Gavin Davis and Umalusi: The Motshekga-Steenhuisen exchange

Complaint by the Minister to the DA Chief Whip, and his subsequent reply

Letter from Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga to DA Chief Whip, John Steenhuisen, 23 January 2017

Hon JH Steenhuisen, MP
Chief Whip: Opposition
National Assembly
Parliament of South Africa

P.O. Box 15

Dear Honourable Steenhuisen


The Ministry of Education has made significant strides, since the inception of a democratic government, in the building of national examination system which enjoys national credibility and international comparability. One of the cornerstones of an integrous examination system, is the security and confidentiality of classified information. Despite this principle, the South African examination system has attempted to display openness and transparency, in a controlled manner, in the spirit of engendering public confidence in the all important National Senior Examinations. However, it would appear that this confidence that we have entrusted in certain members of Parliament, has been seriously undermined.

It has come to my attention that one of the members of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Mr Gavin Davis, MP, has violated the fundamental tenets of confidentiality, relating to the National Senior Certificate examinations. Mr Davis, together with other members of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, were invited to the National Standardisation Meeting, where confidential discussions were held between the Quality Assurance Council, Umalusi, and the Department of Basic Education.

These discussions ensure that the candidates that wrote the 2016 NSC examination, are not disadvantaged by factors of inconsistency from one examination, are not disadvantaged by factors of inconsistency from one examination to the other, which relate to cognitive demand, varying difficulty of questions, marking and curriculum changes. Despite, the chairperson of the meeting, informing attendees at the meeting of the confidentiality of the meeting and having requested attendees to sign a confidentiality agreement, Mr Davis engaged in the following:

(a) Mr Davis failed to sign the confidentiality agreement and did not inform the chairperson of his refusal to sign the confidentiality agreement.

(b) He took pictures while at the meeting and engaged in twitter activities on social media.

(c) He further left the meeting with the Standardisation Booklet that contains confidential raw mark data relating to the 2016 NSC examinations, without approval and shared this information with the public.

In addition to the above, he has attempted to solicit information, not following the official protocol, from a DBE official and Umalusi moderator.

The above actions are not only a serious breach of the NSC examinations protocol but also relate to unethical conduct on the part of a Parliamentarian, and therefore it is recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Mr Davis, by the Portfolio Committee and the Political Party that Mr Davis represents.

Your support in this matter will be greatly appreciated. Yours sincerely



DATE: 23 January 2017

Reply by DA Chief Whip, John Steenhuisen, to Minister Angie Motshekga:

31 January 2017

Minister: Basic Education

Mrs. AM Motshekga MP


Cape Town

Dear Minister Motshegka,


Thank you for your letter of 23 January 2017 in the above regard. As I indicated to you in my acknowledgement of even date, I wished to engage with Mr. Davis prior to responding to your correspondence. I have had the opportunity to do so and accordingly wish to respond to the serious allegations that you have leveled.

At the outset it is important to acknowledge that Members of Parliament have a constitutional obligation to “maintain oversight of the exercise of national executive authority”1 It is also important to acknowledge that the standardization of the matric marks, as a joint undertaking

by Umalusi and the Department is an exercise of such executive authority.

In the course of performing his function as an elected public representative it was important for Mr. Davis to balance Umalusi’s request for confidentiality against the constitutional prescripts of transparent and accountable government and the purpose of the oversight function vested in Members of Parliament. It is also worth noting that Mr. Davis only utilized the standardization data after Umalusi had twice simply refused to answer simple questions put to the chairman and CEO in private correspondence. The open letter with which you take issue was, in fact, a last resort to obtain some response from Umalusi to the legitimate questions around the standardization process posed by Mr. Davis. Perhaps if the individuals concerned had been more open and accountable from the beginning this would not have been necessary.

Mr. Davis did not sign the confidentiality agreement because it bizarrely required him to never disclose the standardization information, even after the standardization period, and more importantly if such disclosure was actually in the public interest. This would have constituted a direct conflict with the constitutional expectations placed on Members of Parliament. It is in fact even doubtful if the form, in its current construction, would even pass legal and constitutional muster if challenged.

In any event Mr. Davis did not sign the form therefore any accusation of a “ethical violation” is moot as he could not have breached any written agreement. If this was not picked up by the departmental staff and representatives of Umalusi present then that says more about your own systems failure than anything else.

Your allegations around social media are also rather odd and, with respect, somewhat draconian. I have seen the tweet in question and it is simply a nondescript and rather blurry picture of the meeting room with the words “Attending the Umalusi standardization meeting for #Matric2016 in Pretoria. Fascinating.” Quite how you would find this an egregious breach of policy and protocol in the modern age of social media is frankly beyond me. If there are however new government rules that exist around social media use then you may wish to share these with your fellow Cabinet members Mbalula and Gigaba who are both prolific tweeters and chroniclers of their daily lives and duties.

It is also worth noting that Mr. Davis did not issue any public communications relating to the standardization process until AFTER Umalusi had in fact announced the standardization outcome at its own press conference on the 29 December 2016. It would be ridiculous to assert that they should be the only persons ever allowed to communicate on standardization and that their word should simply be treated as gospel, never to be questioned or tested.

The charge relating to Mr. Davis attempting to solicit information from Departmental and

Umalusi officials is also problematic. There is no protocol, legislation or convention that

prohibits elected public representatives from requesting information from departments and entities. It is in fact part of a public representatives job to try and obtain as much information

as possible in order to make informed decisions. If you are aware of any statute or adopted protocol to back up your charge and preventing access to information by Members of Parliament, I would be most grateful to receive same.

Indeed it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to scrutinize and oversee executive action and

it is the duty of the department and Umalusi to render their processes transparent and accountable in keeping with a democratic society. As you have so quickly taken such umbrage at the conduct of Mr. Davis perhaps you could apply your mind to the unprofessional and unbecoming conduct of the Umalusi CEO, Dr. Mafu Rakometsi, who has flatly refused to answer questions put to him by a Member of Parliament. In addition he released an  inflammatory and personally insulting press release about Mr. Davis and has told Mr. Davis on the telephone that this was a “taste of his own medicine”. I have attached a copy of the press release for your perusal (although it is unlikely Dr. Rakometsi released it without orders from you to do so).

In closing I find the assertions made in your correspondence to be devoid of substance and will be more than happy to meet and refute the flimsy and fatuous allegations contained therein at whatever forum that you choose to lodge them. I see them as nothing more than an attempt to try and intimidate and subvert proper oversight of the Department and Umalusi which, given the growing revelations, are desperately in need of some transparency and accountability. It would be wonderful if you and your department exercised as much executive vigour in pursuing those found guilty in the SADTU “jobs for cash” report as you have demonstrated in pursuing a member of the opposition elected to hold you accountable.

Yours faithfully,

John Steenhuisen MP Chief Whip of the Official Opposition

Parliament of RSA

1 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996- section 55(2)(b)