The speeches are over, now it’s time to get down to work, Ramaphosa

Facing the Presidential Guard, President Cyril Ramaphosa, centre, listens to the national anthem during the State of the Nation address and opening of the national parliament in Cape Town, 20 June 2019. Picture: EPA-EFE
The red carpet glamour is done, President Cyril Ramaphosa has delivered his characteristically rousing State of the Nation address, and now it’s time for office bearers to roll up their sleeves and start work.

The time for speeches was over, Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson Mabine Seabe said yesterday.

“We sit with an economy that’s barely growing, more and more young people are unemployed, the public service infrastructure is collapsing,” Seabe said. “We need to start rebuilding this country and, as the DA, when Ramaphosa steps out of line and put his party’s interests first, we’ll hold him fully accountable.”

And it’s in the engine room of parliament, where the real work will be done, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG).

“If parliament is to be a strong institution, inspire public confidence and carry out its constitutional functions effectively, the work starts in committees,” the NGO said.

“Committees are a microcosm of the institution. It is therefore recommended and advised that committees be led by effective chairpersons.”

The organisation noted effective leadership was “critical” for the way the committee conducted its business and for ensuring there was a much-needed will to get things done.

“Professor Steven Friedman speaks to the ‘golden age’ of committee independence around 2007-08, where committees vigorously held the Executive to account, working across party lines. This independence, says Friedman, was pioneered by the committee chairpersons,” PMG noted.

“This is what the sixth parliament needs to emulate.”

The DA has, however, expressed anger over some of the choices made for the various portfolio committees.

“The ANC’s candidates for some of the committees are frankly shocking and shows a complete disregard for the people of South Africa,” DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said.

“Supra Mahumapelo, a Gupta acolyte who was basically chased out of the North West province, has now been earmarked for the tourism committee. Faith Muthambi, who helped to run the SABC into the ground is about to be put in charge of oversight over municipalities,” Steenhuisen said.

“Other strong Zupta allies alleged to have played instrumental roles in the capturing of the state, such as Mosebenzi Zwane and Bongani Bongo, are in prime position to help capture parliament.”

PMG said legislators took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution and should bear Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s words from 2017 in mind: “Nowhere does the supreme law provide for them to swear allegiance to their political parties, important players though they are, in our constitutional scheme,” Mogoeng said.

“Meaning, in the event of conflict between upholding constitutional values and party loyalty, their irrevocable undertaking to serve the people and do only what is in their best interests must prevail.”

PMG said it had been tracking what happened to written responses requested by committees in an open meeting. It had found that in most cases, the committee secretary had to remind the department to provide a written response.

“Thereafter, 35% failed to provide the response document. PMG eventually managed to get and publish only 27%.

“A fail,” the monitoring group said.

“More rigorous follow up is needed as it seems the departments are thumbing their nose at the constitutional check and balance of legislative oversight of the executive.”

Amanda Watson / The Citizen