‘We feel like Cin­derella’

Vet­eran says Par­lia­ment is un­der­mined by the ju­di­ciary and ex­ec­u­tive, and can­not carry out its con­sti­tu­tional man­date

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA and JANET HEARD news@city­press.co.za

Par­lia­ment is feel­ing un­der­mined by the other two arms of state – the ju­di­ciary and the ex­ec­u­tive – and has ap­pealed to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma to con­vene a meet­ing be­tween the three to iron out is­sues. In an in­ter­view this week about the per­for­mance of the fifth demo­cratic Par­lia­ment, Thandi Modise (55), chair­per­son of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Prov­inces, spoke about the in­sti­tu­tion’s frus­tra­tions at not be­ing able to carry out its con­sti­tu­tional man­date ad­e­quately. She com­plained about “in­ter­fer­ence” from the ju­di­ciary and said Par­lia­ment had a right to run its own af­fairs.

Par­lia­ment also felt un­der­mined by the ex­ec­u­tive, was ham­pered by a short­age of fund­ing and re­sources, and needed to im­prove co­or­di­na­tion with the ex­ec­u­tive.

She said the leg­is­la­ture should not feel like a “Cin­derella” be­tween the other two arms of state. “Par­lia­ment has not been told it is the ju­nior of the three part­ners,” she added.

Modise was elab­o­rat­ing on a sur­prise ad­mis­sion at a par­lia­men­tary break­fast, where she told staff and MPs that while the new dy­nam­ics that characterised Par­lia­ment were “ex­cit­ing”, it felt “un­der­mined on both sides, by the ex­ec­u­tive and the ju­di­ciary”.

“We have ap­pealed for the pres­i­dent to please con­vene the three arms of state. We want to have a dis­cus­sion. We think there is in­ter­fer­ence … Let’s talk, let the ex­ec­u­tive also tell us their frus­tra­tion, let the ju­di­ciary bare their mat­ters.”

Modise said Par­lia­ment needed to have ro­bust mech­a­nisms in place to en­sure acts did not end up in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, that it could ful­fil its over­sight role of hold­ing the ex­ec­u­tive to ac­count and ap­prove bud­gets for de­part­ments, in­clud­ing chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions.

Re­gard­ing re­cent court chal­lenges by op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing a few bruis­ing court rul­ings, Modise said: “I think that in any com­pany, CEOs are given bet­ter re­spect than the ex­ec­u­tive author­ity of Par­lia­ment [the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers].

“As pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers, we want to be free to use our rules, which we have agreed to with­out be­ing threat­ened by court ac­tions … When Par­lia­ment ig­nores its own rules and acts un­fairly, then take us to court, but make sure that at all times, the space of Par­lia­ment is re­spected.

“Look at some of the court judg­ments – and I am re­ally putting my foot in on this one – but some of them just say: ‘I know I shouldn’t be get­ting into this area, but I am go­ing into it any­way.’”

She said Par­lia­ment was funded be­low the in­fla­tion rate, which eroded the abil­i­ties of MPs to do their jobs prop­erly.

To en­sure min­is­ters and de­part­ments were held to ac­count, co­or­di­na­tion needed to be strength­ened be­tween Par­lia­ment and the ex­ec­u­tive – through the leader of gov­ern­ment busi­ness Cyril Ramaphosa. “If a step is missed be­tween the co­or­di­na­tion of the two pro­grammes, then the [par­lia­men­tary] pro­gramme is un­der­mined and this can cre­ate ten­sion.”

Modise would not be drawn into dis­cussing the neg­a­tive im­pact of the Nkandla con­tro­versy, other than to say that the process of hold­ing the pres­i­dent to ac­count was still in process and the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer of the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Baleka Mbete, was driv­ing the process.

Modise said the “new­ness and vigour” that had emerged in Par­lia­ment with the ar­rival of younger MPs in the op­po­si­tion had af­fected the in­sti­tu­tion’s abil­ity to make its own in­ter­nal ar­range­ments. While say­ing that “some of it is very neg­a­tive”, she con­ceded that the en­try of the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters had forced Par­lia­ment to relook at its pro­cesses. She said the party’s ar­rival had co­in­cided with a plan for a re­newal af­ter 20 years of democ­racy and a drive to­wards a more “par­tic­i­pa­tive democ­racy”.

“Some of the rules they crit­i­cise make sense. The young peo­ple come in and say: ‘We think your med­i­cal scheme does not work for us.’ It forces us older ones to look at the med­i­cal aid and say: ‘We think you have a point here.’ It might be good when you are re­tir­ing, but not when you are com­ing in with a young, grow­ing fam­ily.” The vet­eran politi­cian ad­mit­ted that cer­tain sup­port sys­tems had slipped over the years. When she ar­rived as a first-time MP with the estab­lish­ment of the first demo­cratic Par­lia­ment in 1994, she was a young, breast­feed­ing mother un­der 35 years old.

“I had bet­ter sup­port than the new MPs who are at a child-bear­ing age now. At that time, Par­lia­ment was alive to my needs. It of­fered child­care fa­cil­i­ties and spoke to the work­ing con­di­tions of MPs.”

Child­care fa­cil­i­ties were shut down amid a per­cep­tion that MPs were not bring­ing their own chil­dren to Par­lia­ment.

Th­ese ser­vices now needed to be re­in­stated at a time when there were new pres­sures on Par­lia­ment and a squeeze on space, with com­mit­tees hav­ing to be ac­com­mo­dated in ho­tels. The num­ber of MPs had re­mained the same, but their work­load had in­creased with the ex­pan­sion of Cabi­net and more de­part­ments to over­see.

“Un­less you con­sis­tently keep your eye on the ball, cer­tain gains that you think you had are go­ing to slip,” warned Modise.

PHOTO: DEON RAATH

STOP IN­TER­FER­ING

Thandi Modise says Par­lia­ment has the right to run its own af­fairs

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