Our president has too much power, says Moseneke
THE PRESIDENT’S right to exercise personal preferences in appointing heads of major positions in public institutions might be a hindrance to democracy, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke said yesterday.
The judge was delivering the keynote address at Unisa during a conference entitled “20 years of democracy in South Africa: Where to now”.
His topic was “Reflections on South African Constitutional Democracy – transition and transformation”.
The event was hosted by the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute and the Maphungubwe Institute to reflect on the past and to find a way to carry the country forward into the next two decades of democracy.
Justice Moseneke told the gathering that an examination of the powers of the national executive showed a remarkable concentration of the presi- dent’s powers of appointment – something that was not in line with the separation of powers.
Only in a few instances did he exercise powers of appointment together with Parliament and other organs of state. “As for the rest, the president appoints within exclusive discretion.”
Justice Moseneke also questioned the wisdom of appointing members of the cabinet exclusively from Parliament and asked if that best advanced the duty members of Parlia- ment had – to hold the executive to account.
“If their career’s logical advancement is within the national executive, are members of Parliament likely to rattle the executive cage? Will they fulfil their constitutional mandate by holding the national executive to account?” he asked.
“This uncanny concentration of power is a matter which, going forward, we may ignore, but only to our peril,” he said.
The deputy chief justice, a former Robben Island political prisoner, also said the country’s courts had on several occasions adjudicated challenges against the rationality of several appointments made by President Jacob Zuma.
“It is self-evident that an appointment by a deliberate collective is less vulnerable to a legal challenge or rationality than an appointment by an individual functionary,” he said.
Justice Moseneke highlighted how best appointments of public functionaries to institutions that girded the country’s democracy could be shielded from personal preferences and the whims of the appointing authority.
He suggested a revisit of the dispersal of public power in the next two decades. At the time of the formulation of the final constitution, parties relied on the integrity of then president Nelson Mandela to do the right thing when appointing public functionaries.