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Thandi Modise gives go-ahead to DA request for Covid-19 graft debate

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has given the go-ahead to a parliamentary debate on corruption related to Covid-19 procurement.
National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has given the go-ahead to a parliamentary debate on corruption related to Covid-19 procurement.
Image: Anton Scholtz. File photo

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise has acceded to the DA's request for an urgent parliamentary debate on corruption related to Covid-19 procurement.

But she declined the official opposition's demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa should be summoned to account on how he would deal with ANC members implicated in Covid-19 corruption. The party also demanded that Ramaphosa account for his son, Andile, who, according to DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, landed a R6m contract to modify taxis in Gauteng to comply with Covid-19 regulations.

Modise said she found no basis on which to summon Ramaphosa.

“As you are aware, the president is accountable to the National Assembly in respect of his official duties contained in the constitution and related legislation.

“In this regard, the president is scheduled to account to the National Assembly during 'questions to the president' now scheduled for August 27 2020,” said Modise.

She agreed with Steenhuisen that the recent allegations of corruption related to Covid-19 tenders were serious and should be considered by the assembly. A meeting of the assembly's programme committee would decide on a suitable date for the debate, she said.

Steenhuisen wrote to Modise two weeks ago asking her to schedule the debate and summon Ramaphosa to appear to answer for the behaviour of his party’s members and set out exactly how he intends to act against implicated individuals.

Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa should address the insidious corruption as a matter of urgency because while tenderpreneurs linked to the governing party were profiting from the pandemic, ordinary South Africans had lost all means to support themselves and feed their families.

“This problem is very real and very pressing, and I urge parliament to act immediately,” he said.

He said the matter was of urgent public importance as the economy was being decimated under SA’s hard lockdown, shedding jobs and job opportunities at an unprecedented rate.

“The issuing of government tenders must be used to bolster and support the thousands of small businesses which form the backbone of our economy through a process which is fair and transparent.

“The governing party and those connected to its elite cannot be allowed to repurpose a national state of disaster as a means of self-enrichment when the lives and livelihoods of ordinary South Africans are at immediate peril,” said Steenhuisen in his August 2 letter.

On Wednesday, he welcomed Modise's accedence to his request but took issue with the wording of her reply regarding Ramaphosa.

“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 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-19 corruption are 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 Covid corruption,” said Steenhuisen.

“It would also make a mockery of the Speaker’s own words, when she recently assured South Africans that parliament would 'sharpen MPs' capacity' to hold the executive to account and to 'ask those unpleasant, sharp questions.'

“She was also quoted as saying, 'a MP is never wrong. No question is ever unimportant or wrong. A MP must put questions to us. It is our duty to back an MP',” said Steenhuisen.

He described the act of stealing emergency relief funding through procurement corruption as a new low for the ANC and its family members, and said there are still far more questions than answers.

“The debate has to get to the bottom of this,” said Steenhuisen.

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