Parliamentary proposals 'don't go far enough'
Proposals by an independent review panel for reforms to restore the credibility of Parliament, while giving it a stronger hand in law-making and oversight of the government, don’t go far enough, says panel member and South African Institute of Race Relations chief John Kane-Berman, who declined to sign the panel’s final consensus report.
The review, commissioned in 2006 by then-speaker of the National Assembly and now deputy president Baleka Mbete, grew out of the African Peer Review Mechanism process, and was carried out by a group of senior political and civil society figures chaired by former African National Congress MP Pregs Govender.
It suggested Parliament consider a range of reforms, including a mixed proportional representation and constituency electoral system to weaken the grip of party bosses over public representatives; tougher ethical rules, including a bar on anyone convicted of fraud or corruption becoming an MP; and tougher oversight of “delegated legislation” through which Cabinet ministers can effectively make law. It also suggested Parliament debate the arms deal, and the possibility of a commission of inquiry.
The report, Govender told journalists on Tuesday, represented the consensus of a very diverse panel, which included figures as diverse as ANC national executive committee member Max Sisulu, opposition veteran Colin Eglin, and Idasa’s Judith February.
For Kane-Berman, however, the report soft-pedalled some crucial issues.
“I requested that a minority report should be tabled. They declined to include it on the grounds that it was against the spirit of the collective”, he told the Mail & Guardian.
There were five areas where he wanted the panel to take a stronger line.
Instead of simply recommending that Parliament debate the arms deal, “I proposed that the panel itself suggest that Parliament should call on the president to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into the arms deal”, he said.
He also wanted a recommendation that all MPs who still owed money in Travelgate affair should be made to repay it.
Kane-Berman also wanted a clear call from the panel that MPs who occupy top parliamentary positions, such as Speaker, should resign from any party posts they might hold—former speaker Baleka Mbete was for nine months also national chairperson of the ANC, for example, a situation ripe for conflicts of interest. The report suggests that Parliament “give serious consideration to this issue”, but stops short of clear recommendation.
“I thought that was mealy-mouthed,” Kane-Berman said.
He felt, too, that it wasn’t tough enough on the inadequacies of the current system of constituency offices, and that it should propose some way for MPs, other than those convicted of fraud or corruption, to be given security of tenure between elections.
“I agreed with most of the report, but they ducked Travelgate, they ducked the arms deal, and they ducked the issue of presiding officers,” he told the M&G.
Panel chair Govender, however, said the rest of the committee, including members who were sympathetic to Kane-Berman’s views, felt that a strong report, which reflected the consensus of a very politically diverse panel, would be much more likely to result in action.
“I think the recommendations are clear, and they are strong,” she told the M&G.
“In relation to the arms deal, for example, there is a public debate about whether there should be a judicial commission of inquiry, on which members of the panel hold very different views. We are saying Parliament must debate this. On Travelgate we are very clear that people convicted of fraud or corruption must not serve—that actually calls for a constitutional amendment.”
All of the panel members had held strong principled views, she added, and these were reflected in the report.
“You had people from Colin Eglin and Frederick van Zyl Slabbert to Max Sisulu, Aubrey Matshiqi and Sipho Seepe, none of those principals were compromised”, she stressed. “It is a great pity that John [Kane-Berman] decided not to sign, but if we had had eleven minority reports, it would have had far less impact. I think you can see from the [media coverage of the past few days] that it will have to be taken seriously.”