Constitutional review ‘like car service’ – Zuma

President Jacob Zuma has again given reassurance that government would not amend the Constitution needlessly, but he was firm about the need for a review.

He likened this to a regular car service, telling IFP MP Velaphi Ndlovu in Zulu that there were two kinds of people: Some took their car to the mechanic only once it’s broken, others took the car for a service to ensure that it kept on running smoothly.

Zuma fielded questions from MPs in the National Assembly this afternoon. Here are a few of his answers:

Are there any plans to amend the Constitution to change the Constitutional Court’s powers? (IFP chief whip Koos van der Merwe)
Expressing “surprise” at the repeated questions on amending the Constitution, Zuma was at pains to, once again, explain that it had been amended 16 times already. He explained in measured tones that government wouldn’t change the Constitution willy-nilly, but said it was a “living document” that needed review so that the apartheid legacy could be eradicated, especially after 18 years of democracy.

DA MP Lindiwe Mazibuko in a follow-up question asked how government would feel if the judiciary decided, in turn, to do a wholesale overview of its policies.

Zuma said although the judiciary could review laws passed by Parliament, “I don’t think judiciary would ask to do an overview of all government policies.”

He said the three tiers of government had different functions, and their independence was “relative” and not “absolute”.

Zuma said government “are not intending to sit every day to change the Constitution”, but joked that the ANC could have done so already because it could muster the two-thirds majority needed to alter the Constitution.

Would Zuma consider appointing a judicial commission to bring back the death penalty? (Graham McIntosh, IFP MP)
“Did I hear correctly?” Zuma asked and said he wouldn’t do it. He invited McIntosh to debate it in Parliament, but said he wouldn’t win.

Does Zuma intend releasing the full and unexpurgated final report by the arms deal commission of inquiry?
(DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko)
Zuma said he couldn’t give an undertaking before the report wasn’t produced. He likened it to going to the doctor and asking for a course of treatment even before there was a diagnosis.

Zuma was applauded by the majority party’s side of the house after giving the answer.

He chuckled before taking more questions.

Zuma said he would be guided by the recommendations of the commission’s report, including whether it should be made public or not. To do otherwise would unfairly prescribe to the commission the manner in which its recommendations should be framed, he said.

Mazibuko in a statement shortly after the debate said Zuma’s response “failed to provide Parliament and South Africa with an unequivocal undertaking that he would demonstrate the much needed political will to make the report public, and to take the necessary action against any person, including any member of his cabinet, who is implicated in the report”.

She said this cast doubt on his government’s seriousness to combat corruption and bringing the arms deal saga to a rest.

What steps does Zuma intend to take to make all stakeholders in the Eastern Cape commit to providing learners with access to quality education?
(Cope MP Juli Killian)
Zuma, in answer to repeated follow-up questions on the matter, said an agreement had been signed between the provincial department, unions and schools, and that this agreement now has to be implemented.

What progress have been made in finalising presidential pardons for certain “political” prisoners (who applied in 2003 already)? (FF Plus MP Pieter Groenewald)
Zuma said he could only act on these presidential pardons once he had the facts. These have been taking so long because Zuma couldn’t act “outside the law”. Processes had to be followed.

DA MP Dene Smuts asked Zuma if he agreed that his decision on these pardons would be reviewable, and he said in a constitutional democracy all decisions by government and the judiciary are reviewable.

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