Fudginess on Phala Phala, Parliament’s Tshwane relocation and another bid for an intelligence inspector-general
President Cyril Ramaphosa could be recalled to Parliament to finish answering questions on the forex robbery at his Phala Phala farm. It will be up to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina and leader of government business, Deputy President David ‘DD’ Mabuza.
In a curious, fudgy call, Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said consultations on whether President Ramaphosa would be recalled to answer questions in the House would happen this week, after invoking the parliamentary rule on breaking deadlocks.
That’s even after agreement was reached in the wake of much discussion in Thursday’s programming committee. One by one, opposition parties came to agree with the ANC’s proposal for a motion in the House to conclude Tuesday’s incomplete Phala Phala question slot.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Ramaphosa gets free pass on Phala Phala forex farm theft as Parliament ‘enters the twilight zone’ ”
What was outstanding was a date, which the opposition said was more urgent than the ANC’s proposal to tag this to the next presidential Q&A on 29 September.
In terms of Parliament’s rules, President Ramaphosa has not completed question 11 on the Order Paper because the four supplementary questions were not asked, let alone answered.
As they had done two days earlier in the House, opposition parties on Thursday again pointed out that Ramaphosa himself had said he was advised not to answer publicly on the robbery, given various investigations into the matter.
“I have been counselled and advised that it is best to address these matters when those (investigative) processes have been done. I stand ready… to take the nation into my confidence. I stand ready to do so, to give an explanation,” Ramaphosa told MPs on Tuesday.
Standing ready to explain is not explaining, nor is it answering.
The status of the Hawks’ investigation into Phala Phala remains unclear — it is under way, Police Minister Bheki Cele said during Wednesday’s security cluster ministerial question time.
In the meantime, the South African Reserve Bank has extended the deadline for answers from Ramaphosa to 8 September. The Public Protector has confirmed receipt of the president’s responses after he was granted extensions in late July.
But Phala Phala seems to be rapidly turning into Ramaphosa’s very own Nkandla.
The precedent for Tuesday’s disrupted questions goes all the way back to August 2014, when cries of “pay back the money” disrupted then president Jacob Zuma’s parliamentary question slot. Eventually abandoned, this Q&A was rescheduled through a motion and finally completed in April 2015, according to Thursday’s programming committee.
Zuma told MPs asking about the taxpayer-funded upgrades at his Nkandla homestead, according to the Hansard of 21 August 2014, “I have responded to the reports about Nkandla… I have responded to all the reports, as I am supposed to do… I’ve responded appropriately.”
ANC MPs defended Zuma at the time, and in March 2016, the Constitutional Court found Parliament’s actions had been “inconsistent with the Constitution” when, with their weight of numbers, ruling party MPs absolved Zuma from having to make any Nkandla upgrade repayments.
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Now the ANC has come out to bat for Ramaphosa, insisting the president had answered the questions on Phala Phala.
“You spoke and you were spoken back to. That’s how the president has responded,” said Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele.
That also was the spin from the Presidency on Wednesday. It had refocused the optics of presidential question time — instead of MPs holding the president to account through their questions, it was Ramaphosa taking the initiative “to update Parliament on key national issues”, according to an official Presidency statement.
It’s a neat bit of PR.
And it’s fudgy to kick a (non) deadlock decision to the ANC trio of Speaker, Chief Whip and Deputy President, as it blurs decision-making in a multi-party institution of public representatives elected by all South Africans.
Also on Thursday arose the fudginess of the feasibility reports on relocating Parliament — years after Zuma, in his 2016 State of the Nation Address, mooted moving Parliament out of Cape Town.
The EFF asked about the feasibility report on the relocation of Parliament at Thursday’s programming committee. In late May 2022, party leader Julius Malema, in a first step, called for public comment on a Private Member’s Bill to relocate Parliament to Tshwane.
“Why the secrecy? We need this report to proceed with the bill,” said EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi.
The Speaker said she was aware of such a study.
“We are coming under pressure. The Public Works Minister has been demanding the same report for the purposes of presenting the matter to Cabinet (to look at the cost of Parliament’s relocation),” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
“Maybe we should find time to be presented (with) the report and talk to the issues…”
That’s fudging what would be a tough political determination, and law-making, as legislation is needed to move the national legislature from Cape Town, according to Section 42(6) of the Constitution.
Previous talk of moving Parliament flopped, although the damage of the 2 January 2022 blaze that devastated the National Assembly and severely damaged the Old Assembly wing may provide renewed impetus.
But relocating Parliament is no mean feat. In built-up Gauteng, finding a home may mean having to find vacant land and building from scratch, something that would take years — never mind the cost.
Inspector-General of Intelligence
It remains to be seen if it’s not another fudge when, on 13 September, the House tries for the second time to recommend a new Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI), this time long-serving Public Works Deputy Director-General Imtiaz Fazel.
The ANC failed to get the constitutionally required two-thirds majority, or 267 votes, for its nomination of anti-apartheid struggle veteran turned DG in the Thabo Mbeki presidency, Reverend Frank Chikane. Only 232 “yes” votes were recorded.
Read in Daily Maverick: “House fails (predictably) to recommend Frank Chikane as new constitutional intelligence oversight boss”
It’s understood that the ANC and DA have found each other on Fazel, who, for some two years, also acted as DG of intelligence, having served a year in the State Security Agency (SSA) in 2013. From 1997 to 2002 he was intelligence ministerial adviser and, after a two-year acting stint, as IGI Chief Operating Officer from 2004 to 2012.
Not everyone is in favour. United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said they cannot support Fazel. “I would like to know what has he done to prevent corruption… He was part of preventing the Auditor-General to investigate (intelligence).”
The IGI post has been empty since March, when previous incumbent Setlhomamaru Dintwe’s term ended.
The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, in its report — as it did with Chikane — “resolved by a simple majority of members present” to nominate Fazel for approval by the House as IGI, according to ATC dated 31 August 2022.
But a simple majority will not cut it. The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority. On the day, numbers in the House will be key to ensure there’s not another fudge. DM