Cabinet?

Section 91 (1) of the Constitution states: "The Cabinet consists of the President, as head of the Cabinet, a Deputy President and Ministers."This means that deputy ministers are not part of the Cabinet. This is best illustrated by instances when a minister is out of the country or temporarily unable to fulfil his/her functions – the deputy minister in that portfolio doesn't act as minister, but the president will appoint another minister to act as caretaker of that department.

The president appoints the ministers and deputy ministers. As former president Jacob Zuma liked to remind us, who serves on the Cabinet is "the president's prerogative".

The president also "assigns their powers and functions", according to the Constitution. This basically means the president prescribes what government department the minister in question will oversee. 

The deputy president must be selected from among the members of the National Assembly, as do the ministers, with the exception that the president may appoint no more than two people who are not MP's as ministers.

Similarly, the president appoints the deputy ministers from among MP's, again with the exception that two deputy ministers can be appointed from outside the National Assembly.

Each minister has a ministry which consists of a small team of advisors and administrative staff. 

2. How many ministers and deputy ministers can the president appoint?

The Constitution isn't prescriptive on how many ministers and deputy ministers the president can appoint.  

During Zuma's term, the size of the cabinet was a bone of contention, with opposition parties such as the DA branding it as bloated. 

In 1994, Nelson Mandela appointed 28 ministers, meaning the Cabinet had 31 members, including himself and the two deputy presidents. There were 14 deputy ministers. 

Former president Thabo Mbeki had 28 ministers in both his Cabinets. Zuma's first cabinet had 34 members, and the Cabinet Ramaphosa inherited from Zuma had 35 ministers, with 37 deputy ministers to boot.

Since he became president, Ramaphosa has, on several occasions, spoken about reconfiguring government – meaning there might be fewer government departments – and as a result, fewer ministers and deputy ministers. 

3. What are ministers' responsibilities?

According to the Constitution members of the Cabinet must act in accordance with the Constitution and "provide Parliament with full and regular reports concerning matters under their control". 

The Constitution further states that members of the Cabinet and deputy ministers may not: undertake any other paid work; act in any way that is inconsistent with their office, or expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and private interests; abuse their position or any information entrusted to them, to enrich themselves or improperly benefit any other person.

Furthermore, the Constitution requires that Cabinet members conduct themselves in accordance with an ethical code. This is contained in the ministerial handbook.

The ministerial handbook also determines the perks of ministers and deputy ministers.

4. How do you remove the Cabinet?

The Constitution provides for the removal of the entire Cabinet. If the National Assembly, with a majority vote, passes a motion of no-confidence in Cabinet excluding the president, then the president must appoint a new Cabinet. If the National Assembly passes a motion of no-confidence in the president, then the other members of the Cabinet and deputy ministers must also resign. 

It is also the president's prerogative to remove individual members of the Cabinet. 

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