Editorial: Parliament finally jolts to its senses

There’s a strong feeling of “At last!” when Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts demands answers from officials who avoided the checks and balances of good governance.

How long was the president able to evade giving a straight answer to any of the queries about the R246-million upgrade to his private home in Nkandla? It was at least five years of presidential traipsing around the issue, in an agonisingly drawn-out case, that it required the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters’ theatrical shenanigans in Parliament (and the violent response by the state) to force President Jacob Zuma to give us some answers. It took a Constitutional Court judgment for him to begin to admit that he had to take some responsibility for something. Maybe, by then, some in Parliament had realised how it had failed to put the spotlight on such malfeasance in high office.

The SABC issue has also dragged on. It was in 1996 that Hlaudi Motsoeneng got a job at the broadcaster despite his lack of a matric certificate; in 2014 the public protector’s report into the state of affairs at the public broadcaster nailed Motsoeneng for this dishonesty. It has taken until this year for the SABC board to be called to account for its lack of action on Motsoeneng and other matters. It took a parliamentary committee to finally force the broadcaster (and its loudest employee) to submit to the recommendations of the public protector – after the SABC had already spent a few more fortunes on fighting a legal Battle of Stalingrad to evade accountability.

Parliament went further, too: in an unprecedented move, it recommended that the president reconsider whether Faith Muthambi, the communications minister deeply enmeshed in the SABC shenanigans, is suitable for the job.

In the matter of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the parliamentary committee on transport has said there should be a full inquiry into malfeasance at the agency. So stern was the committee that the minister of transport dismissed the entire Prasa board. Now, hopefully, the agency can get back on track.

This week Parliament eventually got the minister of social development, Bathabile Dlamini, to speak to it about the welfare grants crisis. She didn’t say much of substance, but she has hopefully been disabused of her apparent belief that she isn’t accountable to anyone. The Constitutional Court has also demanded that the department report to it, which should help Dlamini to come to the view that as an elected leader and member of Cabinet she does, indeed, have to account to the people of South Africa.

Perhaps the sheer number of disasters plaguing the state and state-owned entities has finally jolted Parliament into taking the role originally given to it by the people of South Africa: holding the executive to account.

We’ve had so little accountability from our elected representatives that it is like a tall drink of cool water on a sweltering day seeing our MPs do what they are mandated (and paid) to do. It gives hope that “the people’s assembly” is on the side of the people and not on that of the rapacious elite.

Keep the powerful accountable

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