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22 July 2017 20:52 (South Africa)
Opinionista Alison Tilley

Parliament: Not just speeches and throwing things – votes count too

  • Alison Tilley
    alison-tilley-01.jpg
    Alison Tilley

    Alison Tilley is the head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

It is a comforting idea that the fist fights in Parliament are just theatre, while behind the scenes parties work harmoniously together to get the work of Parliament done. This was reiterated by none other than Jackson Mthembu, the Chief Whip of the majority party, in a recent response to Dennis Davis on You be the Judge.

Mthembu may well be right. However, it is not enough for the committees to be working. Parliament itself isn’t just speeches and throwing things – it votes, and those votes are important. It is Mr Mthembu’s job to ensure that if a motion is put to a vote in the House there will be enough votes to secure passage of the motion, even in the context of running battles. He failed to do that last week, when the governing party put forward a list of 5 candidates for the most senior positions in the Information Regulator to Parliament for a vote.

The vote failed.

The Regulator positions must be supported by a majority of the house, which is 201 votes. It is not a simple majority of those present. There were only 198 vote for the candidates. The sticking point for the 59 Members of Parliament from the opposition benches that voted against her was apparently the inclusion of Pansy Tlakula on the list of five.

In 2014 the public protector recommended, in a report called “Inappropriate Moves”, that the Speaker of Parliament consider what action should be taken against Tlakula for her role in the procurement of a R320-million IEC lease investigation. The original complaint was laid by Bantu Holomisa of the UDM, but his party did not vote against her.

The UDM, PAC and APC called for Tlakula to be given a second chance. UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said she must be given the opportunity to redeem herself as she had faced the consequences of her actions.

Where is she supposed to work? Must she leave South Africa?” Kwankwa asked. The APC’s Themba Godi said Tlakula had served the country well and deserved to be the chairwoman.

The vote was opposed by the IFP, DA and NFP. Glynnis Breytenbach for the DA weighed in, saying that “the shortlisting process for the positions on the now to be established office of the information regulator left much to be desired and was typical of the recent approach of the majority party in the committee of putting everything to the vote and in so doing imposing their will regardless of cogent argument to the contrary… The candidates were comprised of purely ANC choices and no consideration was given to anything proffered by any of the opposition parties.”

The DA did not actually put any candidates forward in the meeting dealing with shortlisting, nor did the IFP or the NFP. It is therefore difficult to discern who they would have preferred on the short list. However, it is of course their prerogative to oppose the list of candidates put forward. The EFF were not in the house, still on suspension from the last fracas, so their views remain unknown.

Fact remains, another important oversight body remains headless, as does the Inspector-General for Intelligence. It does not give one much confidence in the upcoming public protector appointment.

To come back to Mr Mthembu, he was three votes short on this motion. He has a clear majority, but it seems this issue was not important enough to him to get the bums on seats for the vote. So either he failed in his whippery, or he neglected to give any marching orders. Neither option bodes well for the continued functioning of the House, or the appointments that remain in limbo. DM

  • Alison Tilley
    alison-tilley-01.jpg
    Alison Tilley

    Alison Tilley is the head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

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