Opposition parties press pause on Nkandla committee
Opposition parties in Parliament won a small victory on Friday when they successfully stopped the special parliamentary committee from continuing its work until its mandate has been clarified and it includes the public protector’s report on Nkandla in its terms of reference.
The National Assembly established the ad hoc committee on August 19, when ANC chief whip Stone Sizani tabled a motion to establish a committee that would consider President Jacob Zuma’s response to Parliament and make recommendations.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) immediately proposed an amendment to the ANC motion, saying that the motion must include the public protector and the Special Investigating Unit’s reports among those that the committee would consider.
A debate ensued initially in Parliament over this, with most of the opposition parties supporting the DA amendment, but the ANC opposed it and when it was put to a vote, the ANC easily defeated the opposition.
The issue came up again when the special committee met for the first time on Friday morning. EFF leader, Julius Malema said they feared that if the public protector’s report was not included in the terms of reference in writing, the majority ANC would sideline it and only consider Zuma’s response.
Zuma’s response to Madonsela
Zuma’s response to Madonsela’s findings is highly contested. Observers and opposition parties including the public protector herself have said it is a non-response. It does not say how Zuma will remedy the situation and when he would pay back the money spent on the non-security features at his home.
Normally, when an ad hoc committee meets for the first time, its first business is to elect a committee chairperson, but the opposition parties refused to elect a chairperson until the committee’s mandate had been clarified.
“If that is not clarified we can’t proceed participating in a meeting without knowing what the purpose of the meeting is.
“We want to field a candidate for chairperson, but that candidate must know what is it that he or she is going to be presiding over. We are not voting cattle like others who just vote without knowing what they are voting for. We are not here for that,” said Malema.
Malema said they want an undertaking in writing that among others, the committee will look at the public protector’s report and all the other necessary reports.
ANC MPs pointed out that without a chairperson, the committee was not legitimately constituted. They tried to convince the opposition to agree to the election of the chairperson, before the committee could discuss a way forward.
ANC MP Mathole Motshekga sought to remind the opposition that the matter was “hotly debated” in the House and in the end Sizani made an undertaking that nothing will be left out. He named the documents that he felt would be made available but the House resolved that it is not necessary to amend the resolution to include those documents.
DA MP James Selfe, who also sat in a similar committee that was established just before the May 7 general elections said the opposition’s argument was relevant “because this thing has a particular history”.
“We spent a great deal of time in a similar committee in the fourth Parliament talking about the terms of reference of that committee and what those terms of reference exactly meant.
“It is relevant that we clear up what exactly is it that we are doing before we get involved in the election of a chairperson, because otherwise, once that is not on the table, we are in a very difficult position to know how to proceed,” said Selfe.
The opposition parties proposed that the matter be sent back to a sitting of the House, where the committee’s terms of reference can be amended.
The ANC reluctantly agreed.
‘Maximum impact in this Parliament’
But after the meeting was adjourned, ANC MP Cedric Frolick, whom the ANC has nominated to chair the committee, said it was unlikely that the ANC would agree to revisiting its own motion in the National Assembly.
He said the matter could be resolved by further political interaction between the chief whips of the different parties.
Significantly, opposition met before the ad hoc committee meeting to discuss a strategy on how to tackle the issue.
Malema confirmed that they met to share ideas, saying that he was happy they had found each other on the issue.
“If we are to have a maximum impact in this Parliament, unity of purpose is going to be of paramount importance especially on issues of national interest,” he said.