Bal­ance of power in a democ­racy

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

THERE has been much to worry about in South Africa’s body politic in re­cent months. The nar­ra­tive has been re­lent­less, tales of state cap­ture dom­i­nat­ing and per­me­at­ing right through to bedrock.

Our lead­ers haven’t helped, some have been ac­tively stok­ing up the fires play­ing the race card in acts of shame­ful ex­pe­di­ence to de­flect at­ten­tion, oth­ers have been con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence, deaf­en­ing the dis­course with their si­lence.

There is much though, to be more than happy about; par­tic­u­larly how the ju­di­ciary and the leg­is­la­ture have been work­ing to check and bal­ance the ex­ec­u­tive.

For many, Par­lia­ment has be­come de­fined by the sin­gu­larly ap­palling be­hav­iour – on both sides of the House – which has come to de­fine what should be the pomp and cer­e­mony of its open­ing and the de­liv­ery of the State of the Na­tion Ad­dress.

This is un­for­tu­nate be­cause it ig­nores the in­cred­i­ble work be­ing done by the port­fo­lio com­mit­tees set up to pro­vide demo­cratic over­sight over the var­i­ous min­istries.

There was a brief glimpse of their po­ten­tial dur­ing the hal­cyon Man­dela era, but the com­mit­tees – like Par­lia­ment in gen­eral – be­gan their slow and in­ex­orable de­cline in the Mbeki era. Now though, they have re­dis­cov­ered their teeth, man­ag­ing to work to­gether de­spite po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, to hold min­is­ters, di­rec­tors-gen­eral and heads of state owned en­ter­prises to ac­count.

We saw just how ef­fec­tive they could be dur­ing the long-run­ning SABC de­ba­cle un­der the Te­flon­like regime of Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng.

This week it was the turn of the Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Port­fo­lio com­mit­tee di­rec­tor gen­eral Dan Mat­shi­tizo who failed to ap­pear, de­spite be­ing or­dered by Min­is­ter Nomvula Mokonyane to rep­re­sent her.

His ab­sence served only to spur mem­bers to give him a lec­ture in ab­sen­tia on his role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties – and in­deed some of the sanc­tions he and other er­rant pub­lic ser­vants or politi­cians could face in the near fu­ture. This in­cludes the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing to op­er­ate with­out a bud­get, and by in­fer­ence no funds for salar­ies.

It was a per­fect les­son in the bal­ance of power be­tween arms of gov­ern­ment in a democ­racy.

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