Parliament pushes back against Zondo criticism

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula denies being chased away. File photo.
National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula denies being chased away. File photo.
Image: GCIS

Parliament on Thursday said it was implementing the Zondo commission's recommendations but highlighted it would  not amend existing laws as recommended by chief justice Raymond Zondo in his state capture report, because most of them were already catered for.

National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said while parliament acknowledges the significance of legislative reforms suggested by the state capture commission, it is notable that the mandate for legislation is vested on parliament by the constitution and should follow the prescribed processes, including public participation.

Parties represented in parliament also have a right to input or oppose any proposed legislation presented to parliament.

“Parliament does, however, appreciate the spirit within which the recommendations relating to legislation that can improve oversight and avoid similar levels of state capture in the future,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said a lot of what came out in the report were things which were there in the rules, as those drafting the constitution and the rules had the foresight to appreciate that the country may get to a point where it will face these kinds of challenges.

She was addressing the media a day after she and other presiding officers met Zondo about the remarks he made last week that the legislature would fail to prevent and end state capture if another group of people tried to capture the state.

Speaking at a colloquium hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council, a year after he handed the state capture report to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zondo said: "If another group of people were to do what the Guptas did to pursue state capture ... parliament would still not be able to stop it. That is because I have seen nothing has changed."

Mapisa-Nqakula said they were shocked by Zondo’s comments.

“We did not expect it,” she said.

It’s not so much that as parliament we are beyond reproach, it is about a head of the judiciary, taking the floor and raises issues which he has never raised with the presiding officers of parliament
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, National Assembly speaker 

While parliament is subjected to public scrutiny, she said they did not expect a head of an arm of the state – the judiciary – to raise such matters in the public arena about another arm of the state.

“It’s not so much that as parliament we are beyond reproach, it is about a head of the judiciary taking the floor and raising issues which he has never raised with the presiding officers of parliament. 

“We needed to understand the context within which his remarks were made. We had this interaction with the chief justice and indeed we do have an appreciation of the context within which the remarks were made,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said work was under way to address the commission’s recommendations, and the rules committee has already considered them and made conclusive decisions on some of them. Of the 19 recommendations made by the commission relating specifically to parliament, 11 had been implemented.

But some were propositions that were already in the statutes.

For example, regarding the commission’s recommendation to enact legislation protecting MPs from losing their party membership and seats, parliament affirmed that the constitution and the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004 already provide powers and protection to members in the exercise of their functions, she said. It is the view of parliament, therefore, that no new legislative interventions are required in this regard.

On the recommendation to amend the Intelligence Services Oversight Act to ensure that, at the end of each term, the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence of Parliament (JSCI) provides a consolidated account of its work conducted during the course of the five-year term, Mapisa-Nqakula said after careful consideration, the JSCI concluded that no amendments to current legislation are necessary, as the existing law already addresses the commission’s concern.

“The committee did, however, recognise the lack of adequate capacity in this regard, and in line with the need to ensure consistent and regular reporting, the committee’s support capacity has been reinforced.”

The commission made a number of observations and recommendations regarding parliament’s capacity challenges that affect its ability to provide qualitative oversight on the executive. This may also have contributed to state capture continuing unchecked and unaccounted for, said Mapisa-Nqakula.

In this regard, she said, parliament has conducted a review process for its budget, especially its financial requirements for oversight work in committees and has started engagements with the Treasury to find ways to address the shortfall in its baseline. Parliament has also ramped up its capacity building and training of members to equip them with the necessary analytical and technical skills required in the exercise of their mandate, especially with regard to law-making and oversight.  

The commission also raised concerns about cabinet ministers who failed to appear before parliament without adequate cause. But the rules committee noted that the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act already considers such actions as contempt of parliament, making them offences under the act.  

She said the rules committee emphasised that measures have been implemented to facilitate executive attendance, and existing legislation has been successfully utilised, as demonstrated recently by a minister summoned to appear before a committee in 2022.

With regards to establishing a presidential oversight committee, the speaker said parliament has considered establishing a committee to oversee aspects of the presidency not currently supervised by existing structures.

The parliamentary budget office (PBO) conducted research to identify aspects of the presidency budget not under parliamentary scrutiny, she said. The PBO concluded that parliament should strengthen its oversight over the presidency and recommended further research. The rules committee agreed that the PBO’s desk-top research should be supplemented with a fact-finding visit to explore international best practices on the matter. As a result, a group of MPs will embark on a fact-finding mission to the UK next month for this purpose.

The commission had also suggested that parliamentary oversight may be better served if more chairpersons were elected from minority parties. Parliament differed, saying it was affirming the authority of the assembly to determine committee chairpersons and internal arrangements, proceedings and procedures.

“In this regard, the multiparty rules committee agreed it was not desirable to interfere with democratic decision-making processes within committees, which include election of chairpersons,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

The Zondo commission made 16 recommendations on parliament’s role, and three relating to legislation and the work of the ethics committee.

As part of the implementation plan, at least 22 relevant parliamentary committees were assigned to oversee executive action regarding the commission’s recommendations. The committees are required to provide quarterly reports on oversight matters related to the implementation of the commission’s recommendations, she said.  

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