Ramaphosa Q&A: Talking up BRICS, stalling on Cabinet lifestyle audits announced back in 2018
The afterglow of the BRICS summit provided President Cyril Ramaphosa with a moment to effuse about his administration’s global standing and engage in an otherwise bitty question session in the House that had him sidestepping questions about Zimbabwe’s elections.
Tuesday’s question session in Parliament was about South Africa’s “significant benefit” from the recent BRICS Summit, including boosted trade with the other member states – Brazil, Russia, India and China – alongside a push for manufacturing and beneficiation so that “more than stones and sand” is exported.
“The wealth of our country must remain within our country. We will now see a new revolution; a revolution even young people are talking of… We must now manufacture (goods) from our own minerals,” came President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reply to one of the follow-up questions.
In Sunday’s national televised speech, it was about the expanded BRICS allowing South Africa “to export more of our products to major markets and, as a result, the country will be able to produce more and create more jobs”, while also raising voices for “fairer” global governance and financial systems.
“While an expanded BRICS will be an important champion for the Global South, South Africa stands to benefit from its relationship with these countries,” said Ramaphosa in the televised speech.
The president skirted around DA leader John Steenhuisen’s question about the gender (in)equality of new BRICS members Saudi Arabia and Iran, where women’s rights activists have been harassed, arrested and jailed over driving and dress codes.
“We do not have a holier-than-thou type of approach. We actually communicate very clearly what our policies are… (T)hey get to appreciate the real import and importance of our own values, be they democratic values, be they human rights values, be they even economic values,” replied Ramaphosa, adding that South Africa was friends to all in the world and enemies of none.
“Are we able to have influence? I do believe that we are… even to those who believe they are the oldest and best democracies in the world. We are even able to impart the import of our values to so-called more advanced nations in the world. The Europeans and the Americans… learn a lot from us.”
Unanswered remained Steenhuisen’s question on Ramaphosa attending the inauguration of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa following widely criticised elections, including by SADC. He also did not respond to the question from IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa: “What were you going to do in Zimbabwe?”
But then, the presiding officers had given Ramaphosa a way out both times by ruling those as new questions, and thus not part of Tuesday’s Q&A session for which questions had to be submitted to the Presidency 16 days ago. Follow-up questions can’t be prepared for.
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Less potential rah-rah talk emerged from the official opposition leader’s question on ministerial lifestyle audits that had been promised in the 2018 State of the Nation Address parliamentary debate.
On Tuesday, it was back to kicking for touch.
“The implementation of the lifestyle audits has been delayed to some extent by the change of service providers. It is anticipated this project is concluded in a short space of time.”
None of the MPs, in their follow-up questions, asked for details about this service provider – or the need for one in the first place.
In his September 2018 address to the National Council of Provinces, Ramaphosa announced that a framework for the Cabinet lifestyle audits would be completed by October of that year.
At that time, steps in the process entailed crime and financial intelligence agencies meeting then Presidency DG Cassius Lubisi, and also establishing a task team including the Presidency, Auditor-General, South African Revenue Service, SAPS, Public Service Commission and Financial Intelligence Centre and more, according to News24.
On Tuesday, Ramaphosa talked of an initial process he rejected as “very superficial” – a second process that was too complicated was initiated in late 2022.
Cabinet members had now signed the required information consent forms and “the process would be reported upon” by Presidency Director-General Phindile Baleni, signalling a possible public briefing.
However, it remains unclear whether the lifestyle audits would be made public like the disclosure of interests all parliamentarians, including those appointed as ministers, file to Parliament, which publishes the public part on its website. While the Cabinet, including the President, also submit financial declarations to the Union Buildings, these are not published.
In a subsequent statement, Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa’s response was “even more damning when one considers the numerous media exposés and investigations, which have found evidence that his very own Deputy President Paul Mashatile, among others, lives a life of opulence well beyond his means and bankrolled by those implicated in State Capture”.
This was the opposition leader’s take two. Earlier in the House, Ramaphosa side-stepped a question on Mashatile’s lifestyle, as News24 reported, by saying the audit process “does not focus on an individual”.
Steenhuisen promised more questions to come. DM