THIS IS NOT YOUR HOUSE
The line between party and state is often fine in modern democracies. Many political parties that assume state power find themselves battling to draw a visible line between the two.
South Africa’s electoral and political systems make it even more difficult to abide by this line. It’s a winner-takes-all system, where the party that assumes power nominates and elects the president and premiers in the provinces it wins.
That president selects his Cabinet from among members of the National Assembly and even gets the privilege to choose two ministers who are outside of Parliament. The ruling party gets to deploy directorsgeneral and the Cabinet ratifies a ministers’ choice of deputy directors-general for their respective departments.
The chief executives of stateowned companies with multibillionrand budgets, ambassadors and the heads of various state institutions are chosen by the winning party. All these crucial positions are given to deployed cadres who are entrusted with delivering on the mandate of the party.
It’s not just the ANC that does this. When the DA won the Western Cape in 2009, it quickly purged the heads of departments appointed by the outgoing ANC premier and MECs, and replaced them with those who are in line with the DA’s policies and thinking.
But even with this system in place, the doctrine of the separation of powers has largely been respected in the 20 years of our democracy.
Accusations that members of the executive treat Parliament with contempt, or want to turn it into a rubber stamp of executive committees, have always been whispered in the corridors.
But apart from ministers who often fail to make time to account to committees and to the House, there has never been open and active attempts to tamper with the doctrine of the separation of powers.
That is until Tuesday morning, when ministers in the security cluster took it upon themselves to completely disregard Parliament, usurp the powers of the Speaker and turn the institution into an organ that is nothing but an extension of executive power.
The ministers – without any representation from Parliament – organised a press conference and dictated to Parliament how it should henceforth be dealing with disruptions in the National Assembly and its activities, as happened last week when Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members brought the House to a standstill, demanding that President Jacob Zuma pay back the money spent on upgrades to his Nkandla estate.
No matter how repulsive and disrespectful the actions of the EFF members were, it should have been left to Speaker Baleka Mbete to determine and decide future measures to deal with such interruptions.
Yes, the policing function is controlled by the executive, via the minister of police, but Mbete is the head of a separate arm of state. She would have consulted the ministers for their input on improving security in the precinct and included their input in her security assessment.
What the security cluster ministers did was reduce Mbete to an apparatchik who can be ordered around by the executive and be instructed about the security measures she needs to implement in her House.
The Constitution was torn into shreds by the executive; and Speaker Mbete – one of its key custodians – allowed it to happen under her watch.
ANC MPs are not happy about this briefing or some of the over-the-top statements coming from Luthuli House, such as ANC secretarygeneral Gwede Mantashe’s illconsidered comments about moving Parliament from Cape Town because in his mind the police are partisan in a DA-controlled province.
The debate about the location of Parliament and the costly exercise of shuttling ministers and government officials between the two cities is an important one.
In fact it’s one area where the EFF and the ANC agree. But it cannot be as a response to some imaginary security threat posed by the EFF in their red overalls and in-your-face approach.
The ANC caucus must stand up and challenge ministers not only for undermining Parliament, but by telling Luthuli House to back off.
π There is an attempt to interfere with the functioning of her office, in violation of section 181(4) of the Constitution, which states that no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of institutions supporting democracy. π The Public Protector is of the view that, in line with the constitutional imperative to ‘take appropriate remedial action’, her role on the matter ends once the president has complied with the duty to submit to Parliament her report with his comments and intentions on action in pursuit of remedial action. π It is the Public Protector’s belief that her exhaustion of the process to its ultimate conclusion as required by law supports parliamentary democracy. It is, s, therefore, unclear in what way her letter to the president has undermined Parliament, or what exactly the letter has taken away from Parliament. π She considers as interference the extraordinary attempts by parties to instructct her office on how to perform its functions. In addition, nowhere in the Public Protector’s tor’s letter to the president does she ask the president to submit his comments to her. er. She specifically asks the president to comply with the law and report to Parliament. ment. π The Public Protector considers her action to be enriching the parliamentary process by ensuring that Parliament has a response to evaluate.
π It has become that Office’s habit to label and demonise those who disagree with it on matters of principle. π By directly writingwritin to the president regarding his report, which is curcurrently before a process of Parliament, she has demonstrated disregard for the authority of ParliamentParliam and lack of confidence in its lawful processes. π She is encroachinencroaching on the constitutional authority of the institution. π In essence, her actionactio establishes a parallel process that not only duplicates the work of the ad hoc committee, but renders the paparliamentary process meaningless. π Our coconstitutional institutions ought to resrespect and complement each other’s ppowers and functions, rather than compete and undermine each other.