DA to legally challenge Parliament’s decision to not find suitable venues after the January fire

Issued by Siviwe Gwarube MP – Chief Whip of the Official Opposition
28 Nov 2022 in News

The Parliamentary fire that destroyed the National Assembly buildings – and the responses to the tragedy – set the tone for the year in review.

This historic tragedy proved to have far reaching consequences for the work of Parliament; coupled with the virtual environment that was adopted during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This meant that 2022 was not a good year for Parliament.

The destruction of the institution; underscored by a Presiding Officer who has proven to care very little about the accountability function that Parliament has and its importance to ordinary South Africans; meant that efforts to do meaningful work were blocked at every turn.

It has been over 10 months since the fire that gutted Parliament. Since then, little to no work has been done to investigate and hold to account people who were responsible for this tragedy.

This is excluding the criminal investigation that is ongoing. Parliament should have made greater headway in ensuring that internally all bases have been covered. It has not.

Additionally, progress should have been made in finding suitable alternative venues for Parliament and its committees to convene. The Good Hope Chamber which has been a stop-gap measure cannot be the way that Parliament conducts its business. The Chamber can only accommodate 120 of the 400 members. Of our 84 members of the National Assembly, only 19 are accommodated as the official opposition.

The numbers are less for other political parties. Many committees – which are meant to be the engine room for the business of Parliament – meet online which is less that optimal and is exclusionary to most South Africans who wish to follow the work done here.

There is a terrible misconception that Parliament belongs to politicians; when in fact it belongs to the people who have sent us here to serve them. The business of Parliament must directly reflect the issues facing many South Africans. It cannot be a detached institution that is not fulfilling its constitutional mandate.

This is why we have taken the decision to refer Parliament’s refusal to find alternative venues for the institution to conduct its work – while the rebuilding is set to commence– to our lawyers for review and challenging.

We believe that this decision is in direct contravention of Sections 59 and 72 of the Constitution which force both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces – respectively – to facilitate public involvement in the processes of the Assembly, committees and conduct its business in a manner that is accessible to the public.

In addition to this, Chapter 4 part 4 of the National Assembly Rules places the responsibility of ensuring public access and participation in the business of Parliament firmly with the Speaker. Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula is responsible – as per the rules – to ensure that the institution gives effect to the Constitution.

We have given this process almost a year; it is clear that the ANC is only too happy to have Parliament’s oversight mechanisms hamstrung. That is why we will seek to approach the courts.

For South Africa to work, Parliament must work optimally.

At the moment, this institution has been hollowed out by both a fire and an ANC which seeks to render it useless.

In January, immediately after the fire had occurred, the DA immediately sought answers by calling for an independent investigation and practical solutions to ensure the continued working of Parliament by calling for an urgent meeting of the Chief Whips Forum to determine where sittings would take place.

This determination of the DA to get things done and the ANC’s resistance would continue, not only when trying to get to the bottom of how Parliament was set ablaze and trying to determine a timeline for fixing it, but also in the other issues that continues to plague South Africa.

The cost of living has risen dramatically over the past year and while all South Africans had to tighten their belts, none were more affected than the poorest of the poor. 81% South Africans are forced to skip at least one meal a day and more than a thousand children died from moderate and severe acute malnutrition in 2021/22.

The DA decided to tackle the crisis head on and provide practical and easily implementable solutions to President Cyril Ramaphosa. From calling for a debate of national importance on the cost of living crisis and formally requesting the expansion of the zero-VAT rated food basket to introducing our Fuel Price Deregulation Bill to Parliament and gazetting our Responsible Spending Bill, the DA has not only grabbed every opportunity to better the lives of South Africans, we’ve created them.

The biggest barrier to addressing the rising cost of living, however, remains the dwindling economy and growing unemployment lines.

And this is mainly due to corruption, mismanagement, ineptitude and a lack of consequence management. This was not only concluded in the Zondo Report, but also by every annual report tabled in Parliament.

For every attempt from the DA to hold the Executive to account, the ANC endeavours to protect its own. Yet the DA prevailed a number of times.

One of our most resounding successes it the Cabinet’s quiet abolishment of Cadre Deployment. Despite the ANC’s sabotage of our End Cadre Deployment Bill in Parliament and their intent to oppose our court action to declare Cadre Deployment unconstitutional, the DA persisted and our country’s coffers are a tiny bit safer from corruption.

After it came to light that a large sum of money was stolen from President Ramaphosa’s game farm, Phala Phala, and that the theft was the least suspicious thing about the incident, the DA has continuously tried to get to the bottom of this scandal. Among others, we’ve written to the Commissioner of SARS and the SARB; requested that leadership of the SAPS VIP Protection Unit and the leadership of the Presidential Protection Unit appear before Parliament; wrote to the FBI; and requested the establishment of an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter. Despite the fact that ANC members have tried to protect the President from scrutiny – sometimes operating outside the rules of Parliament – the DA will not be exhausted in our attempts to expose the truth.

It is this unrelenting determination that makes us continue to push for Parliamentary reform – and we have already seen some success.

Following the release of the Zondo Report, the DA outlined a 10-point plan to ensure increased and more effective oversight over the Executive. Our suggestion for interpellations is a continuous topic of discussion in the Rules Committee and the DA is in full support of discussions to establish a committee to oversee the Presidency.

The DA fought for the establishment of the Section 194 Committee to determine whether Advocate Mkhwebane should be removed as Public Protector. Despite several attempts to derail the proceedings, the committee continues steadfast.

The DA has also brought a number of Private Members Bills (PMBs) to Parliament to champion issues that would make a difference in the lives of ordinary South Africans.

We have continued to ask important and difficult questions to reveal the truth the ANC government often tries to obscure. Without the DA, the South African public might never have been aware of the following:

  • Minister Bheki Cele spent R600 million a year on catering and accommodation alone;
  • The Cabinet blew R1.4 billion on parties and dinners during the Covid-19 lockdown, which could have provided meals to 250 000 children for their 12-year school career;
  • The ANC government spends almost R13.5 million a month on only 10 of the oversea official residences, staff residences and chanceries;
  • 90 073 girls as young as 10 years old, gave birth to a child in the space of one year;
  • Since Bheki Cele became the Minister of Police, the number of detectives has decreased by more than 1 300;
  • The critical skills shortage of 27 000 and the extensive surgeries backlog;
  • On average, Ministers met only 32% of their measurable quantitative targets in their performance agreements;
  • Apart from the Western Cape provincial government, national and provincial governments failed dismally in answering phone calls or emails from members of the public;
  • Only 44% of the South African Police Service (SAPS) stations that the DA phoned in study answered the telephones;
  • Only four out of the 212 South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) the DA phoned (a 50% sample) answered their phones and only one’s system was online at the time; and
  • At least R1.4 billion in fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred by government departments and entities has been carried over into the current financial year.

The DA also opposed draconian and damaging legislation that the ANC is still trying to push through Parliament. Along with experts, stakeholders and the South African public, the DA will continue to lay bare the utter unconstitutionality of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill and the disempowering clauses in the draconian Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill and will do all in our power to ensure the ANC government does not do irreparable damage.

We have already successfully petitioned a host of changes in the Prevention of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (POCDATARA) and achieved significant success in removing harmful provisions within the Expropriation Bill, despite the ANC refusal to budge on the ‘nil-compensation’ provision. We will continue to oppose this Bill.

The DA’s dedication to truth, accountability and justice has guided our actions this past year and will continue to inspire our dedication in the coming years to fight for the good of all South Africans. We believe that actions speak louder than empty promises in eloquent speeches – and our track record proves that.

While the DA is proud of the work that has been done this year, we are committed to doing more and using our size and position in Parliament to push for greater reforms. In the year to come the DA will:

  • Focus on ensuring that Parliament has a semi-permanent home while the rebuilding continues;
  • Ensure that the R2 billion that is allocated to rebuilding Parliament, is used optimally and that not a cent is wasted or stolen;
  • Take the lead in strengthening Parliament as an oversight institution;
  • Pass legislation that will help inprove the lives of South Africans, including our coalition Bill that will seek to stabilise coalitions across the country;
  • Focus on implementing our Parliamentary reform action steps that we have announced, including making sure that there will be an oversight committee over the Presidency; and
  • Ensure tht Parliament remains a vibrant platform, driving issues that most matter to South Africans.