Idle MPs likely to turn Parliament into battleground
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address marks the official start of the parliamentary year but MPs are not expected to do much for the duration of their term.
At a meeting of Parliament’s programming committee last week, it was announced that the legislature will rise on March 21, officially relieving MPs of their duties and allowing them to campaign for the elections.
There’s no plan yet for the National Assembly or National Council of Provinces to debate and vote on major legislation for the rest of the term. Instead, parliamentary committees will spend much of their time putting the final touches to reports to be handed over to the next Parliament.
The new term will start 10 days after the election scheduled for May.
So MPs will probably while away what parliamentary time is left in heckling each other and use the parliamentary podium as an election stump — which is exactly what happened during the environmental affairs committee’s inquiry, held this week, into the Clifton Fourth Beach saga. MPs tried to score points, mainly with the ANC pitted against the Democratic Alliance.
DA MPs questioned the need for a parliamentary investigation, and the committee summoned DA-controlled Cape Town city officials to explain why private security allegedly evicted beachgoers.
The ANC’s committee chairperson, Mohlopi Mapulane, even ordered a city official to leave the room for allegedly making gestures while those who were apparently evicted from the beach testified.
The DA’s Ross Purdon bemoaned the fact that the ANC was playing politics.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this incident has been politicised. And this committee has a proud history of rising above party politics. Today’s meeting is deeply disappointing.”
The independent Parliamentary Monitoring Group, which records Parliament’s proceedings, says MPs will only have elections on their minds. The group’s researcher, Rashaad Allie, has warned people not to expect much co-operation between political parties during this parliamentary session, as campaigning is already under way.
“One thing is certain: MPs might show up but they will be focused on campaigning, as parties try to one-up each other to win public support,” Allie says. This means plenty more finger-pointing, squabbles, grandstanding, brinkmanship, jousting, endless promises and sound bites.
The DA’s chief whip, John Steenhuisen, says this is not unusual and is natural during election time.
“The closer you get to elections, the more parties start jostling politically to get their message across … You’ll see a ratcheting up of the temperature of political arguments that will take place in Parliament between now and May.”
The Division of Revenue Bill, the legal framework for how Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget will be divided between government departments and entities, is the only statute scheduled to be voted on.
But, from next week MPs will get a few final opportunities for fiery exchanges and politicking. First up will be a debate on the president’s State of the Nation address and then Mboweni will deliver his budget speech two weeks after that. MPs will debate the speech, vote and adopt it into law for it to take effect.
During questions to the president, opposition MPs will hone in on Bosasa’s R500 000 donation to Ramaphosa’s election campaign to become ANC president. They will also take swipes at his year-long incumbency. He took over from former president Jacob Zuma in February last year.
Also under the spotlight will be Deputy President David Mabuza and ministers in the governance cluster, who will have to take questions from MPs.
ANC MPs are expected to ask easier questions to give the executive an opportunity to point out the successes of the past administration.
The opposition will come out guns blazing, pointing to the failures not only of the past 12 months of Ramaphosa’s tenure but also of the previous nine years under Zuma.
Little work will get done but the next few months in Parliament are certainly set to be lively.