Opinionista

Broken Parliament, broken society

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Mmusi Maimane is the chief activist of the One South Africa Movement.

In many ways South Africa faces a crisis. Institutions critical to protecting and upholding democracy are failing. The rules of Parliament, however, imperfectly serve Parliament and its function of law-making and holding the Executive accountable. It’s like sports rules in any code may not be perfect, but they aide in the functioning of the sport.

President Jacob Zuma is the ultimate rule breaker. His track record is one of evading the courts and Parliament all to protect himself. This is damaging to constitutional democracy, but a strengthened and functioning Parliament will ensure that the president is sanctioned and taken to task for breaking the rules.

While South Africa faces crisis after crisis, from Eskom to high levels of unemployment, President Zuma has done everything possible to avoid accounting to citizens and Parliament, which elected him.

Since President Nelson Mandela’s first SONA in 1994, this year’s opening of Parliament is probably the most anticipated, given that it will be the first time President Zuma speaks in the House, after he left the House prematurely on 21 August 2014.

Through the Constitution, the president is mandated to answer oral questions at least once every quarter, which he has failed to do. In this regard, the Democratic Alliance has called for the Speaker and the Presidency to commit President Zuma to no less than five dates, for the President to answer oral questions in the House. The fifth date allows for the president to fill his accountability deficit.

As has been said, rules have been broken and the Constitution has been violated by President Zuma, the Speaker and ANC Members of Parliament, but these rules will not be enforced by breaking other rules.

Enforcement of the Rules of the National Assembly will only be abided by through parliamentary action. It is only a functioning Parliament that can ensure that the president and his Executive are held accountable. A broken Parliament serves no purpose but to bolster a president who has become a law unto himself.

As the DA, we respect the rules, and we will not break the rules in order to ensure that they are enforced.

It has been widely reported that the EFF will not allow the president to deliver his SONA speech unless he takes questions beforehand. This is the ultimatum given to the Speaker.

We have taken a position that endorses allowing the president to deliver his SONA speech, but at the same time, Parliament’s officials must ensure that going forward, Parliament’s oversight authority over the Executive is enforced.

While others flout the rules with reckless abandon, it us up to the DA to ensure, within the confines of the rules, that the rules are upheld and the Executive is held accountable.

If you break the rules in an attempt to enforce the rules, you are no better than those who initially undermined the rules. As George Bernard Shaw quipped about wrestling with a pig, “You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

We must not mistake robust engagement for hooliganism and anarchy.

Our continued fight for accountability and a working Parliament will be long and difficult, but make no mistake, it is a fight we are prepared for. What we are not prepared to fight for is juvenile mudslinging, shouting and disorder that leads to the paralysis of Parliament and its functions. DM

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