Parliament’s new presiding officers – speaker Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise – are facing accusations of creating personal fiefdoms by bringing loyalists and former staff members into their offices.
Critics, who include opposition parties and senior parliamentary staff, have raised concerns over what appears to be the politicisation of what should be independent offices.
Among Mbete’s new appointments are former ANC MPs who did not make it back to Parliament after the general elections.
Johnny de Lange, who had been an ANC MP since 1994 but was too low on the party list in this year’s election, is now a “special adviser” in the speaker’s office.
Arthur Moloto, another former three-term ANC MP, has been appointed as a political and economic adviser.
The executive director of the ANC-aligned Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa, Zanele Hlatshwayo, is tipped for a new job as Mbete’s political assistant. Parliament is in the process of appointing Moloto and Hlatshwayo; their appointments have not been finalised. Mbete was cofounder of the women’s movement.
Though none of the positions were advertised, sources in Parliament have claimed that the advisers will earn “obscene” amounts of just over R1.5?million a year, and Hlatshwayo will apparently earn about R1.3?million a year.
The Mail & Guardian could not independently verify the salary claims.
Parliament has, however, defended the appointments. Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs said the competencies that the appointees will bring to the offices of the presiding officers are commensurate with their experience and qualifications.
“We should always be cognisant of the constitutional provisions when it comes to the appointment and roles of the presiding officers of Parliament,” said Jacobs.
Responding to why politicians were appointed to what should be non-partisan offices, Jacobs said the purpose of the appointments had been to strengthen the officers concerned in carrying out their duties and functions.
“The presiding officers perform their functions in the open. Evidence of their impartiality and role performance is there for all to see, whether in the form of the rulings that they make, affecting all parties similarly, or in the referral of matters for public consideration in the houses,” he said.
Following the handbook
He said the appointments were made on the basis of chapter 8 of the Handbook for Members of the Executive and Presiding Officers, which stipulates that “core staff will be determined by the relevant executing authority, who may decide on the creation and grading of posts as identified in their structure, based on proven needs”.
He said the posts will be remunerated in accordance with Parliament’s remuneration structures.
But a senior official working for Parliament said the manner in which the appointments had been made appears to be highly irregular as the human resources department had been given instructions to place the appointees on the payroll.
“Besides the fact that the positions were not advertised, there were no job descriptions given. It was just names and salary amounts given.”
A source in Parliament described the human resources structure of that office as “an HR nightmare”, saying there was no clearly defined structure and this had historically complicated matters for both speakers and members of staff.
Working ‘with clay’
The staff member blamed former National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu for failing to resolve the office’s structure. “He used to say: ‘You work with the clay you are given.'”
The M&G understands that Sisulu made no new appointments when he became speaker in May 2009 and opted to work with the staff already in the office.
The chief whip of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen, said, although Mbete is entitled to make political appointments, surrounding herself with politicians becomes a “massive problem”. “It undermines her office and the credibility of the institution.”
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said it is typical of Mbete to appoint ANC politicians to her office because she is “too partisan”. It has become a common practice by the ANC to appoint people who failed to make it into Parliament as advisers, mostly in ministries, Holomisa added.