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Parliament, ConCourt and Business

...editorial…

Parliament wins with ConCourt judgement…

Political comment on recent and fluid events involving Parliament and ConCourt are beyond the brief of ParlyReportConcourt other than perhaps the effect on Parliament as an institution capable of assisting business and industry. Nevertheless, these following words rang out from eleven of our judicial elders from the precincts of the highest court in the land when making their recent unanimous judgement…….

“Certain values in the Constitution have been designated as foundational to our democracy. This in turn means that as pillar-stones of this democracy, they must be observed scrupulously. If these values are not observed and their precepts not carried out conscientiously, we have a recipe for a constitutional crisis of great magnitude. In a State predicated on a desire to maintain the rule of law, it is imperative that one and all should be driven by a moral obligation to ensure the continued survival of our democracy.”

Parliament drawn in

national assemblyGiven those precepts and the fact the highest court in our land took it upon itself to chastise the Speaker of House, ANC’s Baleka Mbete, and the workings of the National Assembly in that there was a lack of respect by the Secretary for Parliament for the Public Protector’s report on the Nkandla issue.The judgement spoke volumes on the lack of Cabinet’s understanding of the principle of separation of powers and focused on its disrespect for Parliament.

But ParlyReport rarely attends the National Assembly (NA) since that it is a place where a politicized debate takes place and the NA merely “dots the i’s” on legislation and registers its vote – legislation that has already been worked on by the parliamentary portfolio and select committees, i.e. the engine room of Parliament.

Most of this “engine room” process has only been slightly compromised by the ConCourt judgement.

ParlyReport’s mandate also is to watch and observe government departments as they spell out their targets, policies and decision-making on major issues affecting business and industry as they report to their relevant committees in terms of oversight. Some of these committee debates are intelligent contributions in the national interest, others less so. Here the system with government departments reporting to Parliament is even less compromised by the ConCourt judgement.

Political debate

The National Assembly, however, is where the political, ideological and debate on party lines takesEFF 2 place, assumedly in a democratic manner but sadly turned into a circus quite often by the EFF. However, one should remember that the judgement of ConCourt was as a result of a decision on the matter brought by the very same Economic Freedom Fighters vs Speaker of the National Assembly and Others and Democratic Alliance vs Speaker of the National Assembly and Others.

In other words, some of the people have spoken but not all of the people. At National Assembly level the ANC closed ranks on the impeachment motion as the nation knows and which was their democratic right whatever the Opposition members might have thought and said. The sight of the Speaker being told to stand down and for the Deputy Speaker take over was sad to see but for the rest, it was democracy in process.

Throughout, the final debate, the level of insults was high but this could be expected on an impeachment motion but Parliamentary procedure was observed by all; the bells rang for ajournment and consideration; the votes counted; the results confirmed on the motion to impeach and all other outstanding motions called for, before closing.

speaker UKIt was just noisier than PMQ in the British Houses of Parliament, that’s all.

In the end it may be said that the Constitution was the winner. The Parliamentary process was indeed observed after ConCourt had noted that the subject matter of the charges had resulted an abuse of Parliament in a number of ways. Now the political process takes over and however dirty it may seem at times in National Assembly debate, this is indeed democracy.

Where it goes wrong

It is unfortunate that what was not foreseen by the authors of an otherwise an excellent Constitution (or perhaps foreseen but could not be avoided) is the fact that South African MPs get their jobs and receive their pensions, perks and housing on a party list system which is very much adjustable, we have learnt, not only by parliamentary performance and hearing the voice of the Party whip but by other elements outside of Parliament.

In the case of the ANC Alliance, who are the majority by far in both Houses, obviously this leads tolithuli house patronage by those who run the party list at Luthuli House. It is a fact which cannot be avoided. One could say the same for the DA, the EFF and any smaller party that patronage must apply when MPs are not answerable, as is the case in South Africa, to a particular constituency of citizens.

In the case of South Africa, this leaves national policy and leadership very much in the hands of Luthuli House, particularly because Jacob Zuma is not only President of the country but, as is ANC practice, he is also the elected leader of the ANC. It was at this point the system failed and but not because of parliamentary failure.

Puppet on a string

What ConCourt found therefore was not only that President Zuma was guilty of certain charges and had to take remedial action but there had been a determined ANC attempt, with considerable success, to run the National Assembly from Luthuli House. It was on the Nkandla issue that ANC MP and party whip, Stone Sizani, probably realized that things had gone too far and that he was probably implicated.

Mbete,Baleka sworninThe eleven judges unanimously singled out the current incumbent of the position of Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, as also being tangled in the web of patronage. She has denied this but has conceded the “matter could have been better handled”. In fact, later she handled matters a lot worse in the initial moments of the motion on impeachment even agreed to by the ANC who obviously saw that she should have recused herself.

Outside the ring – a little

But as far as business and industry is concerned, our institutions are a little more insulated from such shenanigans.

Whilst all committees are indeed run by ANC Alliance chairpersons (the Standing Committee on Finance was originally by tradition chaired by the majority opposition party but now changed by the ANC) public hearings on legislation are encouraged. The public may attend any meeting government oversight hearings, which ParlyReport does – as well as members of the media, and all members of the public can attend any meeting with the exception of the Security and Intelligence Committee debates.

Good, healthy debate

In our ParlyReport this fortnight, we report on the very sensible suggestions of the Bankingbasa logo 2 Association of South Africa (BASA) made to the Standing Committee on Finance on the Financial Intelligence Centre Bill, tabled by the Minister of Finance. These suggestions were not only heard but acted upon.

In fact, BASA with other financial institutions were invited to subsequent debates under committee Chairperson Yunus Carrim (SACP) and with National Treasury, under the guidance of Ismail Momoniat, a Bill was crafted that was much more acceptable to all.

In some cases, changes called for were justified successfully by Treasury not to be in the national interest in terms of the international call for compliance against money laundering but in other cases calls for less red tape and overwhelming paper work heeded and requests for better definitions acknowledged. For example, the list of “prominent persons”, i.e. those who might be involved in “suspicious transactions”, is to be compiled by Treasury itself and not left to the intuition of financial institutions and the private sector, all suggested by BASA and other financial institutions and bodies.

Separation of powers still there

In conclusion then, it will take the continued support of business with submissions and voicing opinion at hearings at committee level to keep the playing fields level and to point out what is best for South Africa’s economic interests by influencing debate at this level. Business has rarely expressed its voice in the National Assembly since this is not the forum for such unless a summons to appear is made.

parliament 6As for the future of the National Assembly itself there is very little anybody can do until the majority party gets its moral compass adjusted in terms of its relationship with this important component of Parliament, the issues ahead being purely political ones.

The Constitution, Parliament and the Public Protector’s office have survived and the ordinary democratic process of citizen politics now holds sway, hence the current issue ahead of business and industry being described by Standard and Poor as “political noise”.

 

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Second fiasco before Zuma’s SONA address…

Fools go where angels fear to tread…SONA..

The theatrics before the SONA address in front of the world by Julius Malema of EFF, the partyHouses_of_Parliament_(Cape_Town) which objects to the Expropriation Bill on the basis that no compensation should be paid at all for land expropriated, has once again demeaned South Africa.

As if this poor nation had not suffered enough already from the giddy behaviour of the government towards foreigners over visas, land ownership, AGOA, intellectual copyrights and international agreements, the EFF has again sent to them the message that the country might well be ungovernable.

Core issues

ZumaWhy President Zuma should have fired Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with Minister David van Rooyen is not of the slightest interest to South Africa going forward. The fact is he did and the result is that Minister Pravin Gordhan has his finger in the dyke. To know what was in the mind of President Zuma when he pronounced this change is to go down a very dark road and serves no parliamentary purpose at all, other than curiosity.

It appeared that the EFF really got it wrong this time when trying to disrupt Parliamentary procedure before SONA and the Speaker of House didn’t do much better either. In any case, the EFF was mysteriously upstaged by Patrickpatrick lekota Lekota and COPE walking out and an hour of the nation’s time lost, together with a good deal of national credibility.

In fact, it was no better than a performance under the Boswell Wilkie big top, our nation’s famous circus which sadly had its last performance in December 2015, but at least its traditions have been preserved.

Stop the side shows

WYSIWYG or “what you see is what you get” is how things work in parliamentary portfolio committees and before us we see Minister Pravin Gordhan at the pump head because of ANC malfunctions and because of an attempt to reign in the President before his cabinet ministers do any more harm to the economy.

So, in parliamentary terms, it is important that all get back to normal issues of whether or not business and industry agrees with the legislation tabled before Parliament; to continue to “get voices heard” and to determine whether government policy, in terms of mining, manufacturing, finance and banking, is giving the country the breaks it needs to score at the try line.

That is what Parliament is really about but dealing with the EFF is much like dealing with a family hooligan who hasEFF SONA just been given a new motor bicycle.

Fitch, Moodys, Standard & Poor

Such matters as firepools, the upgrading of chicken runs and the influence of various moneyed persons are of great interest to Malema, the EFF and gossip columns. However, the main issues involve the loss of billions of rands being misspent; obdurate government inaction coupled with incompetence; and whether South Africa can restore its economic image, reduce its debt and turn the fiscus around.

clem-sunterThe only road forward (and the only issue to march for in the streets) is for people to have jobs; jobs with skills that contribute towards economic output; jobs that increase tax input by employers making profits and jobs therefore that reduce the national deficit. That means investing in people and creating those skills. Its seems so long ago that Clem Sunther said this when describing the “High Road”.

Roll up the shirt sleeves

There are other forums to address the issues brought up by the EFF, especially matters regarding the re-incarnation of the office of Thusi Madonsela. To drag the Constitutional Court into the political arena is indeed a sad reflection of what political parties put first. As business heads have said, let’s stop this nonsense and put into action plans to save the economy.

At least President Zuma has acknowledged the superb effort by business leaders to avert the course being plotted by the present Cabinet. Creating more jobs in the public service is not the answer to job creation. Sadly, for those involved, this exercise of non-productive job creation in the public service must shrink urgently.

Now let’s see what the Budget produces and whether what President Zuma has said, after a ruler has been brought down across his knuckles, can be translated into practice.  (go to SONA article) History teaches us that leaders can emerge in times of trouble but a nation wearied of unfulfilled departmental targets and broken promises now awaits the outcome of a belt tightening budget.

previous articles in this category

http://parlyreportsa.co.za/cabinetpresidential/zuma-vs-parliament/

http://parlyreportsa.co.za/earlier-stories/state-of-the-nation/

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Parliament under siege

NEHAWU strike chaos in Parliament…  

Editorial …Cultures under the microscope….

parliamentary committeeTwo cultures are developing in South Africa.  One is to lie to Parliament during oversight meetings, or to put it more politely telling “untruths” as was re-defined by one DA MP after being told to apologise during investigations into statements by the Department of Trade and Industry on who had leases or not in terms of the Centurion Aerospace Village issue.

The other unpleasant culture, which is also growing fast, is to ignore the separation of powers between Parliament, the Presidency and the Judiciary. Not that Parliament or the Judiciary has done anything wrong but certainly the Nkandla issue is a demonstration of where the problem might lie.

If such instances, particularly in the case of “untruths”, the media is usually quick to pick these things up and a whole horrid mess, whatever it is, comes out in the newspapers.  

As a parliamentary affairs website, we keep away mainly away from the lurid headlines but unfortunately we are witnessing more and more departments appearing before their relative portfolio committees appearing dysfunctional and without policy. This must relate directly to a Cabinet not in touch with the business of governing and government.

Eye not on the ball

Most of the Cabinet, especially No.1, seem to be travelling to conferences worldwide. The portfoliozumatravel committee on energy, for example has not met in three weeks nor is any meeting scheduled, at this stage, before Parliament closes.

However, departments controlled by Ministers and members of the SACP are indeed busy which would indicate either two factions within the Cabinet and two distinct attitudes towards the use of Parliament and the passage of legislation.

Consequently, we have ignored the two perfectly good opportunities to report on developmental issues or state policy in the transport area where failure of policy or malfeasance is represented either by poor governance or telling “untruths”.  This is where the journalists present do a good job.

Business alerts only

What went on in the SAA and PRASA presentations to portfolio committees, both reporting a litany of poor governance, lack of financial controls and dubious tender processing, probably represents everything you know already.   Quite clearly these two state entities have made a total mess of things but missing targets or who appointed their best friend to get the job is not what we are really interested in.

Sadly, it all comes down from the top and we have a feeling that the relationship between Parliament as a working tool of democracy and Cabinet will worsen as we head towards an election and attempt to please voters.

As an example, a ridiculous piece of legislation entitled the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill has been withdrawn by the Cabinet and now referred by President Zuma to the Council of Traditional Leaders for the consideration first. This will result, if eventually comes before Parliament again and is bulldozed through, as being a forerunner in amending the Traditional Leaders Act Framework Bill in what appears to be a policy of establishing two systems of justice for South Africa.

Sand in the cogs

nehawuOn the second issue of Parliament not being allowed do its work, our President has said very little and certainly done nothing when a piece of land and buildings, not in Cape Town by law but in national South African territory and certainly a Key Point, was recently invaded by hooligans. Meetings have not been held for well over a week, except in certain essential cases such as Budget appropriation approval – probably, as one commentator sourly advanced, because nobody would get paid.

However, importantly, breaking up the working structure of Parliament is a completely different issue from the EFF being ejected from the National Assembly for breaking House rules.  This is a criminal issue.
In this case, a crowd waving sticks and knobkerries invaded committee rooms, singing so loudly that MPs could not think or converse with each other. The intent was clear. To break up Parliament. Most of the crowd were wearing red NEHAWU vests.

Embarrassing

All visitors, whether an official from Union Buildings, an Ambassador or a CEO from a corporate giant, have to obtain a special daily pass to get into Parliament by showing their credentials, yet none of these persons who broke into Parliament have been arrested or charged for wrongful entry. ParlyReportSA sits with many a consular representative as an observer and we hate to think what kind of reports are going back to Embassies, onwards and upwards.

It was a sad moment for the South African Parliament and even more sad that the violation neither disturbed the Presidency or invoked any retribution from the Speaker of the House. And it’s not because either party do not understand the Constitution but rather they seem not to care.

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EFF: only part of the problem

Editorial……

EFF adding to image problem…

EFF 2The sight of brawls in any Parliament around the world evokes a picture of a breakdown in society and it naturally downgrades business and investor confidence. To not comment upon the matter as parliamentary monitors would be like ignoring the last bus on a rainy night. The disruption is there and it is as large as life.

It is no good ignoring it; it has happened and further, on a number of occasions, meetings have had to be abandoned in the National Assembly.  However, it is important to add that it is not a question of the parliamentary system breaking down but being abused.

Keeping order

It is a sad moment but maybe a good thing to bring in a “parliamentary guard” to keep order so as not to have SAPS on standby for the Speaker to gain order. For example, the Vatican, which also has a separation of power ruling, has its own guard.  

In this case, however, introducing official parliamentary “bouncers” so that all parliamentarians can get a fair hearing is rather like re-introducing the cane at school so that all students get a fair education.  So be it. It seems this has to be the case

What Constitution?

Regretfully, if one looks at the bigger picture, this is not a parliamentary issue but part of a far bigger constitutional issue that wracks the country. An “extra-parliamentary” issue therefore.

Meanwhile, it has to be explained, time and time again, that it is at portfolio committee and select committee level in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, that the real work is done – whether the outcome pleases business and industry or not.   All the committees have an ANC Alliance majority but the standard of debate is remarkably high and if something is “bulldozed” through, it quite often seems to go wrong.

Order, order, order

maceIf anybody has watched parliamentary question time, or PMQ, in the British Houses of Parliament one realizes the complete lack of value of attending such Upper House meetings for the record. It is a place of political posturing and to vote. Almost entertainment in the case of PMQ.

So it is with the National Assembly but it was interesting to watch the Mace being recovered in true parliamentary style when debate failed, something not appreciated by the 6% of MPs behaving like hooligans with no wish to follow procedure. There is hope.

parly with mace

 

 

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Zuma vs Parliament

This weeks editorial comment……

ANC internal problems dominate…

zuma-Sonanational assemblyWhilst the task of  a parliamentary monitoring function such as ParlyReportSA is to observe impartially the workings of Parliamentary portfolio committees as they affect the business and the industrial scenario, it would be absurd to go to a concert and ignore the music.

The problem with Parliament at the moment is an unpleasant background sound which affects to a great extent not only the focus of any business to hand but which also points to a disconnect between the conductor and the orchestra within the governing party.

Most things that happen in the precincts of Parliament will affect the commercial world to some degree or in one way or another but currently, if our observations are correct, there is an overriding obsession within the Presidency to convey to voters an image that “all is well”.  In Parliament it is all too evident that things at times are not that well.

Watching their backs

The top priority with the presidency appears not to be with the commercial and industrial body corporate and dealing with the country’s economic issues but to battle on with the image problem the ANC Alliance’s relationship has with its own historical audience.  It was minister Jeff Radebe who had to make the statement on country’s most important issue, the energy crisis.

Raymond Suttner, a former ANC underground operative, political prisoner and leader, who rarely misses an opportunity for sanguine comment, said recently, “The ANC has become an organisation in which only one man can be acknowledged as a leader.”

He continued, “Before local government elections, the ANC is burdened with a president who is literally running away from Parliament, the country’s main democratic institution. In subordinating democracy to the needs of “uBaba”, fundamental democratic principles are being jettisoned.”

Pulling the donkey’s tail

The legislative and government departmental policy issues that involve our watchful eye rarely involve the EFF circus but it is interesting to note that at parliamentary working portfolio and select committee level, the few EFF members and not so many but nevertheless much emboldened DA MPs, are tending to ask better and more direct questions.

However, a lot of this is designed to get under the “ANC’s skin”, as distinct from informed, serious and challenging commercial questioning.   Much will play out in the coming months, particularly once the municipal elections are over and the posturing in that direction ceases.  All the same, President Jacob Zuma’s relationship with Parliament is not currently a happy one. Inordinate delays are common.

Slow moving policy decisions

In regard to the analogy of the irritating background sound caused by this disconnect, for the moment then the music will just play on.   Fortunately, it does not affect to any great extent the work of the more dedicated chairpersons of committees but it still seems that in order to get policy decisions out of cabinet, nobody seems to move without the assent of President Zuma and no convoy is faster than its slowest ship.

This irritating factor will also not affect parliamentary oversight to any great extent as better systems are now in place for checking departmental financial performances and the reporting of departments and utilities to reach their service targets.

Unless of course, as happened with Eskom, material facts are withheld.  In this regard, the maintenance of freedom of speech and an unencumbered media remain vital.

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Minister Nene maps survival route

Not so merry Christmas….

Editorial……

candlesWithout wishing to put a dampener on festive arrangements, the last few weeks of the closing parliamentary session, which included the medium term budget from minister Nene, have seen a difficult period, not in the least caused by fiascos in the National Assembly with the EFF. Baiting President Zuma, whatever the reason, has nothing to do with running a country.

Such hooligan behaviour completely demeans the status of Parliament but worse, it also denigrates all the real work that is going on the engine room of Parliament, the working committees.  Some observers are quietly happy that the ANC Alliance is being called to account on certain matters but the overall effect has been to take South Africa perceptually into dangerous waters.

Nkandla unpleasant diversion

The Nkandla issue has clearly damaged the political standing of Parliament as well as giving the media a field day, or a field month as the case turned out to be.  But in the parliamentary portfolio, ad hoc, finance standing and NCOP select committees, the work has gone on and it has been a busy and difficult period as a result of the necessity to approve finance minister Nene’s medium term budget.

Difficult because some fifty utilities, government departments and section nine companies had to declare their objectives, say how things were going and reflect upon the auditor general’s findings on each of them.   Difficult because cabinet statements are really giving no true direction on questions being asked every day in Parliament.   Difficult because it is still the first year of a new Parliament and everything is running late with new MPs.

Whilst the auditor general (AG) may have declared that government departments only received 15% unqualified reports, the balance of 85% are qualified to some degree by the AG.  A learning process. This means the working committees have seen it, everyone knows about it and the system works. This is the difference between weekend newspaper reporting and monitoring. It is not just a question of putting a positive spin on things but recognising that there is, indeed, a force working for morality and financial correctness.

Focus is on medium term budget

Nevertheless, minister Nene’s budget speech was still the key issue of the last month, not Nkandla as the perception might be.  Nene’s remarks that “business is a key area in fostering the ideal that the NDP becomes a reality” had the all too familiar ring of what Alec Erwin had to say twenty years ago when the ANC promised private and public partnerships on energy matters. Nothing happened of course, the ANC embarking upon ten years of infrastructure inactivity.

In fact major private sector participation in the country’s development was totally halted at that point and has since never really got going.

When is when?

Now the question is being asked once again as to whether the government will actually ever embark upon real hard core private/public investments, other than dishing out a few solar and wind power projects. This is the question being asked by opposition MPs in Parliament at working committee level, ignoring for the moment the embarrassing fracas upstairs in the National Assembly.

It is difficult to imagine in parliamentary terms that minister Rob Davies, minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, minister Jeff Radebe, minister Lindiwe Sisulu and minister Lynne Brown will ever truly understand the tenets, motivations and passion that drive businesses, even perhaps the President himself.  South Africa suffers from bad politicians, not necessarily bad government.

Circus with no ringmaster

What the presidential national planning commission is actually saying to the cabinet is an issue that cannot be guessed at by anybody at this stage, such private messages certainly not being conveyed in Parliamentary papers. In fact nobody seems to be talking, the DA having as little knowledge as half the SA cabinet, it appears.

Consequently minister Nene’s hopes appear somewhat lame at this stage. To be positive however, it may be that as next year’s parliamentary oversight programme on service delivery targets gains momentum, as it has already, accompanied with all the political pain that will occur if voters remain dissatisfied, political reality may force the governing party to at last start walking the talk that minister Nene espouses.

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