OPINION

President can’t be shielded from tough questions – John Steenhuisen

DA Leader welcomes Covid corruption debate, expects MPs to be allowed to ask sharp questions

DA welcomes Covid corruption debate, but the President can’t be shielded from tough questions

19 August 2020

The DA welcomes the Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise’s accedence to our request for an urgent debate in Parliament on corruption related to Covid-19 procurement. The act of stealing emergency relief funding through procurement corruption is a new low for the ruling ANC and its family members, and there are still far more questions than answers. The debate has to get to the bottom of this.

However, the wording of the Speaker’s letter of reply is concerning. It would seem that she has already decided which lines of questioning she will allow in the debate and which she won’t. In the opening paragraph she states the following: “I find no basis for your request that Parliament should summon the President to account on how he will deal with members of his party and son.” But she then goes on to say that allegations of Covid corruption are indeed serious and should be considered by the National Assembly.

This seems to indicate that President Ramaphosa could be shielded from answering questions relating to the involvement of, and consequences for, his own party members, and that his son’s contract to modify Gauteng taxis could be off-limits too. This would not be acceptable. It would make a mockery of the President’s strongly worded commitment to tackle the scourge of Covid corruption that has been revealed in recent weeks.

It would also make a mockery of the Speaker’s own words, when she recently assured South Africans that Parliament would “sharpen MP’s capacity” to hold the Executive to account and to “ask those unpleasant, sharp questions.” She was also quoted as saying, “A Member of Parliament is never wrong. No question is ever unimportant or wrong. A Member of Parliament must put questions to us. It is our duty to back an MP.”

If that is indeed the case, I expect her to offer MPs the opportunity in this debate to ask precisely those sharp questions of the President, even if they concern the business dealings of his own family and the family members of his senior party members.

Public utterances of accountability and of zero tolerance for corruption cannot only be words. They have to translate into actions too. The president can’t talk tough on corruption on the TV, but then allow his party to reinstate and redeploy the corrupt within its own ranks, as we recently saw with the VBS-implicated officials in Limpopo, and now again with the swearing in of disgraced former eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede to the KZN legislature.

Perhaps the memory of the last time the President had to answer a question relating to his son’s dubious business dealings with the corrupt Bosasa is still fresh in the Speaker’s mind, and she doesn’t want a repeat of that self-incriminating fiasco. But then she must be honest with South Africans about her intentions, and not sell them the idea of a tough, no-holds-barred Parliament.

Similarly the President and also the Finance Minister need to start doing what they say when it comes to tackling corruption. Two weeks ago Minister Mboweni told us that emergency Covid-19 procurement – which bypasses normal tender requirements and thereby enabled the incredible feeding frenzy among ANC cadres and their families over PPE contracts – had been ended.

But to date he still has not rescinded the emergency procurement instruction, and so it remains ongoing. This would simply require a single-line notice to be published in the bulletin, but the fact that he hasn’t done this calls into question his and the President’s solemn vows to clamp down on this brazen fleecing of the state.

The President and his Ministers – as well as the Presiding Officers of the National Assembly – must know that people remember their words and expect them to act according to what they say. They won’t be allowed to get away with bluster and platitudes on corruption, while allowing the looting to continue unabated, and letting the guilty off the hook. The DA, for one, will not let that happen.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 19 August 2020