Ministers must be sanctioned for contempt of Parliament for non-attendance

Issued by John Steenhuisen MP – Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance
12 Mar 2018 in News

The Democratic Alliance has written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, requesting that Cabinet Ministers who were not present in the National Assembly to respond to members’ statements be sanctioned for contempt of Parliament.

On Thursday, 8 March 2018, Members of Parliament were scheduled to deliver members’ statements in the National Assembly in accordance with the National Assembly’s Programme. However, shortly after 17:30 when House Chairperson Grace Boroto announced that it was time for members’ statements, it was apparent that not a single Cabinet Minister was present to respond to members’ statements. This, after Deputy President David Mabuza secured an abysmal attendance rate for Cabinet Ministers during the questions session on Wednesday, 7 March.

By being absent from Parliament for this scheduled item in the Parliamentary Programme, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet Ministers have been grossly derelict in performing their duties. Cabinet Ministers have acted in violation of section 7(a) and (b) of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, 4 of 2004 and may thus be sanctioned through referral to the National Assembly’s Powers and Privileges Committee.

As the DA has requested, the Powers and Privileges Committee must then investigate and impose the appropriate sanction on Cabinet Ministers for contempt of Parliament for improperly interfering with and impeding Members of Parliament’s ability to perform a core function.

The Speaker should have absolutely no hesitation in granting the DA’s request to refer errant ministers for sanction: In her affidavit in the secret ballot matter, Economic Freedom Fighters and Others v Speaker of the National Assembly and Another [2017] ZACC 47, she argued as follows in the context of discussing the constitutionally mandated role of the Legislature, at paragraph 33.4:

“The National Assembly’s Rules provide various mechanisms to ensure accountability and oversight of executive action, viz: In Chapter 9 (Members’ Statements and Executive Statements), Rule 132 (Statements by members) provides for members to make statements on any matter.”

As the Speaker clearly acknowledged before Constitutional Court, it is unequivocal that members’ statements are an important constitutional function of accountability and oversight in Parliament.

If neither Deputy President David Mabuza, in his capacity as Leader of Government Business, nor President Cyril Ramaphosa will ensure that Ministers come to Parliament to account to the people of South Africa, the DA will.

President Ramaphosa’s ‘new dawn’ is evidently coming to a crashing halt as his Cabinet duck responsibility and dodge tough questions on their underperforming ministries.