For a protracted period we have seen events which have raised questions about Parliament’s relevance and its role in holding the Executive to account and its oversight function. President Jacob Zuma has sidestepped questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) and Cabinet Members have been absent when the time comes to answer questions. Why?
Parliament can no longer be a place when those with the majority of seats undermine those who sit on the other side of the House and protect an Executive, which is accountable to Parliament. Furthermore, the majority party has sent its lieutenants from Luthuli House to serve in Parliament, whose only mandate is to sign off and ensure that the party line is toed, even when it is not in the interest of South Africa.
When the work of Parliament was brought to a standstill, it was African National Congress Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, who fired the first response; it was not the Office of the Speaker. Subsequently, the Security and Peace Cluster of the Executive issued held a media briefing in which it announced to militarise Parliament’s security and clamp down on MPs who perform their constitutional duties of holding the Executive of the account.
Luthuli House deploys its lieutenants to the very top; that is, the Office of the Speaker, which is headed by ANC Chairperson, Baleka Mbete. In many countries, the Speaker of Parliament must be politically impartial, and to ensure this, they must resign from any office they hold in their political party. As an independent institution, this Office needs to put the people before politics. The Speaker must not fear a political siege from their party when they make decisions that put the Rules of Parliament and the Constitution first.
Parliamentary oversight, and the function performed thereof by MPs, ensures that what the Executive say and do are in equilibrium is enshrined in Section 55(2)(b) of the Constitution. On numerous occasions, Democratic Alliance public representatives have been barred from their oversight duties. This is a clear case of the majority party covering up what they have not done for the people of South Africa.
In order for democratic and constitutional provides to work, MPs must be free to do their work. Especially as the Official Opposition, the DA cannot be blocked from overseeing where policy is, and in many cases is not, implemented.
The work of MPs is not only to deliver speeches but it also to report back the voters who voted them into seats of the National Assembly.
This brings me to the work of Portfolio Committees, where the real work legislative work of our country happens.
Commentators and South Africans have incorrectly labelled the Economic Freedom Fighters as the ‘official opposition’ due to their political gimmicks. In the end South Africa must ask: what has their contribution been on law-making? Unlike the EFF, the DA has the numbers and institutional memory to contribute to Committees, where our words translate into action.
Often this work is stonewalled by the ANC’s majority, whose directive comes from Luthuli House and not voters. If we are to have real parliamentary debate and strengthened law-making, MPs must receive their mandate from voters and the Constitution.
As a distraction, the majority party obfuscates the issues by making the age-old mistake of saying that those with the loudest voices make the most sense, even if it goes against democratic and constitutional policy.
Equally, if we are to hold the Executive to account, party lines need to be dropped, and the objectivity of service delivery, the National Development Plan (NDP) and Constitution need to be raised.
The Fifth Parliament of democratic South Africa has an opportunity to work for South Africans; this is the lead that the DA is taking by consulting with other opposition parties.
The ANC, however, puts a people’s Parliament aside, and undermines parts of the Constitution and ultimately the people – whether it’s the Spy Tapes, Nkandla, the courts or Chapter 9 Institutions.
Opposition parties may not have the numbers, but as representatives of South Africans we have the strength, and this was displayed by opposition MPs working together on the Nkandla Ad Hoc Committee.
No more must South Africa be dictated to by Luthuli House: the interests of South Africa must be placed before politics. DM