Zuma should Urge Hotheads to Respect the Constitution
AMBER lights flashed
last week, cautioning that the African National Congress (ANC) was displaying
the traits of the "self-centred ruling elite" that President Thabo
Mbeki warned of last year.
The ANC showed
contempt for the constitution by closing ranks behind Justice Minister Penuell
Maduna in a parliamentary ad hoc committee, while it breached a well-reasoned
convention in the public accounts committee by riding roughshod over colleagues
from other parties.
This committee stands
between SA becoming a banana republic and a model for good governance in the
developing world. For this reason, the committee has, since its formation in
1994, followed the convention of nonpartisanship so that state spending is
scrutinised without being blurred by party political considerations.
This changed last week
when the ANC, led by whip Geoff Doidge after the demotion of MP Andrew Feinstein,
used its 66% majority to rewrite the committee's interpretation of a resolution
calling for the Heath unit's inclusion in the arms probe.
The ANC's action was
contrary to the sentiments expressed by Mbeki at the party's general council
meeting in Port Elizabeth in July last year. In his address, Mbeki warned that
failure to root out corruption could turn the ANC into a "self-centred
ruling elite" a fate that befell other liberation movements, the president
noted, after they took power. "It is the masses of the people who get
robbed and condemned to perpetual poverty, while a small elite flourishes on
illgotten gain," Mbeki said.
The public accounts
committee's original stance, backed by its ANC members, was motivated by such a
fear that the jobs promised to the masses through offset programmes would not
materialise, while a wellconnected elite would enrich itself.
Now the ANC has given
the impression that it wants to give refuge to corrupt figures rather than live
up to the promises made in Port Elizabeth.
Against this backdrop,
one has to ask why Kader Asmal, the chairman of the cabinet committee on ethics
and the chairman of the ANC's disciplinary committee, has not stepped in to
remind the party hierarchy of its moral obligations.
His silence on the
shenanigans around the arms deal is deafening, just as it has been on the ad hoc
committee's decision to overlook Maduna's attack on the auditorgeneral's office,
and thus snub public protector Selby Baqwa, who recommended action.
Asmal said in March
last year that a code of ethics governing the conduct of public office-bearers
was expected to come into effect within three months. But a year later this has
Baqwa has been
clamouring for the code since August 1999, arguing that it is difficult to bring
office-bearers to book without "clearly definable ethical prescripts".
The ANC is eroding
confidence in Baqwa's office. Why should the public look up to this
constitutionally created institution when its recommendations end up in the
order in SA will be only as strong as the ANC allows it to be. The ruling party
has not acted illegally by ignoring Baqwa's recommendation on Maduna, but it has
set a precedent that future leaders (who may well be from other parties) could
use to justify violations of the spirit of the constitution.
like that of other countries, was born out of a belief that power corrupts, and
absolute power corrupts absolutely. The constitution exists to protect the
rights of citizens, and to ensure there are checks and balances on the power of
It is backed up by
conventions, with politicians expected to uphold them at all times, rather than
breaking them at convenient moments.
In the two
parliamentary committees, the ANC failed to act within the spirit of the
constitution or the conventions that have emerged since the birth of democracy
By demoting former
public accounts head Andrew Feinstein and shielding Maduna, the ANC has
signalled that it is does not pay to fight corruption, but it is worth fighting
an anticorruption body.
There is no doubt that
opposition parties, particularly the Democratic Alliance (DA), contributed to
the fracturing of the public accounts committee along party political lines. The
DA was the first to deploy its political animals to the committee. One of them,
Nigel Bruce, said there was nothing wrong with the politicisation of the
But two wrongs do not
make a right. The ANC should have resisted the temptation of fighting back, and
should have worked towards safeguarding the integrity of the committee.
Nothing less should
have been expected of the party. It was at the forefront of the struggle for
democracy and has the most to lose in terms of public support, investor
confidence and spending on the poor if the committee's independence is
As the leader of
government business, Deputy President Jacob Zuma is the link between Parliament
and the executive, and between the ruling party and the opposition.
He now needs to rise
above the fray by advising SA's political hotheads to cool off, and to
rededicate themselves to the values underpinning the constitution. This means
respecting the principle of a separation of powers between the executive and
legislature, showing the highest regard for the offices of the auditor-general
and public protector, and rebuilding the credibility of the public accounts
The alternative will
be to go down the slippery slope that Mbeki warned of last year.
to Farouk Chothia and Business Day.