/ 8 March 2014

Inside the ANC MP vetting questionnaire

Parliament has ignored an overwhelming number of submissions made by the public into the controversial Traditional Courts Bill.
Parliament has ignored an overwhelming number of submissions made by the public into the controversial Traditional Courts Bill.

Are you a gambler, a drug addict, seeing a shrink, having a platonic relationship with someone in the opposition or have you fought with a comrade? Depending on your answer, you could be disqualified from becoming an ANC MP.

According to a new, rigorous screening process, the ANC's national and provincial list candidates are required to declare whether they or their spouses have used  "any illegal habit-forming substance" and when last they did so.

The screening process is in the form of a compulsory questionnaire, titled Project Veritas, from the office of the secretary general to all national and provincial list candidates. It is an attempt by the governing party to rid itself of shady and undesirable public representatives, after delegates at its national conference in Mangaung in 2012 resolved to rebuild the image of the organisation ahead of the fifth general polls. 

The ANC wants to to know if members have consulted a psychiatrist or psychologist, or whether they had suffered any illness or undergone a surgical operation that forced them to stay away from organisational work.

They were also required to state if they had been "involved in any form of gambling" for the past two years.

Character references
Prospective public representatives – for Parliament and provincial legislatures – who have made it on to the ANC list of candidates to be forwarded to the Independent Electoral Commission by Wednesday, were asked to give the names of five people who "were willing to vouch for them".

They were required to declare if they had had personal relationships with members of other parties, the nature and duration of any such relationships and whether or not they belonged to other organisations in or outside the ANC-led alliance.

Candidates were asked if they had any "conflict with any of your comrades" and, if yes, the reasons for said conflict.

But this question could spark more conflict and animosity given the factional battles in the party that have led to splits, purges and – according to the secretary general – weakened the party itself.

The party asked its prospective public representatives if they have ever visited or have residential addresses, including those of their spouses, outside South Africa.

Lifestyle audits
The candidates are expected to disclose any "large payments" into their bank accounts along with their monthly expenditures, including school fees for their children. And they have to disclose if they own properties other than their known residences.

This is most likely related to the party's attempt to conduct lifestyle audits on members. 

One minister told the Mail & Guardian this week that the intention was to check whether or not leaders' lifestyles were proportional to their earnings.

Prospective MPS and MPLs were asked to declare if they have been involved in any "tender process".

The contentious state contracts have been the primary cause of corruption and the battle for resources in the party.

However, even though the party seems to be trying hard to clamp down on corrupt and undesirable elements, there are real fears that the sensitive information could be used by factions to settle scores.

The ANC's head of communications, Lindiwe Zulu, has warned candidates that tough action will be taken against anyone withholding ­damning information about their past. She said everyone who made it on to the party's candidate lists for legislatures would be subjected to this vetting process, including President Jacob Zuma and his party deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.

One minister described the question about the details of lovers as "deep intelligence screening" – and inappropriate.

"I have been a minister and MP for years and I have never before been asked this question. This is odd and disturbing … Imagine if such information lands in your opponent's hands," the minister said.

"What do they want to do with the information regarding concubines? It's neither corruption [nor] a violation of party policy. Our worry is that this could be used by factions to deal with you. It's unheard of."

But it has since emerged that the form requires details on life partners and spouses, and requires candidates to make extra copies "for each life partner and/or spouse".

The candidates are required to state their previous marriages and declare all relatives and children, including stepchildren.