All Power to the Top
EVENTS in two
parliamenary committees this week underscored the topheaviness of SA's system of
government and the weakness of institutions designed to counterbalance executive
committee" was set up in response to Public Protector Selby Baqwa's
recommendation that Parliament censure Justice Minister Penuell Maduna for his
baseless attack on the constitutionally protected office of the auditor-general.
The African National
Congress majority on the committee voted to do nothing.
In the public accounts
committee the ANC again overrode minority party objections in finding that
Parliament had not asked for the Heath unit's involvement in the arms deal
inquiry. Significantly, committee chairman Gavin Woods abstained.
The Maduna matter
underscores the toothlessness of Parliament and the public protector as brakes
on government. Asked to enforce respect for one constitutionally protected
institution, ANC MPs brushed aside another, the public protector himself.
Instead of using the legal loophole that the constitution specifies no
sanctions, they could have accepted the minority view that the speaker publicly
reprimand Maduna. Instead they shielded a minister who opened his mouth, put his
foot in it and then insisted at great public expense that this was where his
foot belonged. It may be remembered that he spent millions in lawyers' fees
The ANC's enthusiasm
for Baqwa seems to wax and wane according to the circumstances. It also ignored
his recommendation that Mpumalanga premier Ndaweni Mahlangu be censured for
violating the spirit of the constitution. At the same time Maduna pronounced
Baqwa's office, among others, quite capable of carrying forward the arms inquiry
without the Heath unit.
ANC members of the
public accounts committee also seem to have been motivated by the desire to
swing Parliament behind the executive. The committee was split on party lines
for the first time, posing the threat that, in future, it will be less an
impartial custodian of the public purse than the tool of party bosses.
Alliance, which walked out of the meeting, bears a measure of blame for this. It
drafted party heavyweights into the committee at a politically charged moment,
when the Heath furore was at its height. One of them, Nigel Bruce, said he saw
nothing wrong with politicising the committee's work.
Democracy works on the
majority principle and the ANC has done nothing illegal by enforcing it. The
damage is more subtle. The question is whether, by their actions, ANC
parliamentary committee members have promoted accountable rule.
acknowledgement to Business Day.