An argument that it was the public’s right to know did little to sway National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Thandi Modise from allowing Deputy President Cryil Ramaphosa to answer a question on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s departure from the country, contravening a court ruling that he be arrested.
This after Democratic Alliance MP Jacques Julius tried to sneak in a question about the debacle surrounding Bashir during the deputy president’s question and answer session in the NCOP on Wednesday.
When Julius asked why the government had allowed Bashir to leave and what steps would the deputy president, as special envoy to South Sudan, take to ensure those in contempt of a South African high court order would be held accountable, Modise shielded Ramaphosa from answering and said the matter was in court and therefore could not be discussed.
“The matter of the AU convening its business in South Africa is in court. The courts are conducting an investigation, and it must be finished before we can get the deputy president to give us a response, which might tell us what actually happened. I am exercising my authority not to allow the question.”
An exasperated Julius said he got the feeling that the ANC had come to shield the deputy president from the question.
“The public wants to know why Bashir was allowed to leave.”
Range of issues
The deputy president faced questions on wage inequalities, provincial growth and developmental strategies, the employment tax incentive and government’s cost-cutting measures.
Ramaphosa insisted that the government was serious about the implementation of cost-cutting measures, even though the ministerial handbook was yet to be finalised.
While the deputy president took MPs through savings that had been made as a result of cost-cutting, including the fact that departments reduced travel and accommodation expenditure by approximately R580-million in the 2014-2015 financial year, the opposition was more interested in when the use of government credit cards and first-class travel would be curbed.
“The cost limit on official cars is under way and they will be standardised. Clearly matters such as certain cars that are already in the system is a matter that needs to play itself out to finality, and that is being attended to. The cost-cutting measures will also impact on this issue as well. On travel by ministers, the order has been issued [to curb first-class travel]. That is what we are working on.
“Cost-cutting matters are serious, we are serious about them. We are putting them into good effect and that is an ongoing process. We will hope to achieve the target as we move forward. But the message has been sent through government structures and in time, we will be able to see greater numbers of cost-cutting as we proceed.”
Ramaphosa said the savings, so far, were registered through the negotiation of bulk rates with hotels on routes frequently travelled, cost savings on air travel and reducing the number of delegates to meetings.
“The national treasury recently conducted an expenditure analysis at a provincial level between the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 financial years. Overall, savings of 42% were realised in entertainment, 20% in venue and facility hire, 12% in catering and 5% in travel and subsistence. The cost containment measures demonstrate that government takes the financial pressure on the fiscus seriously and is responsibly seeking options to do more with less.
“Leaders in government are expected to lead from the front, to be mindful of the current economic realities and to exercise fiscal prudence,” said Ramaphosa.
On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma will answer questions in the National Assembly on the Freedom Charter, job creation and the release of political prisoners on presidential pardons.