South Africa

Parliament: ‘We will not rubber-stamp looting’ – State Capture features large in Budget session

By Marianne Merten 8 June 2017

State capture. Looting. South Africa’s R1.4-trillion Budget was centre stage in Parliament on Thursday, but that didn’t stop opposition MPs making the most of state capture claims in the marathon National Assembly sitting. ANC MPs were left to raise the occasional point of order, particularly those linking Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and state capture, and to talk oversight, meeting development challenges, and patriotism, while also taking the occasional dig at the DA. But the ANC, including its ministers, filled the parliamentary benches in a rare display of presence to ensure its numerical majority meant the Budget was passed without mishap. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Cabinet at its meeting this week considered #GuptaLeaks, the scores of thousands of emails tracing a web of connections from the Gupta family and its business associates into the highest ranks of the public service and ministries.

Cabinet has noted with serious concern the media reports on the ‘leaked emails’ that are purported to implicate ministers, officials and private individuals in alleged wrongdoing,” said Thursday’s official statement on the meeting. Cabinet remains fully committed to good governance and at the same time it also notes that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty in terms of our Constitution.”

And so a call was made to “all who have information about any wrongdoing by government officials or ministers to inform the law enforcement agencies so that investigations can be undertaken”.

EFF leader Julius Malema will be doing so in Johannesburg on Friday, when he lays criminal charges against Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, and others, over the dodgy Transnet locomotives tenders. The DA in Cape Town, also on Friday, will lay criminal charges against Finance Deputy Minister Sifiso Buthelezi over allegations he benefited from contracts awarded during his time as Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) board chairperson.

Nine days ago, DA leader Mmusi Maimane laid charges of corruption, racketeering and treason against 12 people, including President Jacob Zuma, his son Duduzane, the three Gupta brothers and various ministers, including Gigaba, under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

It remains to be seen what action might be taken by the Hawks, which to date have indicated they would investigate the authenticity of the #GuptaLeaks emails. This after the ANC last Friday issued a statement asking “government to urgently seek to establish the veracity of these claims and explanation from those implicated”.

Back at Parliament, moves are under way by opposition parties to establish an ad hoc committee into state capture. Malema on Thursday announced that the EFF was compiling “a dossier for Parliament”, and if the national legislature failed to act, the party would go to court.

DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen said he’s lobbied for support for an ad hoc committee to be discussed at next week’s Chief Whips’ Forum which a view to scheduling it. “I believe there is broad consensus that a thorough investigation into these allegations is long overdue and submit that Parliament is best placed to undertake it,” he said on Thursday.

With such a parliamentary inquiry up in the air, like the commission of inquiry proposed in the public protector’s State of Capture report pending a court review brought by President Jacob Zuma, it’s perhaps not surprising that state capture featured large in Thursday’s marathon Budget session in the National Assembly.

It kicked off on Thursday morning with a debate on the Appropriations Bill, the legislation underpinning the Budget. In just short of two hours, much was said about state capture.

EFF MP Natasha Louw said the party could not agree to “a blank cheque to the Guptas”, nor have Parliament simply rubber-stamp the Budget allocations. “We will not rubber-stamp your looting,” Louw told the ANC benches.

While African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Steve Swart expressed concern about “the Gupta influence”, African People’s Congress (APC) MP Themba Godi had this message to ministers: “Stay away from procurement matters! Stay away from tenders!”

ANC MP Ndabakayise Gcwabaza took a different tack, and in doing so underscored the damage that Western Cape DA Premier Helen Zille’s colonialism tweets are causing Parliament’s largest opposition party. “You have many problems. You need to deal with your premier… You have failed to handle the racist tweets of your Madam Premier Zille.”

After the debate, and a two-hour lunch, on Thursday afternoon it was on to the consideration of the 40 individual budget votes, including declarations, or party statements, objections and divisions, or parliamentary jargon for a vote.

The fireworks exploded in Vote 9, Public Enterprises.

Our state-owned enterprises cannot be dictated to by the Saxonwold shebeen,” said DA MP Natasha Mazzone, rejecting the budget. IFP Chief Whip Narend Singh echoed this, saying news of corruption and the department’s director-general publicly portrayed in headlines as “Gupta spy” simply did not augur well. Swart talked of “the dark storms of state capture”, adding that the only entity with success was Telkom, after insisting on no state interference.

When EFF MP Thembinkosi Rawula said Gigaba was “at the centre of stealing money”, he was stopped by the ANC raising the second of its three points of order: casting aspersions, without a substantive motion providing proof, meant the comment could not stand. The presiding officer agreed, and Rawula, who also had called for the disbanding of all boards of state-owned entities, had to withdraw. However, the EFF MP’s comments on the “captured state and captured president” and “looting out of control” were left to stand.

As were Cope MP Deidre Carter’s earlier comments in Vote 7, the National Treasury, when she linked state capture in Public Enterprises and Home Affairs, with Gigaba’s previous appointments in those portfolios. It was the ANC’s first point of order, insisting on a substantive motion with proof of these claims. The presiding officer said Hansard, the official transcript, would be checked before a ruling was made.

As if Malusi Gigaba did not have enough headaches, opposition parties also criticised his handling of the portfolio. He’s delivered a recession, junk status and staggering unemployment,” said DA MP David Maynier, adding it was unconscionable that his response was talking of finalising a time table to implement plans and meeting business. These sentiments were echoed by the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Freedom Front Plus.

But ANC MP Yunus Carrim slated criticism for criticism’s sake without offering solutions as unpatriotic. “Yes, we have downgrades that are worrying. Yes, we are worried about the technical recession, but it’s not the end of the world. It needs us all to work together… Ultimately we have a national interest despite differences.”

The sitting did not get off to an easy start as Vote 1, the Presidency, sparked sharp criticism from across the opposition benches. DA MP Sej Motau cautioned that the president should not be fooled by his own propaganda, while Cope MP Willie Madisha argued that the “looting, rape, plunder of our state could not have been done without the person who could have said that should be done… Mr Zuma has betrayed our nation”.

The ANC’s response? Party MP and Deputy Chief Whip Doris Dlakude described the Presidency as “as the hub and driver of strategic direction” of government and took a dig at the opposition behaviour during Zuma’s Q&A sessions in the House: “In your haste… for political showmanship they choose to berate, vilify the person instead of robustly questioning the office.”

It was a scrappy just over four-hour afternoon session. Some presiding officers got themselves muddled on votes, divisions and the length of time the bells needed to be rung ahead of a vote. Some of the voting buttons on MPs’ parliamentary seats failed. The translation services were shoddy: one ANC point of order against EFF MP Makoti Khawula calling Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane a “fraudster” could not be ruled on immediately due to discrepancies in what the ANC raised and the translation that came through the earpieces.

In this bruising, slow-moving marathon sitting, the only bright spot was Vote 12, Statistics South Africa, which was approved unanimously.

At just past 18:00 the Budget, the Appropriations Bill and its schedules, was adopted with 79 votes against and 219 in favour – and sent to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to approve it by June 29.

As MPs left the National Assembly chamber, the Budget may have been done and dusted on the back of ANC numbers, but not so state capture. DM

Photo: Atul Gupta and President Jacob Zuma (GCIS)

Gallery

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