Let’s take a look at how the Democratic Alliance performed in Parliament in 2020 – a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic showed up how eroded our country and our government have become under the ANC, and a year in which the DA outperformed the rest carrying out its constitutional duty to hold the Executive to account.
Questions submitted in Parliament
The role of Parliament is twofold: it must pass legislation and it must hold the Executive to account by conducting effective oversight. Much of this oversight function is achieved through parliamentary questions.
As can be seen in the graph above, the DA asked 1 893 (66 %) of the total 2 860 written questions in the National Assembly at an average of 59 questions per opportunity. The 1 893 questions asked by the DA’s 84 members translates to an average of 23 questions per DA MP.
In comparison, the ANC submitted 20 (0.7 %) of the total 2 860 written questions at an average of 0.6 questions per opportunity.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) submitted 514 questions (18 %) of the total 2 860 written questions at an average of 16 questions per opportunity.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) submitted 192 questions (7 %) of the total 2 860 written questions at an average of 6 questions per opportunity.
The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) submitted 160 questions (5.6 %) of the total 2 860 written questions at an average of 5 questions per opportunity.
Other opposition parties asked a total of 81 (2.7 %) questions this year.
DA parliamentary questions in the news
Following the DA’s question to Minister Sisulu on the positions filled in her Ministerial Office as well as the Water and Sanitation’s Ministerial National Rapid Response Task Team, their qualifications and remuneration, it was revealed that Mo Shaik and Menzi Simelane were appointed as special advisors to her office.
The DA then went on to file a complaint at the Public Service Commission to investigate the appointments of Simelane and Shaik. The Party also filed a PAIA application to request the salaries of these individuals and others working in the Minister’s office. This after her office refused to disclose their salaries.
Days after, the Minister then tried to cover up and released an amended response which omitted the names of employees.
Information that Minister De Lille’s Advisor, Melissa Whitehead, was alleged to be closely involved in the Beitbridge Border Fence debacle came to light in a reply to a parliamentary question from the DA to Minister Patricia de Lille.
The DA used this, and other information, to put pressure on Minister De Lille to be held to account for the ‘washing line’. Until now, she had been absolving herself of all responsibilities in this regard.
While the lockdown destroyed the private economy, the DA revealed how the ANC paid cadres and state employees R11 billion not to work.
This response resulted from a DA parliamentary question in which the Party asked for the breakdown of the number of public servants who continued to be paid from taxpayer funds, even though they had had their workloads reduced significantly.
The Party wanted to know whether the Government was still paying full salaries to public servants whose workloads had been reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic; if not, why not; if so, what were the relevant details.
This number, as it turned out, was high and cost taxpayers considerably. The ANC had spent over R11-billion in taxpayer money to pay the salaries of at least 84 000 state employees who had had their workloads reduced significantly.
The Minister went on the defensive and threw insults. Calling out Minister Mchunu for his insults, the DA followed up with a statement entitled: Would the ANC have persisted with brutal lockdown if cadres like Senzo Mchunu also felt the pain?
In a parliamentary question, the DA sought to confirm whether the State had been reimbursed by the ANC for their junket to Zimbabwe onboard an Air Force jet during lockdown.
The answer at the time seemed to have implied ‘no’ and this contradicted the ANC’s confirmation earlier that month, that it had in fact paid back R105 000 to the Department of Defence and Military Veterans.
The Minister said that “[any] revenue due to the state flows to the National Revenue Fund (NRF) through departments concerned before it is surrendered to the NRF. As it stands, the Department of Defence is still working on the matter and will inform the National Treasury accordingly once the matter is finalized.”
How many times has the President answered oral questions in the House in 2020?
How many times has the Deputy President answered oral questions in the House in 2020?
How many times have Ministers answered oral questions in the House in 2020?
WATCH: Andrew Whitfield MP presses the Minister of Police on nepotism, corruption, and tenderpreneurship
WATCH: Siviwe Gwarube MP asks the Minister of Health to explain how we find Ace Magashule donating millions of Rands worth of PPE equipment to Cuba
WATCH: Natasha Mazzone MP probes the Minister of Public Enterprises on the latest bailout of the failing South African Airways
Big issues driven by the DA caucus in Parliament this year
Timeline of DA activism to defeat the coronavirus and save lives and livelihoods
Timeline on how the DA fought racism and hate speech and how the Party used the SAHRC this year
Timeline of DA activism to end farm attacks and murders
Timeline of DA activism on land
Timeline of DA activism with regard to the Public Protector
NA motions and members’ statements
At the beginning of the Sixth Parliament, the number and sequence of motions was determined at 23, and number and sequence of members’ statements was determined at 17 for the duration of the Sixth Parliament by the NA Rules Committee, with the DA having three opportunities each for motions without notice and notices of motions, and three opportunities for members’ statements whenever they are scheduled.
Members had four opportunities to raise motions in the National Assembly in the Second Session of the Sixth Parliament. This means that the DA has read out 12 motions without notice and 12 notices of motions, driving issues affecting South Africans.
Members also had three opportunities to raise members’ statements in the National Assembly in the Second Session of the Sixth Parliament. This means that the DA has read out nine members’ statements on a wide range of topics that needed to be brought to the attention on the relevant Ministers.
On 5 November 2020, the DA had an opportunity to table a debate on the financial burden of sustaining non-profitable state-owned entities and how the Government can reappropriate the continual bailouts used to sustain these entities.
In February 2020, The Chief Whip of the Opposition tabled a motion to initiate an inquiry in terms of section 194(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, to remove Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane from the office of the Public Protector on the grounds of misconduct and/or incompetence in the South African Reserve Bank, Vrede Dairy and other matters.
The DA has also successfully tabled three debates on matters of national public importance in the Second Session of the Sixth Parliament:
The DA’s performance in the National Council Of Provinces (NCOP)
- Total number of DA questions submitted: 423
- Percentage of DA questions out of total written questions submitted: 49%
Successful media stories
- During an oral question session in June, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (while answering a question to DA Member of Parliament Isaac Sileku) said that she does not consider sexual abuse committed by SANDF soldiers outside the borders of SA as brutality.
- NDZ does not know the capital of South Africa: Due to Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s continuous failure to answer her written questions throughout the year, DA Member of Parliament, George Michalakis, submitted a test question to the Minister asking her where the capital of the Republic of South Africa is. Her reply; “The information requested by the Honourable Member will be submitted as soon as it is available.“
- During an oral question session, Minister of Police Bheki Cele informed DA Member of Parliament, Willie Aucamp, that South Africans who were caught buying or selling cigarettes during the lockdown should receive a criminal record.
- In May, DA Member of Parliament, Dennis Ryder, exposed the ANC Parliament caucus as being divided on race-based business funding during the lockdown, when several ANC MPs showed their reservations during a Parliament committee meeting.
- Prestige projects: In June this year, DA Member of Parliament, Tim Brauteseth, exposed the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure for planning to spend up to R423 million on prestige projects during the COVID-19 lockdown, such as glamours upgrades to the Parliamentary precinct, Parliamentary villages, and state funerals, amongst others. Despite this, the Department retained the planned expenditure in their adjustment budget in July, and when the DA requested for the money to be diverted to much-needed job creation through the Expanded Public Works Programme in the October adjustment budget, that was also ignored by the Department and Minister.
Notable plenary activities
- The DA led the first climate change debate in the NCOP in March this year. Climate change activists were invited as guests on behalf of the DA NCOP Leader and watched the debate from the gallery.
- In October, the NCOP unanimously adopted a DA motion that called on the Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza to declare the Western Free State areas affected from farm fires as a disaster area. The motion also called on SAPS to take decisive action against those responsible for the fires. (NB these were the fires that followed after the EFF’s Ndlozi sang ‘Burn the Boers’)
- In November, the NCOP unanimously adopted a DA motion recognising the DA’s ability to govern well and the Western Cape Government’s outstanding response to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
- Since the beginning of the year, the DA had to consistently fight for oral question sessions with Ministers as the ANC had only originally scheduled ministerial briefing sessions that were exclusively focused on COVID-19 and the lockdown. Our persistence eventually paid off when the ANC conceded for oral question sessions from June onwards.
- In September, the NCOP unanimously adopted a DA motion that provincial and national governments need to provide more proactive support to municipalities. It is the lack of this support, that we see provincial governments rushing to section 139 interventions as quick fixes, that often leave municipalities in a worse state afterwards.
A review of legislation
Introduction of Private Members’ Bills (PMBs):
To date, the Democratic Alliance is the only opposition party which introduced legislation in Parliament in 2020.
1. The Fiscal Responsibility Bill [B5-2020]
2. The Public Finance Management Amendment Bill [B13-2020]
3. The Pension Funds Amendment Bill [B30-2020]
Apart from these Bills, the DA also has several bills in varying stages of development, which will seek to keep the ruling party accountable and address various problems faced by ordinary South Africans.
The Democratic Alliance also communicated on the following Draft Private Members’ Bills in 2020:
1. (Draft) Professional Public Service Bill
2. (Draft) IPID Amendment Bill
3. (Draft) GBV Bill
Consequential Bills introduced in Parliament:
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill were introduced in Parliament. These Bills’ objectives are positive and laudable, insofar they represent much-needed and long-awaited legislative interventions to address gender-based violence, femicide and violence against vulnerable persons. However, these legislative interventions are not enough, and the DA will continue to apply pressure on the relevant departments to introduce other measures to protect woman, children and other vulnerable members of the South African society.
A review of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA)
Dlamini-Zuma’s failure to answer parliamentary questions
“In May 2020, the DA had to write to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting that he reprimands and disciplines the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, for her persistent failure to account to parliament through the mechanism of parliamentary questions. Dlamini-Zuma’s conduct is emblematic of a tendency that has become entrenched in the Executive, where parliamentary questions are either ignored or answered evasively.
Parliamentary questions are a key mechanism of Parliamentary oversight of the Executive. It is the primary tool by which Members of Parliament obtain information from Members of the Executive.
The DA has consistently raised the issue of the Executive’s poor performance in answering of parliamentary questions and attendance at oral question sessions for several years now, both at oral question sessions and through various Leaders of Government Business (LOGB) – including when President Ramaphosa served in that role.
Our submissions to the President called on his office to:
- Include certain clear performance expectations relating to the speed and quality of replies to parliamentary questions, and their regular attendance at Oral Question Sessions, as targets in the performance agreements concluded with each member of Cabinet.
- Reprimand the fifteen members of Cabinet with the highest percentage of unanswered questions.
- Delegate additional powers to the Leader of Government Business to empower him to enforce the National Assembly’s Rule 145(5) to ensure that questions are responded to within the 10- working-days-provision.
Institute disciplinary steps against Minister Dlamini-Zuma for failing in her responsibility to account to Parliament for the exercise of her powers and the performance of her functions by not responding meaningfully and honestly to any parliamentary questions.”
A review of the busiest committees
The budget process
Calendar year 2020 has been unique, not only in the sense that the world, and South Africa, has been faced with a global pandemic, the scale of which has not been seen for over a century, but also in the fiscal context.
When it comes to budgets, the Minister of Finance usually presents two: the Main Budget Review in February, which is the most popular one, and the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement in October, which is effectively a reactive document that makes the necessary adjustments to the Main Budget.
But this year, at the end of June, the Minister presented Treasury’s Supplementary Budget Review, dubbed by the media and the public as the “Emergency Budget”. The purpose of this very unusual budget review was to reallocate funds for the COVID-19 relief package that the President promised the country.
The emergency budget was quite interesting and controversial. For one, zero mention was made about South African Airways since the highly controversial business rescue plan, requiring over R30 billion in restructuring finance over the medium term, still had to be voted on. It was eventually approved mid-July, requiring over R10 billion in recapitalisation finance.
Come the MTBPS at the end of October, in spite of huge public outrage over whispers that SAA will receive the R10.5 billion recapitalisation package, the bailout was slipped into the budget. Interestingly enough, SAA was only mentioned for the first time in the MTBPS document on page 24, snuck into an expenditure revision table as a sub-category. And to fund the bailout, cuts had to be made to sectors such as healthcare and policing, amongst others. All of this during a novel pandemic.
The outrage at opting to resurrect a dead bird over funding the provision of essential services was immense, yet Minister Pravin Gordhan still thought it best to gaslight those who questioned his lack of morals by brandishing them as “financially illiterate”.
Of course, the outrage was warranted, because in the Main Budget Review in February, SAA also received a R16.4 bailout. Total financial assistance that will be given to SAA in this fiscal year (thus excluding assistance spread over consecutive fiscal years), is over R20 billion.
But SAA was not the only controversial matter.
In the MTBPS, Minister Mboweni effectively announced that government has reneged on its promise to stabilise public debt by 2023/24, pushing the point of stabilisation to 2025/26, thus increasing the odds of South Africa falling straight off a fiscal cliff. On top of interest payments on the debt already consuming 21 cents of every rand generated in tax revenue, the worrying debt prospects outlined in the MTBPS simply served to increase long-term borrowing costs for the government, with the Reserve Bank having to step in through unprecedented purchases of government bonds, not only to assist with the COVID-relief package, but also to try and flatten the yield curve in an attempt to contain the rise in borrowing costs on the bond market for the government.
A parliament for the people?
During COVID-19, Parliament went fully online with committee meetings being broadcast on YouTube. This is essential. Usually, Parliament is accessible to the public, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, visitors could not attend any sittings or meetings. The main way the public could monitor meetings, and thus keeping their representatives accountable, was through watching the live recordings on YouTube.
We thus monitored all the committee meetings for a week to see how many were broadcast on YouTube so that the public could watch it, and the results are discouraging…
Week of 23 November
60 Committee Meetings
Uploaded Without any Issues – 29 or 48.3%
Uploaded With Issues (Started Late, No Sound) – 6 or 10%
Not Uploaded – 25 or 41.16%