Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to
My dear friends and fellow South
Last week I
focused on the role of members of parliament to make
parliamentary democracy work, focusing on legislation drafting
and accountability to constituents. This week, I would like to
touch upon the responsibility of members of the executive (the
branch of government responsible for the day-to-day management
of the state) to be accountable to parliament and the wider
I am of the
view that parliamentary democracy and the institutions which
underpin it, are not in themselves self-sustaining. Democracy,
by its nature, must be protected and promoted on a constant
basis if it is not to wither. Democracy also, critically,
requires its participants and institutions to play by the rules
of the game. These rules are crisply laid out in the
constitution (s56). Parliament, accordingly, ensures “that all
executive organs of state in the national sphere of government
are accountable to it” and that it “maintain(s) oversight of
national executive authority”.
carries the burden of accountability for major organisations,
including an array of the so-called “Chapter 9 institutions” of
oversight – the Auditor General, the Public Protector, the
Commission of Gender Equality, the Electoral Commission and the
Independent Authority to Regulate Broadcasting.
turning to directly to the question of executive accountability,
I would like to share a personal anecdote.
the year, the Minister for Public Service and Administration, Ms
Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, penned an opinion piece “the public
service is not a job-creating entity for the ANC” (Cape Times, 8
February 2007). She wrote: “To state that the ‘ANC chose the
path chosen by the National Party, which used the apparatus of
the state as a sponge to mop up white unemployment and maintain
political control’, is breathtaking in its inaccuracy. Laying
out the rights and limitations to political service in the
Public Service, the Minister elegantly stated, “it is incumbent
upon me to uphold these values, and if I were not to do so, I
would be subject to legal challenge”.
by this reassurance, I wrote to the Minister on 26 February to
express my anger at the purging of public servants in KwaZulu
Natal because of their actual or alleged political allegiance to
the IFP. I expressed my concern that public servants in
KwaZulu Natal who closely work with IFP political
representatives have been sidelined or forced to resign and that
others had been told in unmistakable terms that they cannot hope
for promotion. I asked the Minister for the Public Service
Commission to investigate this matter.
To date, I
have not received a letter of acknowledgement, let alone a
reply. Leaving aside the fact that we once sat around the same
cabinet table as colleagues, I would have thought that the
letter written in my capacity as leader of the IFP would have
merited a reply of some sort.
There was no
attempt to verify or interrogate my claims. She failed, in her
own words, “to uphold the values” pertaining to the rights and
limitations to political service in the Public Service. Needless
to say, her opinion piece in the Cape Times rings hollow.
my successor as the Minister of Home Affairs, Ms Nosiviwe
Mapisa-Nqakula, has also failed to respond to letters concerning
constituent concerns that I have written to her this year. On
the other hand, a substantive letter that I sent to the Minister
of Education recently, elicited, to her credit, a swiftly
This led me
to wonder how difficult it must be for other members of
parliament and members of the public to access ministers and
senior civil servants and extract pertinent information. At
least I can pass notes over the aisle, which I sometimes do on
behalf of my constituents, making it very difficult for the
minister to slip out without replying!
dear reader, do not enjoy this advantage.
mention that there are several variables that need to be taken
into consideration in the parliamentary process which renders
parliamentary accountability in South Africa, to put it
politely, uneven. These variables include the quality of the
composition of the portfolio committee, the independence and
capability of the committee chairperson, and, most importantly,
the personal integrity of the minister. As I said last week, if
members of parliament fail in their oversight role, the
executive can practically govern by fiat. MPs are the strongest
or the weakest link and they should be fearless and tireless in
calling ministers to account.
I agree with
the view that, alas, the daily work of parliament – in debates
in parliament and in the hearing and reports of committees – has
had little discernible impact upon the course of the executive.
As I noted last week, legislation is very rarely amended on the
floor of the House and not then as a result of amendments
proposed by committees.
striking is the non- implementation of s77 of the constitution,
which, unusually for a parliamentary democracy, gives parliament
the right to amend money bills.
Yet as much
as this reflects a failure of parliamentarians, it equally
reveals a failure of ministers to fully interact with parliament
as the constitution enjoins them to. Andrew Feinstein’s just
published book ‘After the Party’ raises important questions
about the accountability mechanisms of the executive to
parliament. The arms deal riddle goes right to the heart of this
matter. Will we ever get to the bottom of it?
I doubt it.
Again, we are back to the problem I raised last week of
‘executive dominance’, which is a result of the overwhelming
strength of the dominant party augmented by floor-crossing gains
and the stick-and-carrot of cadre deployment.
Geoffrey Hawker joked in an academic paper, “it might be noted
that all the ANC cabinet ministers and junior ministers who have
not been elected to the NEC in recent years have been appointed
to it as “observers”, from which this point of view, the
extended meetings of the NEC are the only occasion at which all
ministers in the National Assembly are likely to be found
together!” But at the risk of over baking the
soufflé, ‘executive dominance’ strengthens the case for the need
for executive accountability, it does not weaken it.
I know the
Democratic Alliance, to its credit, monitors the answers and
responses of ministers to parliamentary written questions. Yet,
I contend, this should be the role of parliament itself. As an
independent institution, parliament itself should monitor the
quality of answers by ministers, as well as the numbers of
questions posed by MPs. As I wrote last week, when is parliament
going to compel ministers to answer questions within ten days?
When is the President going to compel his ministers to answer
questions within ten days?
beyond this there is a need to inculcate amongst ministers a
sense that they are, to quote Tony Blair, the servants and the
people are the masters. I deliberately used this much-hackneyed
quote because I recall watching on Sky News when Mr Blair was
prime minister how he once was subject to discomfiting
cross-questioning by members of his own side at committee stage
(because, remember, parliamentary accountability should
supersede party allegiance) about Iraq and WMD (a good
comparison to our arms deal saga). Some say he had to go long
before he wanted to because he had pushed the envelope of
executive dominance too far.
I do not
have an opinion on that, but I draw the salutary lesson of how
things can horribly go wrong when executive accountability to
parliament falters. Without the bravery of former Chair of
Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), Gavin Woods MP
and Andrew Feinstein, we probably would not know the limited
information that we do about the infamous R5-billion arms deal.
optimistic that a proper functioning relationship between the
executive, parliament and the people can emerge out of the
present leadership crisis. The very fact that the issues of
executive accountability and strengthening parliament are being
debated so fiercely demonstrates that South Africans care.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP