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Much good work by MPs this year has been spoilt by the sex, lying and stealing scandals that have rocked parliament, writes Waghied Misbach

By unknown | Dec 27, 2006 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Members of parliament delivered a mixed bag of performances this year.

Members of parliament delivered a mixed bag of performances this year.

They cut the last vestige of apartheid from the statute books and passed ground-breaking legislation. But they also got bad press for behind- the-scenes shenanigans.

Top of the highlights' list must be the passing of the controversial Civil Union Bill, which provides for gay and lesbian marriages. Despite its good intentions, the law drew widespread condemnation from the religious and traditional sectors of South African society.

Under the stewardship of Patrick Chauke, the tough-as-nails Home Affairs portfolio committee chairman, the law made the December 1 deadline set by the constitutional court. Summing up the views of opponents of the law, the Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, the leader of the African Christian Democratic Alliance, said it was an "abomination in the eyes of God".

Another highlight must be the removal of the Black Administration Act of 1927 from the statute books.

The act severely prejudiced black women and girls because it prevented them from inheriting from a dead partner or father.

The apartheid-era law allowed onlythe eldest son to be the sole inheritor of an estate.

Parliament also passed the Older Persons Act, which provides further protection for the elderly - defined as women who are 60 and older and men who are 65 and older - against abuse, neglect and ill-treatment.

The law ensures that the elderly will have access to various rights, including counselling, education, information and nutritional meals in institutions where they live.

Those found guilty of flouting the law will be placed on a register and disqualified from running a home for elderly people.

MPs also passed important legislation that will pave the way for the 2010 World Cup. The laws ensure that soccer's world governing body, Fifa, has the necessary financial and other guarantees that the government has committed to the event.

Thirteen laws were passed out of the 35 presented to MPs this year.

Parliament's oversight has also improved this year but in "pockets", said Judith February of the Institute for a Democratic South Africa.

February cited a number of examples of this, including the speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete's announcement that a multiparty committee will probe the abuse of travel vouchers and that a report will be completed next year.

Another report scheduled for next year comes from the ethics committee, which is looking to revise its code of conduct.

The code will look at ways of preventing conflicts of interest and will likely propose a "cooling-off" period before MPs can enter business.

February said committees are also holding the executive accountable to parliament.

One example of this is ANC MPs and SACP members questioning the viability of the controversial R23billion Gautrain development, said February.

Recently Dennis Bloem, the chairman of the correctional services' portfolio committee, criticised minister Ngconde Balfour for releasing only part of the damning Jali Commission report into fraud and corruption in South Africa's prisons. Balfour eventually relented and released the full report.

Parliament's intelligence committee also criticised intelligence inspector-general Zolile Ngcakana's report, which was used by President Thabo Mbeki to fire the country's top spy, Billy Masetlha.

But the Pretoria high court's decision to uphold Masetlha's sacking appears to have vindicated Mbeki.

Women MPs, led by the ANC parliamentary caucus chairman Vytjie Mentoor, also showed their strength in parliament this month when they backed a 21-year-old assistant who had accused the party's chief whip, Mbulelo Goniwe, of sexual harassment.

The ANC's national disciplinary committee has found Goniwe guilty and has expelled him from the party for three years at least.

On the flip side, tough ANC MP and foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma appears to have backed down from her support for alleged serial sex pest Norman Mashabane, who has resigned from his position as adviser to Limpopo Premier Sello Moloto.

This came after a court found that Mashabane should never have been cleared of sexual harassment charges by Dlamini- Zuma.

But February said that parliament continues to "reel" from the Travelgate saga, and that when "lawmakers become lawbreakers, it creates a crisis of legitimacy" for parliament.

Next year MPs are faced with further challenges in the form of laws that need to be passed, including the long-awaited Sexual Offences Bill, which expands the definition of rape.

Another is a law that will further limit the advertising and the selling of tobacco to children. The Children's Act will also provide further protection for children.

A controversial law likely to heat up things will be the Film and Publications Amendment Bill, which media groups and activists have slammed as introducing pre-publication censorship.

It promises to be another action-packed year.


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