/ 6 December 2022

Parliamentary vote on Phala Phala report postponed

On the fence: Cyril Ramaphosa says a state capture inquiry should simultaneously be broad and focused. Lulama Zenzile/Die Burger/Gallo
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Lulama Zenzile/Die Burger/Gallo)

Political parties on Monday agreed to postpone the debate on whether President Cyril Ramaphosa should face an impeachment inquiry over the Phala Phala scandal until next week Tuesday.

The decision, at a special late-night sitting of the National Assembly planning committee, was ostensibly taken to satisfy a call by opposition parties to allow MPs to cast their ballots in person, rather than virtually.

ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said deferring the debate by eight days would allow all members to make it to Cape Town, despite a shortage of domestic flights.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, African Transformation Movement (ATM), Democratic Alliance, United Democratic Movement and other opposition argued that only a physical sitting would allow MPs to vote according to their conscience.

“It is a highly contentious issue that requires that parliament must sit physically… and the method of voting must be the roll call,” said ATM leader Vuyo Zungula.

The opposition’s reasoning is that if members were to cast their ballots virtually, it was likely that they would be asked to do so on a central platform through a party whip. It would place those who broke rank at risk of sanction.

The postponement also suits the ruling party, albeit for a different reason.

It allows the ANC to regroup ahead of the vote, which will now come just four days before the start of its December conference where President Cyril Ramaphosa is seeking re-election as party leader

Ramaphosa contemplated resigning after a panel chaired by retired chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, found that his failure to satisfactorily explain the source of a large sum of cash stolen from his game farm in 2020 warranted further scrutiny in terms of section 89 of the constitution.

He was persuaded otherwise by his closest allies in the party and on Monday filed an application to the constitutional court to have the panel’s report set aside.

In court papers, he argues that the panel misread its mandate and wrongly gave credence to the hearsay evidence of former state security agency director Arthur Fraser.

The party’s national executive committee resolved shortly afterwards that its MPs would vote against the adoption of the report, “given the fact that it is being taken on review”.

Even if MPs hostile to Ramaphosa were to vote with the opposition to make up the majority required for a resolution to subject him to an impeachment inquiry, nothing could be done in parliamentary terms to take the process further until the new year.

Parliament is cited as a respondent in the president’s court application.

Chief parliamentary legal adviser Zuraya Adhikarie said this could have implications for the parliamentary process as the question that has now been placed before the court, could be the same question the National Assembly would debate next week.

But, she said, legal precedent held that a court process could not serve as a bar to parliament carrying out its constitutional mandate, “especially where we need to hold the executive to account”.

She said a more detailed opinion would be submitted to the speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Earlier on Monday she rejected a call by the ATM, the two-seat party that tabled the impeachment motion against Ramaphosa, to allow a secret ballot.

The ATM has previously successfully taken a similar decision on legal review.

It did so on the basis that parliament had to take into account that the political atmosphere was so toxic that ANC MPs would risk their careers if they were to defy party instructions to support a motion against the president.

In this instance Zungula has not threatened to challenge the decision in court.