It was a case of the ANC against united opposition parties in Parliament yesterday, when the ruling party rubbished Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s budget and strategic plan presentation to the justice and correctional services portfolio committee.
Calling her presentation incomplete, meaningless and lacking in substance, ANC MP’s Bongani Bongo, Chana Pilane-Majake, Loyiso Mpumlwana, led by chairperson Mathole Motshekga, said her presentation did not answer any of the questions they had been left with when the public protector last appeared in front of the committee last year, and called for the meeting to be postponed so that she could come back “better prepared”.
Faced with a hostile reception from the ruling party and support from the Democratic Alliance, the African Christian Democratic Party and later the Economic Freedom Fighters, an exasperated Madonsela insisted on answering any questions today as she would not be available the following week.
Motshekga said all her presentation did was to remind them of the structure financial needs, which they had been told last year. “Which means that this session has actually become meaningless and what you have been doing is to give [the] same motivation as last year. Arrogating to yourself additional responsibility to help Parliament and help government to set up dispute resolution committees before you really address the internal issues of the office of the public protector.”
Motshekga then tried to adjourn the meeting early because they were not satisfied with the presentation, with opposition parties accusing him of abusing his power.
ANC must come clean
When Majake questioned why the opposition parties were protecting Madonsela, DA MP Werner Horn said the presentation did not differ from any of the other budget presentations the committee had accepted in the past couple of weeks.
“Rather than very cleverly crafting questions later, I think the ANC must come clean now and here and tell us what is missing in respect of the budget. I’ve already picked up on quite a number affected by the institution to address some of the issues we had last year. Unless the members of the ANC can show here and now what is missing from the presentation, there is no reason why we should send them away like naughty school children.”
Madonsela said she had been the public protector for six years and had only experienced the same kind of reception in the committee since last year.
“In five years, I had no difficulties. These problems started since last year. My understanding was that I am here to present a summary of the strategic plan, it is not the annual report, which will be presented in October. Shortly after my appearance here, we wrote back to this committee and sent answers in writing. And we have not received any responses from this committee saying the answers were inadequate.”
After deliberating on the presentation, with ANC MP’s accusing the opposition parties of grandstanding and MP’s questioning the budget and strategic plan, Motshekga then tore into Madonsela for publicly calling Western Cape Judge Ashton Schippers’s judgment on her powers “a cut and paste judgment”.
“South Africans and ourselves respect the judiciary and all the judges. Some of us were taken aback to hear you address a public meeting saying that the judgment was a cut and paste. The effect of that is to say to the public that we have judges that are not competent to do the work and I think you have taken a good decision to say you are not satisfied with the judgment, but why do you go to [the] public to say the judge was cutting and pasting?
“Because now in future, members of the public are going to reject judgments and say it is cut and paste. Is that not eroding the integrity of the judiciary?”
Mpumlwana called for Madonsela to publicly apologise for her statements, while EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu felt she should not apologise because she had a right to express her opinion.
Madonsela said she thought Judge Schippers would really appreciate that an MP was prepared to bring his issue into focus.
“Even at a meeting like this. That means we really respect the independence of the judiciary and would like to protect them, even if it is not the occasion for them. I wish I had the same protection when a staff member of Parliament wrote an article recently calling me Saint Thuli Madonsela and accusing me of all manner of things,” said Madonsela, letting some of her calm slip.
“If he [Judge Schippers] was offended, I apologise. Not just to him but to other people who on behalf of Judge Schippers feel offended and reiterate again that I have full respect for the judiciary. For Judge Schippers himself I have enormous respect.”
After the meeting, Madonsela said she always felt like there was an elephant in the room when she was in Parliament lately. “Even a child can tell that there is a problem with the way we interface with Parliament in the last few sessions and I have made my part in trying to avoid that.”
Vote of no confidence
The DA said they would be calling for a vote of no confidence on the chairperson after yesterday’s meeting. “Advocate Madonsela told the Committee that her office is unable to fully discharge its critical constitutional mandate due to a shortfall in its budget. She indicated that her office would need at least R200-million more per year to capacitate her office. The ANC in Parliament refused to entertain this request.
“The fact of the matter is that the public protector is not sufficiently funded and resourced, as the Committee has repeatedly been told. This state of affairs suits the ANC’s agenda to diminish this critical institution, tasked by the Constitution with supporting and strengthening South Africa’s democracy,” said DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach in a statement after the meeting.
The ANC, on the other hand, said notion that the public protector was above criticism or may not be subjected to probing oversight could only come from those who seek to abuse the Office of the Public Protector for their narrow political agenda.
“It cannot be correct that when ANC MPs ask questions on the operations of the public protector and how she arrives at certain decisions, such are construed by some sections of the opposition as attacks on the person of the public protector. We reject such claims with the contempt it deserves because our members are merely conducting oversight on the public protector as they usually do with all state or government organs.
“Today’s attempts by the DA and EFF to block probing questions on the operations of the institution were pure grandstanding that would do nothing to strengthen parliamentary oversight. The DA and EFF’s sweetheart approach when it comes to the institution is hypocritical when contrasted with their attitude towards other institutions,” the committee chairperson said.