WATCH | As the term draws to a close, John Steenhuisen and the other DA parliamentary leadership reflect on successes achieved in holding not only the Executive to account but the ANC in Parliament as well.
John Steenhuisen MP, Siviwe Gwarube MP, Annelie Lotriet MP and Cathy Labuschagne MP outline key issues and events which occurred during the last five years, and what the DA has in store for 2024.
The 6th Parliament
South Africa’s 6th Parliament has been the most challenging yet in our country’s democratic dispensation. In a post-Zuma world, where the intricate machinery of state capture was dismantled and laid bare for all to see in the Zondo Commission and its report, it was parliament itself that was also implicated as an enabler of rampant corruption under the ANC – the ramifications of which have made the work of parliamentary reform a crucial item in this term.
However, much like the 5th parliament that preceded it, South Africa’s 6th parliament saw a return to political abuse by the ANC to stifle oversight, institute coverups and a culture of executive protection, and contort the workings of South Africa’s legislature to suit the ANC rather than the country and its people.
In this climate of ANC unaccountability, parliament also laboured under the Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdown, which centralised executive power under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) and made no provision for parliamentary oversight over decisions taken by the South Africa government during this period.
As a result, the lockdown gave unfettered powers to President Ramaphosa and his cabinet, many of which were abused and exploited for political gain.
A raft of irrational restrictions were imposed upon the South African people, the reason for which were never deliberated on or unpacked by a parliamentary committee, and the rights of South Africans were repeatedly infringed upon by the executive under the auspices of public health. Furthermore, corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) further demonstrated to the public the uncaring and exploitative nature of the ANC in government as it stole from South Africans under a law that cut out parliament completely.
For this reason, the Democratic Alliance (DA) challenged the constitutionality of the DMA in court, and we await a favourable judgement to ensure that parliament can never again be blindfolded.
In a second blow to parliament, the fire which decimated parts of the National Assembly and the precinct in 2022 made it impossible to move back to full, in-person sittings. This further hampered parliament’s ability to conduct its business, and we still have no date of completion in sight for the completed rebuild of the national legislature.
But perhaps the biggest failure of the 6th parliament was the sub-optimal performance of the national executive under President Ramaphosa, who himself, evaded parliament and treated it in much the same way as his predecessor.
The President and Cabinet Performance
For all his promise of reform, President Ramaphosa did not table one single piece of legislation at parliament to grow our economy, solve South Africa’s electricity crisis, put more food on our tables, or give hope to the millions more who have joined the unemployment queue over the last five years.
If ever we needed a clear demonstration of the inaction and paralysis of President Ramaphosa, and his powerlessness within the greater ANC behemoth, the 6th parliament will forever bear testament to his presidency as a mere bystander to South Africa’s many failures.
In the 6th Parliament, President Ramaphosa also centralised an increasing number of state functions such as State Security into the Presidency, while creating a Ministry of Electricity in the Presidency, the operations of which parliament has no sight of. This culture of secrecy and unaccountability serves neither parliament nor the people of South Africa and their interests.
In terms of his cabinet’s performance, one need only look at the various metrics and indicators, both local and international, outlining South Africa’s decline. The DA’s Motion of No Confidence in the national cabinet, which we tabled at the 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA) was shot down by the ANC which, once again, sought to protect non-performing ministers from accountability.
While President Ramaphosa promised to conduct lifestyle audits on the national executive at the beginning of the term, these were never carried out. But perhaps the most glaring coverup of ANC non-performance is the promised performance assessments which the presidency now refuses to make public.
According to Section 92 (1) and (2) of the Constitution:
“The Deputy President and Ministers are responsible for the powers and functions of the executive assigned to them by the President.
Members of the Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.”
It thus disingenuous of President Ramaphosa to claim that making public the performance assessments of his cabinet ministers will embarrass them. It is in the interests of democracy, transparency, and accountability as outlined in the Constitution, that parliament and the people know how their government has performed. As a result, the DA will be doing the following:
We will be submitting a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application, to each ministry of the national executive, to obtain the full performance assessment of each of South Africa’s national ministers. The explanatory guidelines of each performance agreement, signed by each minister, detail the:
- Creation and implementation of performance targets;
- The drafting of report cards on performance progress with supporting evidence supplied by departments;
- The tabling of risk assessments and emerging policy issues, including key actions taken to address them;
- The provision of metrics and data to the Presidency to gauge ministerial performance and;
- A process to convene meetings between the President and a Minister to discuss any sub-optimal performance.
We believe that all of this information belongs in the public domaine and will ensure that South Africans can see the performance of their government to gauge for themselves how much the ANC has truly bettered the lives of South Africans over the past term. As previously announced, should President Ramaphosa continue to withhold this information from the public, and deny the PAIA application, we will consider approaching the courts. South Africans deserve to know the truth as to what our President really thinks of his Ministers, and, after all their dismal failures throughout the years, whether he has the spine to take the requisite action against them.
National Council of Provinces (NCOP)
Looking back at the beginning of the 6th Parliament, we have to acknowledge that the functioning of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), and Parliament as a whole, has been influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the National Assembly (NA) fire. The NCOP mainly represents the provinces by participating in the national legislature process, to ensure provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government.
These programs on paper provide the NCOP with the will of the people, but the political will to implement evidence-based change unfortunately remains lacking in the NCOP We can only hope that the ushering of the seventh Parliament will nullify the words of the Zondo Report that the NCOP is not fulfilling its oversight role and that its tag as a toothless rubber stamp is removed.
Our oral question sessions to the Presidency has been focused on obtaining commitments from the President and Deputy President on key issues impacting South Africans. From the President making commitments to:
- Ensure better participation in the steering committees by SAPS
- Prioritise witness protection
- Prioritise specialised prosecutions with the Minister of Police and Justice respectively in combatting the Construction Mafia.
The Deputy President accepted the DA NCOP’s request for him to visit eThekwini so that he can see the real eThekwini as it became evident in the Deputy President’s oral question session that he was under an illusion as to the state of the municipality. It is imperative that the Deputy President and by extension the executive, knows the state South Africans are living in and the only way to do that is to be on the ground, and that is exactly what the DA NCOP intends on doing when the Deputy President takes up this invitation that he accepted.
The DA NCOP is proud of its role in the DA’s fight against the rising cost of living. And in our one and only sponsored debate of the year, we chose to focus on this vital issue affecting all South Africans.
Our debate was opened and closed by the DA Gauteng Premier candidate Solly Msimanga, he was joined by the DA Free State Premier candidate, Roy Jankielsohn, Western Cape Minister of Infrastructure and the DA Leader in the Western Cape, Tertuis Simmers and Western Cape Minister of Agriculture Dr Ivan Meyer.
Our speakers painting a grim picture for all South Africans but also showing how the DA is assisting the most vulnerable as well as measures to aid the most vulnerable the DA has been advocating for, specifically the zero-rated vat items.
Ministerial Briefings are ultimately meant to provide more information in addition to committees. However, as with majority of ANC initiatives, they only work on paper. These briefings were a glorified talk shop. DA in the NCOP fought throughout 2022 to have these briefings decreased and ultimately stopped as this is the work that should be done within the committees. The NCOP seems to have agreed with the DA as in 2023 there were only two Ministerial Briefing sessions held.
The NCOP being the only house that deals with interventions at Parliament, there are processes in place to effectively deal with interventions. However, when interventions, particularly section 139 interventions are implemented, majority are based on political interference instead of ensuring and supporting local governments to become capable and effective governments in delivering services to all citizens.
As we draw a close on this chapter of our democracy, our sixth Parliament, it is clear that there is plenty of work to be done within the NCOP to achieve its full potential. However, the DA within the NCOP will keep on striving towards an NCOP that delivers on its mandate as we reaffirm our commitments to democratic values, constitutionality, the rule of law, a growing social-market economy, and a South Africa for all.
Key Bills and Votes
The 6th parliament was supposed to usher in a period of reform and efficacy in the wake of the release of the Zondo Reports around the legislature’s role in state capture. However, the ANC demonstrated to all South Africans that they have learned nothing from the most damning period in our country’s post-democratic history.
We saw the ANC abuse its majority once again to shield President Ramaphosa from accountability when they voted down a motion to establish a parliamentary inquiry into concerning allegations of theft at his Phala Phala residence outlined in a section 89 independent report. Similarly, the ANC pushed through the appointment of Adv. Koleka Gcaleka as the new public protector, despite numerous concerns around her fitness for office.
We also saw the ANC bulldoze the National Health Insurance Bill (NHI) through the Portfolio Committee on Health and the National Assembly, despite protest from opposition parties, civil society, health organisations, medical aids and professional doctors – all for the sake of trying to score cheap populist political points right before the 2024 elections.
If there was one thing though, to be learnt about the ANC in this 6th Parliament, is that it is a government that simply does not care.
It does not care that:
- families are, on average, skipping one meal a day because they cannot afford them;
- SASSA beneficiaries do not get paid on time or at all;
- almost 42% of South Africans are unemployed;
- patients in public hospitals have waiting periods of years for certain procedures;
- fuel prices are sky high with the poorest of the poor suffering the most;
- loadshedding is costing hundreds of millions of Rands per day with little to show for the problem, other than burning unreasonable amounts of diesel and;
- taxing the tax base even further next year with increases in VAT or income tax.
One of the most notable scandals of the year involved the sanctioned Russian “Lady R” vessel, which docked in Simonstown on 6 December 2022 and allegedly offloaded and loaded unverified goods. The DA’s determination to uncover the secrecy around Lady R finally paid off when President Cyril Ramaphosa eventually was pressured into announcing a three-member to investigate the circumstances surrounding the docking of Lady R in Simonstown.
The ANC government continues to toy with South Africa’s future with its cozy relationship with Russia. It is because of this relationship that had the United States of America considering throwing South Africa out of the AGOA trade agreement, which would have been devastating to the economy of South Africa.
The DA sent a delegation to Washington DC, United States, in May to launch a campaign to protect AGOA. In July the DA made a submission to the United States Trade Representative which sought to secure South Africa’s continued participation in AGOA. The DA also attended the AGOA forum that was held in Gauteng between 4 to 6 November and met with various stakeholders.
Continuing in the crisis that is our trade relations, it is because of the ANC mismanagement of our ports and rail that has seen multinational companies considering pulling the plug from South Africa over the increased delays of loading and unloading of containers. When the DA took to the skies over the Durban port to ascertain the damage being done, it was shocking to see that as many as 70 000 containers are waiting to be moved and shipped off.
We stood together as a united and diverse team, utilising all available mechanisms for accountability and transparency. Some notable achievements from the DA included:
- We held Government to account on its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic;
- We launched a Parliamentary inquiry into the former Public Protector’s fitness to hold office, this gave way to a Section 194 Inquiry and her subsequent impeachment;
- We held this Parliament accountable for its failure to implement the resolutions of the State Capture Commission;
- We held the President accountable through a Section 89 Inquiry to investigate the Phala-Phala scandal;
- We fought against regressive legislation (Land Expropriation, NHI, BELA).
We also brought forward a legislative agenda focused on the needs of South Africans. This includes:
- The End Cadre Deployment Bill, the Cut Cabinet Perks Bill, and the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers Amendment Bill to repeal cadre deployment, and right-size and professionalise the public service.
- The Children’s Amendment Bill to protect the wellbeing of children in Early Childhood Development facilities.
- The Responsible Spending Bill to limit our national debt on the fiscus, reprioritising government spending towards longer-term economic growth and social upliftment.
- The Anti-Land Invasion Bill to criminalise those who intentionally incite land invasions.
- The Cyber Commission Bill to create another Chapter 9 institution – the Cyber Commission, to protect citizens from cyber attacks.
- Three Coalition Bills to regulate coalition governments in all spheres of government; and
- Legislation to create the Scorpions 2.0 to investigate and prosecute corruption.
It has only been the DA which has kept the ANC in check over the last 5 years. Without the DA in the opposition benches, the ANC would have run rampant in its abuse of state funds, lack of transparency and failed economic policies. In fact, it was the DA that posed 8830 (58%) parliamentary questions to the ANC Cabinet to keep them in check and report any abuses of power.
It was these questions that exposed a plethora of wrong doing and absolute negligence from our government. These include:
- Eskom, Denel, SAA and Transnet receiving a combined R232,8 billion in bailouts since 2019.
- The Health Department oversaw the carelessness of 12 000 unnatural infant deaths in its care.
- R27,7 billion being spent to burn diesel in order to keep the lights on. This amounts to more than 25% of the entire SAPS budget.
- NHI will fail dismally as public sector currently experiences 18 100 shortage in medical staff.
- SAPS reservists program has dropped from 52 054 in 2011/12 to only 3 502 in 2023.
However, until such time as Parliament is rebuilt after the fire, Parliament will not be able to properly function. Despite the fire occurring almost two years ago, we have still yet to find out what the real reason for the fire was. Public Works and Infrastructure has been equally slow in ensuring that the hallowed chambers are rebuilt as quickly as possible.
In these 5 years, we continued to provide a blueprint of robust opposition. We were constructive, democratic, vigilant, and proactive. We also displayed our readiness to govern. As the ANC declines, the DA is resolute on rescuing South Africa and steering it towards a better future.
The next Parliament will be the first where the ANC will be without a majority. South Africa will need a strong DA, and South Africans must vote to protect our democracy. Together, we can all rescue South Africa.