Our Burning Planet

OUR BURNING PLANET ANALYSIS

Hope in Parliament’s environmental oversight dims as Faith Muthambi takes the reins

Zuma wrecking ball Faith Muthambi. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)
By Don Pinnock
01 Sep 2021 24

Faith Muthambi, who took over as chairperson of the National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Environment this week, is not a politician known for solving problems — in fact, she has a long history of causing them.

The job of parliamentary portfolio committees is to provide public oversight of the functioning of government departments to see if they are delivering on promises. 

Appointing a Zuma wrecking ball like Faith Muthambi — trailing a history of structural damage and dishonesty — to head the Environment Committee sends a strong signal that whatever committee in the ANC made the decision is either unconcerned about the looming problems of the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse or is unaware of them. Alternatively, and worryingly, it sees little value in parliamentary public oversight.

That Muthambi continues to be given positions of influence is puzzling. As minister of communications, according to a Hansard transcript, Muthambi leaked Cabinet memos to the Guptas. Her emails, though directed to Ashu Chawla, the CEO of the Gupta-owned Sahara company, were headed “Hi Tony” and were forwarded to Tony Gupta.

In July 2017 the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse laid treason charges against Muthambi for the leaks. Its report was referred to Parliament’s communication committee. 

In discussions in March 2018, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, MPs across the political divide agreed Muthambi should be charged and “sent to prison”. It is unclear what the outcomes were, but prison was not one of them.

At the Zondo Commission into State Capture, in May 2021, Muthambi admitted sharing classified information, but was unrepentant: “I shared confidential information, but with people I was allowed to.” She said she sent it as part of “stakeholder engagement”.

As minister of communications, Muthambi and Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC’s chief operating officer, were central to the unravelling at the public broadcaster. 

In 2015 the Western Cape High Court found that Muthambi had acted irrationally and unlawfully in her appointment of Motsoeneng, who was found to have abused his position of power, committed fraud and maladministration which led to the SABC’s financial crisis. 

Parliament’s final report on its SABC inquiry, adopted in May 2017, found that Muthambi “had politically interfered in the public broadcaster” and “displayed incompetence”. The president, it said, “should seriously reconsider the desirability of this particular minister retaining the communications portfolio”. Being Zuma, he didn’t.

With the dust still settling on that debacle, Muthambi was moved to the Department of Public Service and Administration in the controversial 2017 Cabinet reshuffle that saw the departure of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from the finance ministry.

In her new ministry, Muthambi similarly caused disquiet. A Public Service Commission probe investigated Muthambi’s hiring of more officials to her private office than permitted in the ministerial handbook. Parliament’s public service and administration committee also investigated the minister’s spending of about R300,000 to host guests for her budget vote in 2017, and then ditching a date with MPs to explain herself. 

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his new Cabinet, Muthambi lost her post. Gone, but clearly not forgotten. In 2018 Daily Maverick’s parliamentary writer, Marianne Merten, reported with bemusement that Muthambi was popping up in diverse positions across the country. 

She was in Cape Town serving on the Parliamentary Labour Committee, in Durban for former president Jacob Zuma’s court appearances on corruption, fraud and other charges, and in Tshwane when the ANC National Executive Committee met. 

“It’s as if the devastation of the SABC on her watch, misleading Parliament, supplying protected Cabinet information to the Guptas and the repeated delays of South Africa’s digital migration never happened.”

Her latest reward for service to the ANC? Appointment as chairperson of the National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. 

The committee will soon consider Minister Barbara Creecy’s innovative policy report on the future of lions, elephants, rhinos and leopards. Where Muthambi’s loyalties lie in that debate or whether she’ll understand its implications for South Africa’s global reputation is anybody’s guess. DM/OBP

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Absa OBP

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All Comments 24

    • I agree 100%. cr and his anc cronies seem no different from jz and his bunch of imbeciles. Just a continuation of the feeding at the trough and total destruction of SA and its people.

      • Sad Gerrie. Im losing all hope in CR having been one of his supproters for change. then you see this complete idiot put into positions of power , still! The answer to the last paragraph re B Creecys draft, is NO, she will simply not understand! Cry Cry Cry!

        • Let.s check if Parliament has power to appoint any committee member or chair without CR approval. I doubt it and until proof of it the sole responsibility of such dodgy nominations resides exclusively on the National Assembly head/s. Who is in charge there? Can only be a Zumba number!!!
          Just identify the character and SHAME him/her

    • The Karpowerships are coming. The ANC needs a few sources of huge income. Hence the proposed 20yr deal. Gwede will join the ranks of ANC billionaires and a steady flow of cash to Luthuli House is assured.
      Havana will continue to be an ANC laundromat.

  • Scraping the bottom of the barrel…. or strategic push for her appointment by “other” factions of the ANC to undermine the climate crisis and the decisions of minister Creecy…? we have Gwede pushing for nuclear and Karpower ships…this does not bode well for transparency, integrity and oversight of this critical portfolio!

      • She will just have to agree to ‘the powers that be’. After all, she is a woman and nogal white at that. Other alternative will be that she ‘resigns’ or gets transferred somewhere else. gm will win this round, of that I am convinced.

  • Her appointment goes hand in hand with the opportunity to promote another Nuclear power station in SA. All part of our VP’s recent trips to Russia sorting out the “incentives” to the politically connected few!
    Sadly one can’t help suspecting that nothing has changed. The PPE saga only a year ago during our biggest time of need indicates that the ANC politicians are only interested in what they personally can get out of anything. Hence the collapse of our SOE’s. And the taxpayer ends up paying the price.
    Call me paranoid…but nothing the ANC has done proves me wrong!

  • This proves once again that cr and his anc can never be trusted. Appointing someone like this into any position other than ‘jailbird’ is a glaring example that they feel absolutely nothing for SA and its people.

  • How on earth this epitome of cadre deployment holds any office at all sums up why SA is failing
    I can not believe that there are no more capable people available

  • Ramaphosa forgets his pledges to South Africa 5 minutes after he’s made them.
    “No More Corruption”
    “There will be No PPE looting”
    “Hiring of ethical and competent people only”

    Ramaphosa is Zuma. Zuma is Ramaphosa. The NEC is 100% conflicted.

    They’re all Zumaphosa/Ramazuma.
    Zuma gets medical parole. 😂
    Mapisa-Nqakula is promoted R13m later. Pig-unfriendly Modise put in charge of SANDF.
    SIU is told to slow down on R2bn fraud investigation against EFF
    ZD the tax Billionaire not only walks free, he’s vying for the top job. Ace, Supra, Koko, Lucky, etc etc…all living large.

    There is no hope for SA under the rule of the ANC. SA is truly a Gangster State.

  • How can something so important be put in this woman’s hands? She is not even capable of taking the reins of a donkey in a thoroughbred horse race.

  • How is this person still anywhere near a position of responsibility??? Our environmental oversight, already in a parlous state, is doomed!

  • If you wish to do something to counter this display of contempt for the environment by the national government, a start could be to join the protest actions against the DMRE in Pretoria and Cape Town on 22nd and 24th September.

  • This is merely CR protecting his back…..hopefully this woman can do less damage in this position than any other position she may have had to be given. Politics is a dirty game – and we in South Africa are seeing the worst of it. Hopefully we’ve reached the bottom of the barrel now. Time will tell.

    • Unfortunately she can do great damage by allowing the schemes like Karpowerships and new nuclear build to proceed, despite the possible/probable environmental harm. She will do GM’s bidding and cannot be trusted.