- ANC MPs blocked Scopa from calling President Cyril Ramaphosa to explain his remarks that the party had misused public funds.
- Opposition MPs were not impressed by Ramaphosa's response that he did not have direct knowledge.
- The ANC wants to wait for the third part of the Zondo Commission's report and then decide on a way forward.
ANC MPs on Wednesday evening circled the wagons around President Cyril Ramaphosa as the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) investigates his comment that public funds have been used in the party's political campaigns.
Ironically, ANC MPs used the looming release of the third part of the Zondo Commission's report – which is expected to have dire findings on Parliament's oversight role – as an excuse not to call Ramaphosa.
The ANC wants to wait for the release of the third part of the report and then decide on a way forward. It should be released by the end of this month.
ANC MPs forced a vote in the committee, which usually seeks a consensus, and used its majority to shoot down the suggestion to call Ramaphosa. All ANC MPs in the committee voted against it, and all the opposition MPs, from the DA, EFF and ATM, voted in favour.
EFF MP Veronica Mente said her party would explore other avenues in dealing with "people shielded from accountability by a majority".
The saga started in December when a leaked recording of Ramaphosa, speaking at an ANC NEC meeting in March 2021, made it into the public domain.
In the leaked recording, Ramaphosa can be heard saying: "Investigations will reveal that a lot of public money was used (to fund political campaigns). I said, in this case, I am prepared to fall on the sword, so that the CR17 campaign, yes, should be the only one that's looked at and not the others because the image of the African National Congress is what I am most concerned about."
ANC MP Mervyn Dirks asked Scopa to investigate late last year. The party has since suspended him after he refused to withdraw his request.
Last month, Scopa asked Ramaphosa to respond in writing, which he did.
Ramaphosa said he had relied on public information for his comment. "I do not have any direct and specific information on the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes," he said.
His response did not satisfy opposition MPs.
DA MP Alf Lees said he was concerned as it appeared that Ramaphosa didn't take the committee's request for information seriously.
Mente put it stronger: "The response is nothing short of mocking us. Treating us like we are children of some sort."
ATM MP Thandiswa Marawu described Ramaphosa's response as "underwhelming" and "not convincing at all".
"Was he lying then or was he lying now?" she said.
ANC MPs lauded Ramaphosa for responding to the committee.
ANC MP Bheki Hadebe said they were now dealing with a matter that had been in the public domain since 2019 when the high-level review panel report on the State Security Agency was released.
Ramaphosa appointed the panel in 2018 to get to the bottom of problems in the intelligence community. "Let us get to the bottom of who is the culprits, but let us not force the president to know something that he doesn't know," said Hadebe.
ANC MP Nokuzola Tolashe said: "Why would you want to bring someone before [us], who has given you a response in writing?
"Let's accept that we tried. We've got the answers."
She congratulated former president Jacob Zuma for appointing the Zondo Commission. Zuma, in fact, didn't have a choice. "We should not be emotional. We should not seek to embarrass people, because we might not succeed."
The ANC latched onto a legal opinion that it should wait for the full report from the Zondo Commission before it looked into the State Security Agency's misuse of public funds. The legal opinion did not make a recommendation on whether Ramaphosa should or shouldn't be called.
"It's none of our business. Scopa must be insulated from playing politics."
The committee chair, IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, said it would be beneficial for the committee to interact with Ramaphosa.
"In this case, I see the president as a whistleblower, and a discussion is necessary," he said. He tried to broker a consensus, but it soon became apparent that neither the ANC nor the opposition parties would budge.
ANC MPs used their majority to block holding Ramaphosa to account.
Shortly before the meeting started, Ramaphosa did a rare media briefing.
He was asked about Scopa's investigation - and he said he would gladly appear before Scopa if called, and it wouldn't be necessary to issue a summons for his appearance.
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