/ 19 August 2014

MPs argue over new Nkandla ad hoc committee’s tasks

The ANC and DA have locked horns over whether to allow the new Nkandla ad hoc committee to consider reports from the public protector and the SIU.
The ANC and DA have locked horns over whether to allow the new Nkandla ad hoc committee to consider reports from the public protector and the SIU.

A special parliamentary committee to scrutinise President Jacob Zuma’s response to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and other investigations on the upgrades to his private home in Nkandla has been re-established. 

On Tuesday, the National Assembly voted to re-establish the ad hoc committee following a proposal to do so by the ruling African National Congress. Parliament has five working days to announce the names of MPs who will serve in the committee. It is expected that political parties will deploy senior MPs, whom if everything goes according to opposition parties’ wishes will get an opportunity to grill Zuma about the upgrades. 

The establishment of the 11-member committee – six ANC MPs, two from the Democratic Alliance, one from the Economic Freedom Fighters and two representing the smaller parties was not without drama and controversy. 

As soon as the ANC chief whip Stone Sizani tabled the motion in the National Assembly proposing the establishment of an ad hoc committee to consider Zuma’s report, make recommendations where applicable, exercise those powers as set out in the rules that are necessary to carry out its task and report to the House by October 24; the DA proposed an amendment to the ANC motion. 

DA chief whip, John Steenhuisen wanted the motion to include the consideration of the public protector’s report, the report of the Special Investigating Unit and all other relevant information or submission in this regard. He wanted the motion to specify the task assigned to the ad hoc committee adding that by excluding the public protector and SIU report to which Zuma was responding to, otherwise Parliament would not be sufficiently specifying the task and leaving it to be an open-ended situation which might have results which Parliament never intended to have. 

“I don’t believe it’s possible for us to discuss the response of the President without having a sight in this Parliament of what he is responding to,” said Steenhuisen. “This amendment seeks to address that deficiency,” he said. 

Broad mandate
Sizani disagreed, saying that Rule 138 of the National Assembly rules, under which the committee is established, gives MPs a broad mandate to ensure that it conduct its work comprehensively. He said Rule 138 provides for all documents and other relevant information to be scrutinised by the committee. With the exception of two, opposition parties represented in Parliament supported the DA’s proposed amendment. 

When Parliament established the first ad hoc committee just before the May 7 general elections; MPs in that committee couldn’t agree on its terms of reference and which documents would it consider. 

At first, ANC MPs only wanted to engage Zuma’s response and not consider Madonsela and the SIU reports. After some convincing by the opposition parties, they agreed that they would consider those reports and proposed that a report produced by an inter-ministerial committee which had cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing be included. They then turned around, and used the amount of workload as an excuse to quash the committee, saying dealing with that many reports would make it impossible for the committee to complete the work before the elections and outvoted the opposition to defer the matter to the fifth Parliament. 

One of the people who have been long awaiting the re-establishment of the Nkandla committee is EFF leader, Julius Malema. After the quashing of the first committee in April, Malema sarcastically thanked the ANC for postponing the matter until after the elections. “They said the report will be discussed by a new Parliament, we want to thank them, they have made a very good decision because they are referring to us. We will be handling the Nkandla report. We will be sitting in that committee to decide Zuma’s fate,” he added. 

Senior ANC MP, Cedric Frolick who chaired the initial committee is expected to be appointed chair again, while the EFF is expected to nominate its leader, Julius Malema to the committee.