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It’s time to ground former MPs’ flights

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Marianne Merten has written on Parliament since 2016 for Daily Maverick. The intersection of governance, policy and politics unfolds at many levels, from tiny nuggets of information hidden in the voluminous stacks of papers tabled at the national legislature to the odd temper tantrum by a politician. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes baffling, even after 26 years as a hack, there are few dull days in the parliamentary corridors.

Parliament announced the independent panel to assess and report back within 30 days whether there is a case to consider Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s removal.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Sometimes what affects the House happens outside it. Like the next round in the Public Protector’s protracted court battle against the inquiry into her removal from office. This week Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane asked for leave to appeal the dismissal of her bid for an interdict to stop Parliament from inquiring into whether or not she’s fit for office.

On 9 October, Judge Vincent Saldanha, with fellow Western Cape High Court judges Monde Samela and Elize Steyn, dismissed Mkhwebane’s application.

“It is moreover not only in the public interest, but of equal importance are considerations by this court of not unduly intruding into the terrain of the National Assembly that is constitutionally mandated of holding the applicant accountable…”

Tuesday’s leave to appeal hearing may turn out to be round one of an appeal bid that could go all the way to the Constitutional Court.

Regardless, Parliament announced the independent panel to assess and report back within 30 days whether there is a case to consider Mkhwebane’s removal. This is step three in a 17-step process. And it’s an eminent panel: retired Constitutional Court Judge Bess Nkabinde and advocates Dumisa Ntsebeza and Johan de Waal.

Establishing the panel is important: it’s the legislative sphere of the state’s assertion of its constitutional mandate and responsibilities against time pressure, legal challenges and politicking.

 

Sometimes Parliament misses a beat

The 2007 Ministerial Handbook accorded former ministers 48 single business class air tickets and 24 for their spouses, every year, with ex-deputy ministers getting 36 single business class air tickets and their spouses 18.

It was always clear this travel privilege was for Parliament’s purse. Those perks were done away with in 2019’s Ministerial Handbook that came into effect on 20 November 2019 – finally – after a decade-long review.

Yet Parliament continued to shell out for those business class flights, according to a Sunday Times report on a DA Promotion of Access to Information Act request. It’s a multimillion-rand misstep by the institution that should’ve learnt its lessons from the 2003 Travelgate scandal.

Questions must arise how this air travel policy co-ordination has fallen through the cracks. Because ministers and deputy ministers are MPs – only two Cabinet appointments can be made from outside Parliament – they would still qualify for parliamentary benefits as ex-MPs, even if the Ministerial Handbook no longer includes perks for retired ministers and former deputies.

Parliament’s retirees’ travel policy is modest: four single economy domestic air tickets a year, for however many years spent in the national legislature, up to a maximum of 15 years. And that’s all any retired minister or ex-deputy minister should have received from 20 November 2019.

For serving ministers and their deputies the handbook allows 20 flights a year, or the cheapest of three quotes for economy. As MPs, ministers and deputy ministers would also qualify for Parliament’s 88 single air journeys to sitting MPs, and their spouses or partners. That’s a total of 108.

Political party whips get 96 in economy, while House chairpersons and presiding officers, and their spouses or partners, get 96 in business class. Also flying business class are lawmakers 70 years or older, and those with 10 years or more of legislative and parliamentary service. MPs would claim those tickets are just about making it possible to do their jobs. Not even a shill fit for purpose opposition would begrudge those flights to serving members. But paying ex-ministers and ex-deputies ministers for business class flights they don’t qualify for must stop. Immediately. Even as Parliament’s air travel policy review is under way. DM168

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  • And this is exactly why the private sector succeeds where the government fails – how many corporations would shell out this kind of money to provide free flights for FORMER staff members?
    Furthermore, how many private businesses would send a C-level executive to a conference or event, and still pay for their spouse to travel with them?
    The worst is this is LEGAL haemorrhaging of state funds (and perfectly explains why government is so desperate to keep SAA as a going concern) – add this to the billions being siphoned off through tenderpreneurs and state capture and its no wonder our country is one step away from being a failed state!!…

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