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Creating Holy Cows in SA destroys accountability

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John Steenhuisen is the leader of the Democratic Alliance.

South Africa in 2019 is in a state of denial, labouring under the remnants of the delusion of Ramaphoria. It is a magical place where dreams are sold on the cheap and bought without much question. At the head of it all is the magician conjuring up beautiful images of a futuristic Ramatopia, the President himself, who has somehow become elevated to a status of untouchability.

It is against this background that a bizarre narrative has taken hold that the Democratic Alliance should never have lodged our complaint with the office of the Public Protector. This after the President’s recent misleading of the House in answer to a parliamentary reply by the leader of the opposition in relation to the Bosasa matter. Ironically, it is often the very same individuals bemoaning this who were happily cheering on the former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, for her interventions in the Zuma matter.

It is clear that these protagonists subscribe to a Ramaphoric school of thought, believing that the President is the only answer to South Africas woes, and that we must back off from him to allow him room to work his reputed magic even when there is prima facie evidence of possible offences or abuses committed by him. They conveniently forget the fact that the South African Constitution states at its outset that the Republic is one, sovereign, democratic statefounded on, among other values, those of supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law”.

These principles are entrenched in our Constitution, inviolable and sacrosanct. It is the foundation on which our state is built. The DA, as a liberal democratic party, are strong defenders of the rule of law. It is one of the foundational principles on which our partys vision is grounded, and it is included as such in our federal constitution.

The DA is animated by this belief in the importance of proper procedure and adherence to the law and the principle of equality before this law. It is against this belief that we referred a complaint against President Ramaphosa to the Public Protector.

The complaint has its genesis in an oral question-and-answer session with the President in Parliament in November 2018. When confronted with a proof of payment of half a million rand from controversial businessman Gavin Watson to an account said to be linked to the presidents son Andile, the President first claimed to have satisfied himself that the payment was in terms of an above-board business arrangement between his son and Gavin Watsons company.

Later, he wrote to Parliament to confess that the payment was in actual fact a contribution to his own campaign for president of the ANC. The President claimed to have only become aware of this fact after his reply in Parliament, but because the facts did not add up we submitted a complaint to the Public Protector, requesting that she investigate the possibility that Parliament was misled.

Our referral was made in terms of the Code of Ethical Conduct birthed from the Executive MembersEthics Act, which specifies that no member of the executive can “wilfully mislead the legislature to which they are accountable”.

It is a vitally important provision because if members of the executive, from the President down, are simply able to mislead Parliament with impunity and without consequence, it completely undermines and emasculates the tool of parliamentary questions as an accountability mechanism and renders them moot.

Furthermore, the office of the Public Protector is, by law, the custodian of this very same Executive Members Ethics Act and must investigate any alleged breach of the code of ethics by a member of Cabinet. In terms of the law, this was the not only the appropriate channel to follow in this instance, it was, in fact, the only channel available to the DA as the President, not being a member of Parliament, falls well outside the reach of any internal Parliamentary disciplinary process.

It is no secret that the DA does not believe that the current incumbent of the office of Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is a fit and proper person to hold the office. This has been our position from the outset, when we opposed her appointment. Her tenure to date has more than demonstrated our early suspicions. This is why we have asked that Parliament consider her fitness to hold office. The offices current incumbent should not, however, be confused with the institution itself. Incumbents come and go.

Every report produced by the office should be judged on its own merit, regardless of who the current incumbent is and what our opinions on him/her are. Decisions that do not measure up to the law can be challenged in court.

For a strong democracy to develop, robust debate and a vigilant opposition are essential ingredients. Neither is possible if the commentariat establishes Holy Cows – subjects that cant be talked about, and personalities that should be left alone. The law and due process must apply to all equally and the fact that we “like” or “dislike” the President should not be any consideration. It was precisely the elevation of connected individuals into untouchable positions above the law and beyond the reach of consequences that has landed our country in the grip of State Capture.

The DA stands unashamedly as the party of the rule of law. We stood steadfastly in defence of this important principle under the Zuma presidency and we will stand steadfastly in defence of it under the Ramaphosa presidency.

We will not bend the rules to suit an individual or turn a blind eye or grant a legal mulligan to anybody, not even the President. To do so would be inconsistent with our values and a betrayal of our role as a vigilant opposition. DM

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