/ 25 August 2017

Letters to the editor: August 21 to 25 2017

Accountable: The home affairs spokesperson has defended Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize
Accountable: The home affairs spokesperson has defended Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize

Minister Mkhize faultless

It’s best to say, for the public good, and, importantly, in the interest of accountability, that Minister of Home Affairs Hlengiwe Mkhize did not fail to arrive at a parliamentary committee meeting as suggested in your editorial (Can we spell accountability?)

Indeed, the minister was invited to attend a meeting of the portfolio committee on home affairs, on the matter of the naturalisation of the Gupta family. But, strictly speaking, the invitation was not for a “hearing”. It was for a meeting, at which she had been requested to brief committee members.

A formal apology was sent to the committee, explaining the reasons for the minister’s inability to attend the meeting of June 20 2017, among them her prearranged engagement in parliamentary activities. The same was true of the home affairs director general.

As for the meeting of June 27 2017, the parliamentary monitoring group (PMG) recorded at the commencement of the meeting that the chairperson had informed members that the minister of home affairs had tendered an apology because she would be out of the country as the delegation head for the minister of international relations and co-operation.

The PMG meeting summary further stated that “some members of the committee excused the non-attendance of the ministers” and that “the chairperson determined that the committee had received the documents” on the subject in question.

This points to the willingness to promote accountability. In addition, it should be noted that home affairs director general Mkuseli Apleni dealt with the legal and administrative processes entailed in the application for naturalisation in great detail.

The minister would have no objection to honouring scheduled meetings of parliamentary committees and to fulfilling her responsibilities and obligations both as a minister and as a member of Parliament.

Last month City Press reported on a study ranking Mkhize among ministers and deputies who attend meetings of oversight committees regularly, in both her current role at home affairs and in her previous role as deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services. She is rated as one of the top two ministers on attendance, with a high number of meetings attended in the period reviewed.

Thus there shouldn’t be grounds for a question to arise about respect for Parliament and accountability on her part, particularly in light of her appreciation of the constitutional role of committees of Parliament. — David Hlabane, department of home affairs spokesperson

The Constitution vs ANC constitution

In a failed attempt to remove President Jacob Zuma by a vote of no confidence in Parliament on August  8, ANC MPs who voted with the opposition are now finding themselves in trouble, with mooted actions to remove them from Parliament and to take party disciplinary action against them (Mutinous MPs may lose seats).

This notion is in accordance with the ANC constitution, section 25.17.3, stating that an ANC member would be guilty of misconduct (and could be disciplined and even expelled from the party) if they fail, refuse or neglect to execute or comply with any ANC policy, standing order, rule, regulation or resolution, in terms of the ANC constitution or breaching the provisions of this constitution.

In a move to put this section into effect, Zuma spoke out against the ANC MPs who voted with opposition parties in the vote of no confidence against him. Zuma was speaking in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, calling for disciplinary actions to be taken against errant members.

In United Democratic Movement vs Speaker of the National Assembly and others, it is made clear that it is impossible for the party to discipline members based on party loyalty. In this judgment Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng confirmed that there was an inherent tension between, on the one hand, the obligation of MPs to hold the executive accountable and to serve the people and, on the other hand, to adhere to the discipline of their party.

He stated: “Members are required to swear or affirm faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution and [the] laws. Nowhere does the supreme law provide for them to swear allegiance to their political parties, important players though they are in our constitutional scheme. Meaning, in the event of conflict between upholding constitutional values and party loyalty, their irrevocable undertaking to in effect serve the people and do only what is in their best interests must prevail.”

It seems that the ANC constitution is on trial, because if any steps are taken against ANC MPs who apparently voted with the opposition, they may call upon the courts to intervene and to resolve this dispute. It seems that United Democratic Movement vs Speaker of the National Assembly and others has set up a precedent in the matter: the MPs are accountable to the electorate, not the party. — Sibusiso Ndlovu