OPINION | Siviwe Gwarube: Parliament repeating the same mistakes which led to state capture

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo hands over part of the state capture report to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo hands over part of the state capture report to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Thulani Mbele, Gallo Images, Sowetan

During the entire time that state capture was unfolding, in many instances, Parliament sat idly and failed to hold the executive to account. Siviwe Gwarube writes that the speaker of Parliament is once again ibluntly delaying dealing with the findings of the Zondo Commission report.

Exactly a year ago, the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, apologised to the nation for Parliament’s complicity in state capture by failing in its key constitutional functions of holding the executive to account. At the time, one would have been forgiven for thinking that this was the turning point for the national legislature. 

This was especially the case when Modise said: 

It is important for us as Parliament to say it is not just about prestige. It is about service. It is not just about holding the executive to account. It is also to hear on behalf of the people and to speak on behalf of the people…

This admission was directly linked to the role that Parliament should have played in not only hearing about the atrocities of state capture but in using its mechanisms to prevent the kind of theft of public money and high jacking of state institutions we have seen over the past couple of decades. 

A year later - under the leadership of the current speaker of the National Assembly - Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the institution is stifling efforts to deal with the findings of the Zondo Commission report, which implicates sitting cabinet ministers, members of Parliament and even some presiding officers. 

When the various volumes of the Zondo Commission reports started to roll in a couple of months ago, the DA raised the alarm with Parliament. The argument was a simple one. While over the years, we have heard of and seen the actions of ANC deployees in this grand cash heist of public resources, Parliament was also found wanting. The institution has only four functions:

  • Electing the President
  • Passing legislation
  • Holding the executive to account
  • Providing a national forum for public consideration of issues

During the entire time that state capture was unfolding, in many instances, Parliament sat idly and failed to hold the executive to account. It failed to carry out one of its essential functions. This, in effect, meant that the institution failed the people of South Africa who elected them to office.

Having been a member of Parliament for the past three years, I can certainly attest to how the ANC has repeatedly abused its majority in Parliament to block public debate, throttle accountability efforts and the disdain with which they treat any opposition MP who seeks public scrutiny of government action. 

READ | ANALYSIS: An oversight failure? Reasons why Parliament has failed in its constitutional mandate

Now that the feigning of ignorance and shock has somewhat worn off within the ANC, the shameless shielding of people who are alleged to have robbed the country blind is taking place. 

Mapisa-Nqakula, with the support of ANC MPs, is bluntly delaying dealing with the findings of the Zondo Commission report, which have become public knowledge for some time. 

ANC elective conference coming up

The speaker argues that Parliament should wait for the President to table the final report and his recommendations on how he, as the head of government, intends to deal with its findings. If we are to accept that the final report is likely to land some time in June and the President has four months to collate his plan of action, then Parliament will only start dealing with this report sometime in October or November. If at all. It is not lost on some of us that dealing with the findings of the Zondo Commission report before the ANC’s elective conference could prove to be slightly inconvenient. While this may be true, South Africa cannot once again be held in a chokeslam by the internal machinations of ANC politics. 

READ | Pieter du Toit: Dumping Mapisa-Nqakula into the speaker’s chair shows ANC disdain for Parliament

Mapisa-Nqakula’s argument or filibustering efforts are flawed for a number of reasons.

Firstly, President Ramaphosa’s submission to Parliament will only pertain to consequence management of the executive as he is empowered to do. It cannot delve into the work of Parliament or how the institution should conduct its business or refine its processes as may be necessary. This is important for the doctrine of separation of powers.

Secondly, as the reports have clearly demonstrated, Parliament needs to set up its own processes of how it will deal with not only the implicated individuals, but also how it will strengthen its oversight functions going forward. This is not the domain of the President but that of Parliament. Therefore waiting for the President’s tabling of the report simply makes no sense.

Indictment on Parliament

Thirdly, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Hawks have already begun their own process of dealing with the findings of the judicial commission. It is an indictment that Parliament is dragging its feet, more so when the institution is implicated for neglecting its responsibilities on the very matter.

Lastly and perhaps more pertinently, Parliament has a public responsibility to mend its reputation after the spectacular failure of the past decades. It cannot be seen to once again be toothless and lacklustre in dealing with allegations of corruption while it has the capacity and the scope to finally do the right thing. 

READ | Ivor Sarakinsky: ANC overlooking oversight and Zondo testimony

The reluctance of the speaker and the ANC to begin processing the Zondo Commission reports can be seen as a misunderstanding of the role of Parliament at best and a deliberate frustration of accountability at worst. 

Parliament has let down South Africans for far too long. For many in the ANC benches, theirs is a function of executive shielding and not a commitment to the people who elected us to office. While many opposition MPs have fought valiantly against this kind of attitude, the most effective antidote rests with the public. The ANC urgently needs to be stripped of its dangerous majority in the country and Parliament if we have any real chance of fighting against corruption.

- Siviwe Gwarube is the Deputy Chief Whip of the DA in Parliament and the party’s national spokesperson.

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