DA: Parliament has failed ordinary South Africans
Robust as Parliament debates were over the past year, the legislature failed to address concerns of ordinary South Africans, according to the DA.
But the ruling ANC has a different take over parliamentary events of 2012. In fact, the ANC is satisfied with its work in Parliament during this year, with its chief whip Mathole Motshekga on Tuesday saying that they have continued to deepen the activist character of Parliament by intensifying robust and fearless oversight in both the Houses and through constituency outreach programmes.
Motshekga cited the 30 draft legislations that Parliament was busy with this year, 13 of which were signed into law by President Jacob Zuma among the achievements.
"This number of laws passed by parliament this year added significantly to the approximately 2 200 progressive laws passed by this Parliament since 1994. This indeed further enhanced our country's democratic transformation process," he said.
Motshekga also claimed that ANC members have led a "fearless and robust" oversight over members of the executive, saying there has been a significant improvement in various areas of parliamentary oversight mechanisms, such as motions without notice, notices of motions and members' statements.
"These are critical tools for parliamentary oversight, which MPs use to pose probing questions to government on service delivery programmes. "We will continue to employ various mechanisms to ensure that oversight is pursued with vigour and firmness within various parliamentary structures," he added.
But DA Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko told journalists in Parliament on Wednesday that efforts by her party to restore the institution to its rightful place as the centre of robust debate and policy development on important issues were countered by the ruling ANC's mediocrity.
DA chief whip Watty Watson added that Parliament has failed during the past year in terms of being the centre of debate and as the forum where issues that worry electorate should be debated. "That is not happening. We have become a House where we debate motions of condolences and issues on heritage: debates that don't answer the questions that are asked by the electorate," said Watson.
The DA puts the blame at Motshekga's door and it wants him to step down. The party accuses Motshekga of only pushing the ANC's party political agenda.
It also partly blames speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu for failing to assert himself as the leader of the assembly and bowing to pressure from the ANC.
Mazibuko said: "The ANC chief whip, Dr Mathole Motshekga, should therefore step down in the face of his poor performance in the chief whips forum, his total disrespect for the rules during National Assembly sittings, ignoring the Constitution following the tabling of the motion of no confidence, and his abuse of Parliament for petty political gains."
She said there were certain bottom lines that have been crossed that shouldn't have been crossed by people like Sisulu and Motshekga who should be able to not only deal with the political but also consider the requirements of the constitution while dealing with Parliamentary matters.
The DA cited Parliament's failure to take action against Cabinet ministers who don't answer parliamentary questions; committees' failure to deal with key issues; prioritising ceremonial or celebratory debates over topical issues.
It said its requests for "debates of public importance" were turned down.
These included a debate on:
• South Africa's high youth unemployment (and why it needs the youth wage subsidy)
• The textbook crisis in Limpopo (this was requested twice)
• Strike action at Lonmin mine leading to the death of mineworkers
• State of education in the country
• Mdluli saga
• The impact of labour legislation on job creation
Mazibuko said of all eight requests for these debates of public importance, none were granted in terms of rule 103 of the National Assembly.
"The speaker thus failed to assert himself as the leader of the National Assembly, seemingly bowing to pressure from his own political party and Motshekga."
Mazibuko described Sisulu as a man of integrity who understands the Constitution and who understands Parliament, but who won't go far enough in his mandate.
"He is extremely responsive, very engaged and considers matters in a very reasonable and considerate manner.
"I find him to be an incredibly pleasant presiding officer to work with. There's no question that he cares about this institution and wants it to work, but my view happens to be that he is not willing to put his neck out enough to do what has to be done to make it work," she said.
Mazibuko said there are more political risks that Sisulu could take to protect the integrity of the institution he swore an oath to look after.
"We want Parliament to have the right balance between institutional integrity and political engagement, which to me has been enormously enjoyable."
Motshekga's spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, rejected the call for Motshekga to resign, saying it was Watson who fails to understand his own role.
"Watson has no idea what his responsibility is; it's not to personally oppose [Motshekga] but to offer quality opposition for his party in Parliament."
He said the same call could be made about Watson after he led the DA caucus in banging tables in protest during a sitting of Parliament.
"The fist-banging of tables by the DA MPs during one of the sittings, based on what was later found to be a misinterpretation of the rules, will surely go down as the year 2012's most disgraceful day in Parliament.
"The worst part of the whole shameful conduct is that it was led and encouraged, in full view of the public, by both the party DA chief whip and parliamentary leader. The fact that the nation is yet to receive an apology from these leaders following this shameful act speaks volumes about the type of leaders the DA currently have in Parliament," Motshekga said.
"As the majority party, we have consistently disagreed politically with the chief whips of the DA in the past. However, one quality we could never take away from them is their polished grasp and interpretation of the rules of Parliament. It is unfortunate that the same cannot be said about the current DA chief whip and his deputy."
The DA is taking credit for the few of Parliament's successes.
Among them is "a number of unprecedented milestones" which include securing an urgent parliamentary debate on the youth wage subsidy; an urgent condolence debate on the Marikana tragedy, ensuring the consideration of and debate of the national development plan in Parliament, following our request to the speaker of the National Assembly; eliciting Scopa's assistance for the public protector's investigation into the Nkandlagate scandal with an initial parliamentary investigation and using parliamentary questions effectively to elicit information and carry out our constitutionally mandated role of oversight and the unprecedented tabling of a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, with eight opposition parties represented in the National Assembly.
"The DA has worked hard to restore Parliament to its rightful place as the centre of robust debate and policy development on important issues affecting South Africa.
"However, these efforts have been met with resistance from the ANC in Parliament under the leadership of Motshekga. There is no doubt that if the ANC had a chief whip who both understood and respected the Constitution and Parliament much more would have been achieved in the 2012 session."
Mazibuko, who became the youngest parliamentary leader when she was elected in October 2011, at the age of 31 admitted that "there was more blood on the floor this year".
"It was very eventful. There were a lot of events on the parliamentary floor, which isn't always a bad thing. I believe Parliament should be seized with issues of such importance that they do bring out that political engagement between political parties that is more robust," she told the Mail & Guardian.