Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2004-05-11 Reporter: Mike Ellis

ANC Hijacks Watchdog Body



Business Day

Date 2004-05-11


Mike Ellis

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The appointment of ANC super-loyalist Vincent Smith as chairman of Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) is unprecedented and now leaves all of the most important watchdog institutions directly under African National Congress (ANC) leadership. Parliament's ability to hold the ANC to account is now further undermined and it becomes increasingly difficult for these institutions to claim independence from the ruling party.

With the appointment of Smith, Scopa has now become the latest victim of the ANC's publicly stated goal of ensuring ANC leadership in "all parastatals and statutory bodies in order of importance" and over civil society.

The public protector, the national directorate of public prosecutions and almost all chapter nine institutions are headed by ANC loyalists.

And now, instead of being answerable to Parliament, Scopa is directly answerable to the ANC's national working committee. This was confirmed by Smith in 2002 when he, as Scopa's interim chairman at the time, dismissed a plea from his predecessor, the Inkatha Freedom Party's Gavin Woods, to depoliticise the committee.

Smith's response was that "if that means discarding ANC policy, we will say that will not happen."

Woods resigned after he had been systematically marginalised by the ANC majority on the committee and following his decision to pursue irregularities in the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Under the directorship of Smith, Scopa's independence was directly undermined and the investigation into the arms deal diluted.

At the time of his previous appointment, Smith vowed that the ANC would honour the tradition of appointing a non-ANC parliamentarian to the position.

With the appointment of Smith, the ANC has reneged on this statement, and has clearly decided to bypass any form of independent leadership.

This decision stands in stark contrast to the situation in the vast majority of Commonwealth countries, including African democracies such as Kenya and Ghana, where an opposition MP chairs the public accounts committee.

Mike Ellis MP Deputy chief whip of the Democratic Alliance

With acknowledgements to Mike Ellis and the Business Day.