Former ministers choose fat pensions over mandate to serve the people!
One thing that came to define the start of the 6th Democratic Parliament are the resignations by former members of the executive from the National Assembly.
There are of course various speculations on why these former ministers and deputy ministers resigned, and these include pension consideration and rumours of redeployment to other focus areas.
One thing that is certain though is that all these former Cabinet members and parliamentarians resigned because they were not considered for the still bloated national executive.
When the correct history of South Africa’s Parliament is told in years to come, it should be highlighted that Jeff Radebe, Bathabile Dlamini, Siyabonga Cwele, Derek Hanekom, Thokozile Xasa, Nomaindia Mfeketo, Mildred Oliphant, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba and Susan Shabangu left Parliament when they were not considered for the personally benefiting and self-aggrandising roles of being members of the executive.
This is however not the first time ANC members who are removed from Cabinet left Parliament.
In plain revolutionary terms, these members care more about material benefits accruable to them when they are in Cabinet than service to the country.
So when presented with two choices, one being of service to the people as legislators and overseers of the executive and its entities and self-aggrandisement, they boldly choose the latter.
This is no surprise because that’s what post-colonial political office bearers from so-called liberation movements have become. They only partake on service and sacrificial work that comes with personal benefits. So it is safe to affirm that we don’t expect much from all the liberation movement politicians because to them, it’s “me first and the rest shall follow”, the rest includes revolutionary principles, sacrifice and commitment.
This is also particularly true of what has become of the character of the erstwhile SACP, now a faction for positions, supporting leaders only if they accommodate them in the executive and not for what they stand for.
With that said, the resignations also confirm the fact that Parliament in its current design and form is of lesser value and significance.
The resignations from Parliament confirm the systematic subordination and trivialisation of the first arm of the state, which is Parliament. The reality is that the status of being an MP is miles below ministerial positions in terms of political, legislative mandates and structured support systems.
These are the reasons why Parliament is insignificant and subordinate to other arms of the state. Despite the fact that Section 73(2) of the Constitution allows ordinary MPs to introduce private members bills, more than 99% of legislation in South Africa’s Parliament is introduced by the executive.
MPs are not provided with adequate research capacity and content support, and ministries can employ as many advisers and researchers as they wish. Parliament does not have adequate capacity to oversee the executive despite section 55(2) of the Constitution obliging Parliament to play an oversight role. Virtually all court judgments that speak about Parliament have highlighted its perennial incapacity to effectively oversee the executive.
MPs from the ANC have limited space to play their oversight role because whenever ministers come to Parliament, they feel obliged to close ranks and defend executive members who belong to their own party, regardless of the evident incompetence and damage they may be causing to the state.
This was the case when ANC MPs defended Jacob Zuma for years, even after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had violated the Constitution.
Structurally and despite imaginations that they live in laps of luxury, MPs are accommodated in apartheid style two-bedroom houses which the Department of Public Works can gain access to without MPs’ approval/knowledge. They are fetched every morning by common buses and cannot travel anywhere else except where the buses are headed to.
They are not paid the ridiculous amounts which newspapers claim they get. From a potential R50 000 nett salary, virtually all MPs have to pay party levies, which range from 7% to 15%.
They must belong to a compulsory Medical Aid Scheme called Parmed, which charges more than R4300 per adult per month. Meaning that a member can pay as much as R25 000 if parents, spouses and older children are added. Basic research and an analysis of an MP’s actual income can confirm this.
So being an MP, particularly for the ANC, a person becomes an impecunious zombie that cannot initiate legislation, cannot legislate, and cannot effectively oversee the executive outside of the study group (caucus) position. Most times, the things that the zombie MPs read as speeches in the chamber are mediocre notes taken from Wikipedia by the ANC’s underpaid and largely mediocre back office of novice researchers.
So between this and a fatter pension, the former ministers chose the pensions and some will accept deployment to foreign missions. Despite the fact that Parliament has an important role to play in South Africa. Parliament still has a backlog of hundreds of apartheid legislations that must be repealed.
By its very nature, Parliament needs a generational mix of people from different backgrounds. In this, there must be a mix of those that have experience in the executive and those who have been in Parliament for a longer period so that they are able to provide some institutional memory.
Complete withdrawal of those who have some degree of experience deprives the younger generation of institutional memory of what was done previously and what was avoided.
On many occasions, Parliament traverses the same journey of issues dealt with by previous Parliaments and written memory does not have the same impact as would those with first-hand experience on what happened.
As a legislative body, Parliament should dynamically use its combined capacity to legislate and pass laws, and among its members, should be politicians and activists who are senior to those in the executive.
This aspect is important because senior political leaders use their seniority to avoid being held accountable. One of the excuses Zuma used to evade Parliament was his seniority as a freedom fighter and president of the ruling ANC.
There is therefore a long overdue need for substantial political, ideological and structural change towards Parliament. Its generational composition, gender balance should almost exactly be a microcosm of society, and all who take up the responsibility should be willing to serve.
In terms of support systems, Parliament should strive towards equalisation of MPs (core of legislators and overseers) and members of the executive because the current imbalance trivialises Parliament, reduces it to mediocrity and subordinates it to the executive.
Equalisation should mean equal administrative support, not too distant salary structures, and no one should be given a house as both MPs and members of the executive should stay within the people. There is really no substantial contributions that these ministers are doing which MPs cannot do, hence they are chosen from among them.
The EFF founding manifesto speaks this point in relation to the government, and says, “as a broad and cogent principle, the EFF’s approach to public representatives (those occupying political office through elections) is that because they are there on the mandate of the people to serve, the many perks associated with political office should be limited”.
“Representatives should live like ordinary people. Because they are responsible for the allocation of resources, and the implementation and monitoring of services, public representatives and their dependants should be compelled, by law, to use only public services, particularly schools and healthcare facilities and services.
“This should apply to all public representatives from the president of the republic to a local municipal councillor.”
Without a strong and properly supported Parliament, the democratic project will be undermined, and the biggest casualties will be ordinary people because government officials will undermine accountability and transparency prescripts in full knowledge that Parliament is weak, and Parliamentarians are powerless.
Floyd Shivambu is the deputy president of the EFF.