/ 29 November 2013

Lax Assembly discipline irks chief whip Stone Sizani

ANC chief whip Stone Sizani.
ANC chief whip Stone Sizani.

The ANC chief whip holds one of the most powerful positions in Parliament, but over the past 20 years no chief whip has completed a term in office.

So all eyes were on Stone Sizani when he took over from Mathole Motshekga in June this year, and his first day in office was indeed full of drama.

He took office on June 20, the same day the National Assembly was scheduled to pass the contentious Labour Relations Amendment Bill, which deals with labour brokers and the protection of vulnerable workers, among other things.

The Bill couldn't be passed for lack of a quorum in the House, after Democratic Alliance MPs, except deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan, walked out of the House in protest against the legislation. 

The National Assembly was 34 MPs short of the required 50% plus one (201 MPs) to vote on a Bill.

The ANC, with its 264 MPs, could easily have made the quorum, even without the presence of opposition MPs, but a large number of them were nowhere to be found.

"I and many serious members of Parliament who understand the importance of that Bill knew that it should have been passed, and yet members were not in the House on that particular day," Sizani recalled this week.

"It was traumatic for me, because I didn't expect that members of the ANC who [associate] themselves [with] the name of the ANC would do that."

Sizani said that, although discipline and attendance have improved in his caucus since that first day, Parliament can do more to enforce the rules.

"On Robben Island [the prison], we had members of various political parties and each party would subject its members to the discipline of the party besides the prison rules.

"Here in Parliament, political ­parties are doing the same, but there is no overall authority that deals with the behaviour of MPs."

Sizani gave an example of two MPs who stormed out of a portfolio committee meeting earlier this year, with one of them allegedly swearing at the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, calling her a "lying bitch".

"The institution under whose ­auspices the portfolio committee was conducting that business has done nothing up to now. The political party is expected to insist on the discipline of its members. I'm suggesting that there is something wrong in that arrangement," said Sizani.

He said that, in the case of Parliament, though political parties can deal with moulding the character and behaviour of their MPs, the institution should enforce decorum.

"[There is] a huge gap in the rules. We have been employed to perform a function – appointed by the voters to pass laws – and if you are not here to pass the law … where are you?"

Sizani recently butted heads with public protector Thuli Madonsela over her report on the R208-million security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma's home in Nkandla.

"I wrote to the speaker [Max Sisulu], saying that he must advise her that she was created by Parliament, so she was supposed to report to Parliament.

"She responded to my letter, saying: Please advise Sizani to read before he writes. She was criticising my letter, [but] her law forbids [her to] write that kind of letter."

Madonsela had raised concern about there being no oversight committee to hold the president or presidency to account. She was reported as having said that, as a result of this gap, she did not know where she should table her Nkandla report.

"We know there's a history [regarding] this question here in Parliament; why she chose to be part of that history, I don't know," said Sizani.

Sizani said that they decided not to respond to Madonsela's letter.

He said there is no need to have a specific oversight committee to which the presidency is accountable because it is not a line function but a facilitating, ­overseeing body. "Why is the presidency supposed to have a specific committee, when [Zuma] reports to Parliament as the head of state? Why do we hound the president, by the way?"

Sizani dismissed the view that ANC MPs are soft in their oversight of Zuma and his executive.

"If you go through the questions that have been asked by the ANC, a question why the president of the republic would support an African Union resolution to postpone the prosecution of the Kenyan president in the International Criminal Court cannot be a sweetheart question."

Sizani said there is no need to "insult" the president or ministers.

"Of course, the opposition attacks the person of the president. It denigrates the stature of the president. Nowhere in the world would you find MPs insulting the president. [Here], you'll find that people stop short of saying the president is a liar."