Our public representatives are doing the public a major disservice by their failure to execute their responsibilities effectively, writes THEMBANI MAKATA
Oversight and accountability remain two of the most fundamental roles played by Parliament in our constitutional democracy. It is the role of Parliament to give oversight to the Executive and the Judiciary whilst these other two arms of the state must remain accountable to the people’s representatives.
While considering the national budget and legislating laws, Parliament has the noble duty to represent the views of the people and to carry forward the mandate that the people shall govern. Yet anyone who understands how Parliament operates knows that the hard graft does not happen in the chambers where airtime is given to political drama. Rather the real work happens behind closed doors and in committees where oversight and accountability are primary.
Yet to whom are Parliamentarians accountable? Who gives oversight to our Members of Parliament? The short answer is the voters and therefore it is commendable that the happenings in committees as well as in the chambers are broadcast on TV.
Too often political parties concentrate on points of order and talking time or even questions of privilege when South Africans now have an idea of who attends committee meetings and who contributes. Even more so, we are able to judge for ourselves the level of engagement and see whether Members of Parliament themselves are accustomed to what is before them. Have they read what they have been presented? Do they interrogate what is being place before them?
Take for example the recent presentation done by Professor Anton Eberhard to the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, titled: The Eskom Inquiry Reference Book. This committee is currently investigating issues of ‘state capture’ into Eskom, Transnet and Denel; our largest state-owned enterprises. Many believe that this inquiry is simply a witch hunt in preparation for the ANC national elective conference.
Surprisingly, as the Honourable Nerand Singh MP (IFP) indicated, the committee does not even know how long the inquiry will be. Members of the opposition parties must therefore not be surprised when the inquiry suddenly dies a sudden death next year, if not before the end of this year. One would have thought that such details, the length, breadth, budget, among others, are ironed out by the committee before they commence their work, unless it’s a hatched job from day one. Yet it seems that, like the academic work presented before them, the committee is not interested in thoroughness and is rushed. December, after all, is one month away.
Singh wanted clarity on Professor Eberhard’s mention of his links with the ANC. As if it were a stamp of legitimacy, Eberhard had mentioned that he had worked with the ANC in the early nineties. What he actually meant to say, when clarifying his answer to Singh, was that he had never worked with the ANC before the nineties, the ANC had no energy policy then and so they co-opted him, as they had co-opted so many other white businessmen and academia.
The subsequent questions that could be posed are: was the ANC not captured by these white businessmen and academia? Is Eberhard, and the rest of the State Capacity Research Group who Eberhard works with not being co-opted by a faction in the ANC today to bring ‘academic legitimacy’ to their factional battles? But we digress.
To ensure that Eberhard was not being used as an ANC proxy, Singh probed further about the difference between fact and allegation in the work presented by Eberhard. Rembuluwani Tseli MP (ANC) also questioned the source of the information, the people interviewed and how the collection of the data was assembled. Eberhard’s answer was astounding. He suggested that like most academic research projects, the data presented relied on “received documentation”, analysis of past research, “investigative journalism” and the “Gupta leaks emails”.
In other words, he could not differentiate between fact and allegation. Professor Eberhard was not prepared to make the written documentation or names of people interviewed publicly. While he suggested that these people may be interviewed by the committee and that the committee could subpoena information, he did not suggest to them that they should subpoena his information.
If Professor Eberhard is not prepared to reveal his sources, why should anyone else reveal theirs? Why should the academic community take him seriously? In fact, the UDM’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, representing South Africans, thanked Professor Eberhard for equipping the committee with this necessary information. Information based solely on hearsay and unverified sources. Is this the level of representation South Africans must be grateful for?
Over and over again, Eberhard was asked what percentage of the electricity bill could be ascribed to corruption or whether electricity would be significantly cheaper if corruption was cut. On the one hand he suggested that the hike in the price of coal contributed to the 400% hike in electricity prices but then could not clarify the role that corruption played in this hike or the other.
Yet, members of this committee, besides people like Singh, Tseli and Dr Zukile Luyenge, leave the people whom they represent with little hope in the quality and depth of oversight and accountability. Typical of the strategy employed by the Democratic Alliance, its MP Natasha Mazzone went for individuals such as Salim Essa while her party colleague Erik Marais, when he finally woke up, went for Brian Molefe. The DA has very little understanding of systemic issues and the need for structural change.
These members together with Girly Nobanda MP (ANC), who questioned the academic about board appointments, shareholders’ role in procurement and rotating executives, issues far from his competency, displayed the lack of understanding of the material in front of them. In fact, Mondli Gungubele MP (ANC) went as far as asking “school-child type of questions”. In other words, we have school children representing us, interrogating an academic about the material presented to them.
Deidre Carter MP (COPE) had to attempt to ensure that COPE remains relevant and therefore asked a question on the trending nuclear deal. She enquired about the “socio-economic consequences” and the “damage to South Africa”, questions as generic as South Africa is to Africa.
Asked about his role in the war room, set up to fight load shedding, Professor Eberhard mentioned that not once was a report or information from Parliament presented to the war room. In other words, the people’s representatives produced nothing noteworthy during the country’s time of crisis with electricity load-shedding. After seeing our MPs performance in the committee with the academic, we are not surprised by this revelation.
The ANC members of this committee came to collect information on the faction which they are opposing and they thanked the academics for giving them this information albeit based purely on allegations, unverified sources and leaks. The Economic Freedom Fighters were not even present or maybe they did not see the necessity of asking a question. Yet there are some opposition parties and members of the ANC who are asking valid questions based on conceptualisation and methodology, two components critical in any academic presentation.
While the majority of Parliamentarians continue to do a shabby job of upholding the constitutional principles of accountability and oversight, South Africans must not fail in holding their representatives accountable. In fact, it is this shabby job by the majority of the ANC caucus that will probably cost the party votes in 2019 than the election of a particular person in December 2017.
Makata is National Secretary General of the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and Deputy Secretary General of the South African Youth Council