Parliament’s presiding officers tried to turn the tables on opposition parties, by urging them to “pay back the money” because boycotting post-state of the nation address (Sona) cocktail functions would result in wasteful expenditure.
The deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Lechesa Tsenoli, said on Tuesday that political parties that will not be attending the Sona functions should be held accountable for giving Parliament late notice about their decision not to attend.
This comes after the Democratic Alliance (DA) submitted a letter to speaker Baleka Mbete’s office today, stating their intention of boycotting the events because the party said it was a waste of money to spend R4.5-million on events to celebrate president Jacob Zuma’s annual speech that charts the way for the year.
Tsenoli was speaking at a media briefing hosted by presiding officers in Parliament. He said the speaker’s office only received the DA’s formal letter this morning, in which the party stated its intention to mobilise fellow opposition parties to boycott the receptions.
The Congress of the People announced in a media statement on Monday that its MPs would also boycott the flashy events that take place on Thursday night after Zuma’s speech.
“We received that letter today, two days before the function,” Tsenoli told reporters. “We would have liked to have had this information last year so that we do not include them in the numbers, for purposes of preparation. They have in fact led to serious wasteful expenditure in Parliament. They must account for it and if we had our way we would ask them to pay for every plate because they did not let us know in advance.”
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said Tsenoli’s remarks were misleading.
“Our caucus was only officially notified of the post-Sona reception last Thursday February 5. We made the immediate decision not to attend and subsequently communicated that to the speaker’s office. For Deputy Speaker Tsenoli to suggest that we had known about it for a year is simply misleading.
“If the deputy speaker is as concerned about the potential waste as he claims, we recommend Parliament cancels its post-Sona function and instead donates the evening’s lavish spreads to those in need.”
Tsenoli justified the expenses by saying it was part of African culture to cater for guests that have been invited to an event and are far from home.
“As much as we are quite sensitive and obviously appreciative of the broader point they are making about being sensitive to the expenditure and the environment in which we are doing the events, but you do not yourself contribute towards the wasteful expenditure.”
Cope on Thursday called Tsenoli’s call for accountability “disingenuous” and “dictatorial”.
Chief whip Deidre Carter said the party was not consulted in the planning of the events and had only found out about them a week ago.
“Spending R4.5-million – approximately R2 500 per guest – for the Sona is unwarranted. Repeated requests by Cope on questions of costs went unanswered by the ANC. Therefore, for the speaker to determine unilaterally to hold opposition parties accountable for losses arising from not attending the reception is bluster. We were not consulted and the decision to spend millions was not ours,” she said in a statement.
Last week, DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said the party would boycott the cocktail functions as there was no need for MPs to wine and dine at the expense of the taxpayer “when those funds could be better used to deliver quality services to the people of South Africa”.
“In light of growing dissatisfaction and anger from South Africans in areas like Malamulele, Randfontein and Mogalakwena, to name a few, as well as an electricity crisis that threatens South Africa’s present and future prosperity, there is no reason for MPs, Cabinet and other public officials to celebrate using public funds,” he said at the time.
Mbete, National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise and their deputies, Tsenoli and Raseriti Tau, addressed the media on Parliament’s readiness to host the biggest annual political event, but avoided discussing tight security controls as the threat from the Economic Freedom Fighters to disrupt the Sona increases uneasiness within the ANC.
The EFF wants Zuma to answer questions before delivering the Sona. Presiding officers said they were not in the business of speculating. Mbete said some of the issues were at operational level and were not issues that the presiding officers could speak about in detail.
Modise said she hoped the need to call in the public order police would not arise during Sona on Thursday. Mbete said parliament was ready for the Sona and, for the first time, the president would be welcomed by a female praise singer from Limpopo.