Electricity minister has no budget, no department, no performance plan — so no oversight committee, say ANC MPs
The ANC in Parliament on Thursday lifted the lid on the apparent short-term expediency of Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s appointment when they argued against the establishment of an ad hoc oversight committee.
‘The announcement [of a minister of electricity] was made in the context that just over one year remains in the sixth-term administration,” said ANC MP Mina Lesoma on Thursday in a clear reference to the 2024 elections, adding that the appointment wasn’t about overhauling the executive, but about the government being more effective and decisive.
“It [the electricity ministry] has no department… it has no staff… it has no budget and it relies on the administration budget of the Presidency. It does not have a strategic five-year plan, but rather it is an immediate programme over the next… less than two years… because the end of the term is next year. It does not have an annual performance plan, but it is a programme in the Presidency.”
This blunt outline of Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s status came despite President Cyril Ramaphosa not yet finalising the delegation of his ministerial powers.
In a briefing on Wednesday, presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said, “The issue of powers and functions will be resolved soon… There are engagements taking place between the President and minister and other ministers. It is not a matter that has disabled the minister.”
On Thursday, the ANC in Parliament said oversight over Ramokgopa didn’t need a committee. It was already done in seven ways, according to Lesoma. This was later echoed by ANC Deputy Chief Whip Doris Dlakude, who said it was a “false narrative” that Parliament did not hold the executive to account.
The points of oversight are:
- The annual State of the Nation Address debate;
- The President’s and the Deputy President’s Q&A sessions in the House;
- Presidency budget vote debates;
- Debates on any ministerial statement Ramokgopa may give in the House;
- The Presidency presenting reports to Parliament; and
- Ramokgopa’s participation in economic ministerial question sessions in the House.
But DA MP Kevin Mileham, who sponsored the motion for an ad hoc oversight committee for the electricity minister, replied that in terms of the Constitution, Ramokgopa remained individually accountable to Parliament.
“No one is saying there is no accountability. What we are saying is, it is weak and insufficient.”
It’s a non-starter
The proposed ad hoc oversight committee was supported by the EFF, IFP and Freedom Front Plus. But as the ANC objected, given the governing party’s numerical dominance, it’s a non-starter, like the ANC nixed the DA-proposed ad hoc committees on the Phala Phala farm forex scandal and Eskom cartel corruption.
The formal decision on an electricity ministerial ad hoc oversight committee, possibly through a vote, is scheduled for 25 May.
It comes against the backdrop of continued political tussles over the rolling blackouts that leave South Africans without electricity for up to 10 hours a day. And the pressure is on the governing ANC, whose electoral standing has been slipping in the past decade, ahead of the 2024 elections for which campaigning is already effectively under way.
It is such electioneering that the ANC speakers on Thursday implied had led to the DA’s proposals even after the rules committee rejected an electricity committee. However, the DA, EFF, IFP and FF+ agreed such a committee was needed precisely because of the lack of a permanent committee, and because no decision was taken on a Presidency oversight committee.
Parliament’s rules committee on 25 April kicked a Presidency oversight committee for touch to the post-2024 elections crop of MPs, saying more research and an overseas study tour were required. Despite rejecting an electricity committee, it was decided to treat Ramokgopa as having a stand-alone ministry so he could participate in the economic cluster ministerial question slot.
Lack of clarity
While this all seems like parliamentary niceties, it reflects the lack of clarity around Ramokgopa, at least until his powers and functions are delegated. It also reflects the ongoing political tussles, both in Cabinet — where effectively three ministers deal with electricity, energy and Eskom — and within the ANC. It’s broader governance messiness.
Ramokgopa and Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe seem to be on the same page if Wednesday’s parliamentary Q&A is anything to go by.
Mantashe told MPs: “If I had the scope, I would not have decommissioned Komati… Today we have a solar plant in Komati. That solar [plant], instead of the 1,300MW that Komati provided, gives us 200MW. So that decision to decommission Komati, I submit, is a wrong decision.” Mantshe also quipped that he had told the electricity minister to handle all the hot potatoes.
“If the power station has to come to an end, it can be decommissioned. But if the lifespan can be extended, it should be extended because the crisis we are having is the availability of electricity today.”
But the numbers don’t add up. When Komati was decommissioned in October 2022, it barely produced 130MW for the national grid.
Inconsistency and instability
Ramokgopa had touted extending the lifespan of ageing power plants, calling for South Africa “not be on an aggressive path of decarbonisation” in a briefing on 6 April following his tour of power stations.
The Cabinet shot this down on 19 April — the National Energy Crisis Committee would deal with it, according to an official government statement — but then Ramokgopa took the plan to the ANC National Executive Committee on 21 April where it found favour.
This smacks of policy inconsistency and instability. It’s messy, especially when taken together with the lack of dedicated parliamentary oversight on the electricity ministry beyond questions in the House where ministers are deemed to have answered, regardless of the quality or relevance of their replies.
It’s a governance muddle South Africa can ill afford. DM