ANALYSIS: EX-MINISTER RUSH HOUR

Resignations by former ministers give the lie to the ANC credo of ‘I will serve’

By Marianne Merten 12 June 2019
Caption
Photos: EPA / NIC BOTHMA / Leila Dougan / Gallo Images / The Herald / Eugene Coetzee) / Gallo Images / Foto24 / Jaco Marais

If the rising number of resignations by former ministers shows one thing, it’s that the governing ANC refrain of ‘I will serve wherever I’m deployed’ rings hollow. Despite the deployment humility myth, the back benches of the national legislature are eschewed. That must raise questions, particularly as the Zondo Commission is establishing a special task team into how Parliament exercises its constitutional oversight responsibilities.

This story has been updated to include the resignation of ANC MP, Mildred Oliphant.

The organisational culture of the governing ANC frowns, strongly, on individual expressions of ambition or contestation. It’s always a case of “if the branches nominate me”, or “I will serve wherever I am deployed”, regardless of how publicly the often-bruising lobbying and politicking unfolds. The process has to allow open contestation and lobbying in a regulated framework, also discussed at the 2017 Nasrec ANC national conference, in part to banish slate politics, or the election of a pre-determined group of persons for posts.

The mythological will of the branches in directing the ANC prevails. It doesn’t matter if that is the branch nominations for party office, such as president and secretary-general, or for ANC election candidate lists.

And so, amid speculation early in May that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma might become deputy president, her widely reported public response was: “If I’m asked to sweep the floor, I’ll sweep it very clean. Whatever I’m asked to do, I will do”. As she was appointed to Cabinet as Co-operative Governance Minister, her statement was not tested in reality.

But the ex-ministers’ resignations from Parliament raise a conundrum: If the branches nominated their choices on to the lists of ANC-elected public representatives — and if the branches’ will is the heart of the governing party, as is peddled — then those ex-ministers-turned-backbenchers now resigning from their deployment in Parliament are in effect defying the branches.

By Tuesday afternoon, 11 June 2019, the ex-ministerial resignation toll rose to eight when Derek Hanekom, the former tourism minister, resigned his ANC seat in Parliament after ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini did so earlier in the day. On Monday Jeff Radebe, who last held the energy portfolio after a series of ministries dating back to 1994, handed in his immediate resignation from Parliament, as had Siyabonga Cwele, formerly home affairs minister.

A week earlier ex-state security minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, ex-women’s minister Susan Shabangu, also the mineral resources minister at the time of the August 2012 Marikana Massacre, ex-sports minister Tokozile Xasa and former human settlements minister Nomaindia Mfeketo, once international relations deputy minister and also former Cape Town mayor, handed in their resignations.

Former labour minister Mildred Oliphant on Thursday, June 13 resigned as ANC MP, meaning that all ministers-turned-backbenchers after being dropped from the post-May 2019 elections have ditched Parliament. Oliphant’s resignation was confirmed by Parliament on Twitter, as had some of the previous resignations.

The reasons are undoubtedly different for each — be it political considerations, retirement saving finances or a potential new career path, perhaps in diplomacy — but central to all is a loss-of-office gratuity.

That gratuity is the equivalent of four months’ full salary for every five years served, capped at a full year’s remuneration. For Radebe and Hanekom that would mean a R2.4-million payout after serving 25 years and 23 years respectively in the executive.

The calculations for Mfeketo, Xasa and Letsatsi-Duba may be a bit more complicated: They are eligible for a gratuity equivalent to four months’ salary after their one five-year term in the executive that covered both ministerial positions and stints as deputy ministers, earning R1.9-million annually.

Such a mixed calculation would also affect Shabangu’s 23 years in the executive: She served both as deputy minister from 1996 to 2009 and Cabinet minister from 2009.

Dlamini and Cwele, who each completed a decade in the executive, stand to receive a R1.6-million gratuity, or the equivalent of eight months’ salary, representing two full five-year terms.

All ministers-turned-backbenchers would have also made retirement savings calculations. The Political Office Bearers’ Pension Fund is predominantly a defined contribution fund, but with a defined benefit component, as the fund states on its website. And that includes a resignation benefit.

Importantly, every one of them would have been briefed on the impact of elections on their retirement funds in the final days of the previous term of Parliament, or the fifth Parliament in officialese. The fund’s post-election gratuity would not be paid until a member actually left office, which unless they resigned, could be years in the future.

However, benefit amount calculated ‘as if’ member left office in 2019 will be inflation-proofed up to date when member finally leaves office”, according to the March 2019 workshop presentation. Effectively, that benefit would not increase in a real sense as it is only protected from being eroded by inflation.

Meanwhile, the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers is considering fund benefits for service after the 2019 elections, according to the presentation.

So that benefit would have been a consideration, especially when ministers contributed 7.5% of their salaries, which since 2017 were at just above R2.4-million, with the state contributing a further 17%. And while in a defined contribution fund the overall value continues to increase, ex-ministers would see a definite and significant drop in that increase — to around R1.1-million for an ordinary MP – at a time when all but one had reached official retirement age.

In this scenario, age may well be a consideration as the Political Office Bearers’ Pension Fund resignation benefit can be taken as a retirement lump sum with better tax implications, rather than income for those younger than 55. Of the resigned ex-ministers-turned-backbenchers, only Xasa has missed that age threshold.

The loss of blue light official transport and VIP airport lounge access, bodyguards and, let’s be honest, prestige, may also have played a role. But some perks ex-ministers enjoy would have continued even in their careers as ANC backbenchers.

These include state-subsidised housing and, according to the 2007 Ministerial Handbook, 48 single business class domestic airline tickets a year, which ex-ministers receive, alongside 24 for their spouses/partners. These airline tickets remain a benefit regardless of where the ex-ministers find themselves.

It’s not clear whether this provision in Chapter 10 of the handbook has changed — while the ministerial handbook has been in revision for a decade, it’s not clear whether this review is now completed, and if so, when the new ministerial handbook will be made public.

But the resignation of the eight ex-ministers-turned-backbenchers after being dropped from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet after the 2019 elections have set a blunt and public example of how the ANC mythology of the party’s branches being at the centre of the organisation is just that — lore. For the ANC this must raise serious questions, particularly in the push for organisational renewal.

For Parliament, questions arise why serving in the national legislature seems insufficient, not only for these eight ex-ministers, but also fellow former minister Nomvula Mokonyane, who withdrew herself from being even sworn in as an ANC MP, as did former National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and Malusi Gigaba, who had been nominated back at spot 23 on the ANC national election list after having resigned in November 2018 in the wake of having run out of appeals against a judgment that he had lied in court, and a leaked solo sex video.

If Parliament is shunned as deployment by 11 senior ANC members, the national legislature also finds itself in a tough spot in the governing ANC factional contestation. Almost five weeks after the election results were declared, no official announcement has followed on parliamentary committee chairpersons or the Chair of Chairs, the position Mokonyane declined to take up in favour of working at the ANC’s Luthuli House head offices. An announcement could be made at Thursday’s ANC parliamentary caucus.

Committee chairpersons are central in directing the work of MPs, from processing legislation to oversight. But it is also a potentially tough political post, particularly amid the factional fault lines that seem to indicate ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule pushing for chairpersons from the radical economic transformation (RET) grouping, shorthand for supporters of former president Jacob Zuma and those not on the same page as Ramaphosa.

The quality of oversight has been sharply criticised by opposition parties for years, and on Monday, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, in his capacity as chairperson of the State Capture inquiry, also had questions about how Parliament had exercised its constitutional duty of oversight. A special task team would be established, he said, “to look at issues of how Parliament exercised oversight over the years in regard to issues of State Capture and corruption…”

Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said no official notification had been received from the commission and it was premature to comment.

The official protocol and formalities are to unfold in the wake of Zondo’s statements at Monday’s SABC broadcast of proceedings.

It may well be that if Parliament had played its oversight role some of the challenges may have been dealt with early,” Judge Zondo said. “So it’s important to have a look and to see where there may have been failures on the part of Parliament, on the part of portfolio committees, and see what would need to be done to for the future… to make sure that if similar things come up in the future, Parliament would play its role and maybe stop some things from progressing too far.”

It was important to look at whether there were capacity problems with committees, added Judge Zondo, “or whether there were elements of State Capture within portfolio committees themselves”.

As the full establishment of the post-8 May election Parliament unfolds, the governing ANC would do well to act in the interest of the country, and not a party faction. DM

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