On 21 August 2014 there was an interesting spectacle at the National Assembly of the South African Parliament when President Jacob Zuma was asked to account, about the public money he used for the upgrades at his Nkandla homestead, as required in the Public Protector’s report. President Zuma engaged in doublespeak and egg dancing as he is wont. But Economic Freedom Fighters Members of Parliament would not have any of that and parliament erupted into pandemonium as a consequence of President Zuma’s verbal gymnastics and prevarication.
On 22 August 2014, the SABC’s Morning Live television show played a clip in which Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete said that EFF Members of Parliament have no respect for parliament. That’s rich coming from the Chairperson of the ruling party. Does the ANC itself have respect for parliament?
The preamble and Section 181 and 182 of the Constitution clearly spell out the constitutional and legislative mandate of the Public protector. It reads in part thus: The Constitution establishes the Public Protector as one of the several independent institutions that are to strengthen and support democracy. The Public Protector is accountable to the National Assembly and must report on activities and performance of functions to the National Assembly at least once a year. No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the Public Protector. All organs of state are required by the Constitution to assist and protect the Public Protector and other constitutional institutions to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of these institutions. They are further forbidden from interfering with the functioning of the Public Protector and other constitutional institutions.
Unpacking some of the functions and duties of the Public Protector and other pertinent points would be in order.
On the issue of strengthening and supporting constitutional democracy, the question we must ask is how did the actions of EFF Members of Parliament weaken and undermine democracy by demanding answers from President Jacob Zuma only to be prevented from doing so by the partisan interjection of Speaker of Parliament? How do the actions of President Zuma strengthen and support democracy by ducking and diving? He has failed to uphold the constitution of this country by playing hanky-panky on the remedial action sought by the Public Protector. President Zuma must honour his constitutional obligations. If Parliament can’t bring pressure to bear on President Zuma to respect the jurisdiction of the Public Protector and hold him to account then it has no reason to sit. Suspending the seating of Parliament temporarily and calling in the police to Parliament, a place meant for debates, to protect a dishounarable and wayward Head of State exposed the dark underbelly of the ANC.
The Public Protector is accountable to the National Assembly and must report on its activities and functions to the National Assembly at least once a year. The Public Protector has fulfilled her constitutional and legislative duties on the Nkandla scandal on a shoe-string budget for that matter. What was left for President Jacob Zuma to do was to account to Parliament what happened to millions of Rands of the tax payers’ money as required or demanded by Members of Parliament, not only of the EFF but of other political parties as well. The ruling party can’t rely on its parliamentary majority (voting cattles), delaying tactics and the partisan Speaker of Parliament in order to circumvent issues of national importance while they are willy-nilly looting state coffers with impunity and brazen affront.
No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the Public Protector. This constitutional provision was clearly violated by those Cabinet Ministers who formed part of the security cluster – Nathi Mthethwa, Siyabonga Cwele and Jeff Radebe. They intimidated the Public Protector by threatening her with prosecution should she make her report of the Nkandla scandal public. They also attempted to approach the courts to seek a court interdict and accused her of leaking the report to the media all of which came to naught. One wonders if they are or were familiar with The Public Protector Act 23 of 1994.
The previous Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu constituted a Parliamentary Committee to look into the Public Protector’s report which was dissolved by ANC MP’s prior to the May 9 national elections perhaps with the hope that it will go away. Unfortunately it hasn’t gone away and has come back to haunt the ANC. The dissolution by the ANC in parliament of the committee that was constituted by former Speaker Sisulu is one of the delaying tactics employed by the ANC to buy time.
The Public Protector’s report was finally presented to the Special Investigating Unit apparently by Zuma. The SIU which had previously said it had completed its investigation into the Nkandla scandal somersaulted and reported that it hadn’t completed its investigations. When President Zuma was requested to respond to the Public Protector’s report he said he was waiting for the SIU to complete its investigations. The SIU is not a constitutional body; it is a statutory body whose head is appointed by Zuma himself. Moreover, the SIU has shown itself to be pliant and manipulable. Its findings in this matter are neither here nor there.
In another matter involving Zuma, the handing over of the spy tapes as ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal has not been honoured. There is stone-walling, especially by President Zuma. He has also instituted a bogus arms deal commission of inquiry whose outcome is predetermined. This is done at the tax payers’ expense. He undermines our intelligence. Not only is he undermining our intelligence but he is also cocking a snook at the legislative assembly, the judiciary and the executive. He has become a law unto himself. Given this state of affairs why should members of the parliamentary opposition observe parliamentary decorum?
By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a Senior Researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI). He can be contacted on 078 178 3623.