/ 19 November 2014

Parliamentary peace accord in tatters

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the National Assembly and urged opposition MPs to respect the president and his office.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the National Assembly and urged opposition MPs to respect the president and his office.

The parliamentary peace accord struck between the ruling ANC and opposition parties on Tuesday is in tatters.

Facilitator Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was the first to admit as much when answering oral questions from the National Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.

The session started quietly with a question from ANC MP Beauty Dlulane about social cohesion.

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete then announced that the next question, asked by Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane about President Jacob Zuma’s failure to appear before the National Assembly to answer questions, was withdrawn.

The session ended after Ramaphosa said “… the agreement that was arrived at yesterday, which we all announced, an agreement which in my view is about to lie in tatters because of what is unfolding now.”

Ramaphosa made the statement while responding to tough questions from opposition MPs about the alleged failure of Zuma and his executive to properly account to Parliament.

Constitutional responsibility
Agang’s Andries Tlouamma had asked Ramaphosa if he intended to fulfil his constitutional responsibility as leader of government business to ensure the attendance of Cabinet members, as appropriate, to parliamentary business by urging them to prioritise their availability to answer questions in the National Assembly when the cluster of ministers in which they appear is scheduled to do so.

Ramaphosa assured the House that members of the executive do not see occupying their positions as a right, but see themselves as servants of the people. “They are there because they don’t necessarily wish to be there, but were appointed to be servants of the people, appointed to work for the people.”

Ramaphosa said he found the members of Zuma’s executive to be hard-working individuals, adding that “they are smart, they know what they are talking about, they know their work and were put there because they are well endowed with knowledge, with commitment and they know their job”.

He said that, to his knowledge, members of the executive were fulfilling their obligations to respond to questions in the National Assembly.

At this point, DA MPs were shouting “Where is Number One?” in reference to Zuma, who has not answered oral questions since August 21, when the Economic Freedom Fighters MPs chanted that he “pay back the money”.

Executive accountability
The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Sibongile Nkomo said the agreement between Ramaphosa and the leaders of opposition parties included a reaffirmation of the principle of executive accountability and that all members of the executive must appear before Parliament to answer questions as required by the rules.

She then asked Ramaphosa what sanctions would be meted out on ministers who do not attend the question and answer sessions. She suggested that they be named and shamed publicly.

Ramaphosa said the issues that were covered in the agreement were an attempt at addressing some of the challenges the National Assembly faces.

“It was an attempt and the extent to which that attempt would have succeeded to address this clearly would be seen ‘either later this afternoon or in time to come’.

“I had thought that it was a real and serious attempt, an attempt that was applauded by many of our people who don’t sit in this House and many of the people who sit in this House and they felt that, for once, an incredible window had been opened for this House to regain its stature, its standing among our people as a House that can be respected and a House that makes the laws of our country,” he said to applause from the ANC benches.

‘Position in balance’
He added: “I think that that position is in balance this afternoon. It is in balance because it is possible that we may not all have been totally committed to going through with that position.

“And it fills me with a great deal of regret that having had the great opportunity of meeting the leaders of our people as represented in Parliament, we now face the situation where we are going to erase this wonderful development which was so well applauded by our people.

“I think that is a great pity,” he said to loud cheers from the ANC MPs and jeers from the opposition.

Ramaphosa appeared greatly annoyed by the heckling.

He turned to address Mbete: “Madam Speaker, I am required to stand here and answer questions. I am not engaging in a debate. This is precisely what we sought to address yesterday, that members of the executive ought to be given an opportunity to answer questions and they must do so in a climate that enables them to answer questions.

“If this very type of behaviour immediately goes against precisely what we were talking about yesterday, what it means is that what we struck yesterday does not hold. It doesn’t hold and if I was engaging in a debate I would have understood that, yes, there can be heckling and interjections. But I have been asked to come here and answer questions.”

No point
He said if he was going to be impeded, he did not see the point of being in the House to answer the questions.

At this point, Freedom Front Plus MP Corne Mulder rose on a point of order, saying Ramaphosa had failed to answer Nkomo’s question, which had been about a sanction. Mbete ruled him out of order.

Maimane, also rising on a point of order, said the spirit of the agreement between the parties was to affirm the Constitution and the rules of the National Assembly, and that emanating from those rules is the conversation about accountability.

“How is it that when we ask about accountability, [we are accused of] going against the very agreement we entered into?” asked Maimane.

When Ramaphosa eventually answered this question, he said he has not seen any censure necessary for any of the Cabinet ministers as they have been doing a good job.