PRESIDENTS QUESTION TIME
At last on Thursday we eventually managed to have the President able to answer questions in the National Assembly and account to the nation. This after the EFF once again disrupted the proceedings that the National Assembly almost deteriorated into near chaos. Fortunately, although clearly frustrated at the EFF antics Madam Speaker did not over react and the question time proceeded.
This resulted in the House and the public being subjected to the unedifying spectacle of an incompetent President misleading parliament and demonstrating how out of touch he is with the actions of his Cabinet Ministers and other bureaucrats who appear to have taken over the business and dictate how things will be done. It was a shameful display confirming that Zuma used the opportunity to dodge any obligation to be forthright with Parliament.
Responding to DA Leader Mmusi Maimane’s question on why the ICC warrant for the arrest of Al-Bashir “a man wanted for genocide against Africans” Zuma answered, after a giggle, that Al-Bashir was a guest of the African Union and not the South African government while he was in the country. Responding to Maimane’s comment Zuma had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution yet had “violated the sacred principle of separation of powers by allowing al-Bashir to leave”. Zuma responded that “We have no right to interfere in the business of the AU”.
What he failed to do was explain why under his leadership the Executive facilitated the escape of Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir from South Africa on 15 June 2015 in direct contravention of a court order issued by the North Gauteng High Court. This is a clear violation of the President’s oath to “obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the Republic,” this is an offence for which the President can be impeached in terms of section 89(1)(a) of the Constitution.
No one is allowed to contravene a court order in South Africa, not even the President there were other legal means that could have been applied if the government was unhappy with the court’s ruling.
Responding to the question by Julius Malema President Zuma misled Parliament by replying “The Public Protector has not said ‘pay back the money’. The Public Protector has said because there was in her view undue benefits to the family and myself, she thinks this money might be paid back, but it should be determined by the minister of police. That determination has not been done”.
This is incorrect the report actually says “the president should determine ‘the reasonable cost of the measures implemented by the DPW [department of public works] at his private residence that do not relate to security’, assisted by the treasury and the South African Police Service”. The President has instead chosen his handpicked Minister of Police, this is a major difference to SAPS and the treasury.
There are a number of ways in which Zuma avoids answering. One of them is to claim he just doesn’t know what is happening. Once again he resorted to this tactic on Thursday.
For example it has emerged that the president was unaware that one of his cabinet had simply withdrawn the operating licence from a mine whose labour policies displeased him. Responding to the Inkatha Freedom Party’s Sibongile Nkomo, who asked what the revoking of Glencore’s coal mining licence would mean for prospective investors, Zuma replied, in apparent ignorance of the situation: “The minister has not reported this to me. I am not aware of this decision. I cannot answer this question because I don’t have the report,”
This happened once again in response to the question about illicit financial flows, including the issue affecting Lonmin, the president initially gave a rambling non-answer. When pressed, he responded: “The government does not interfere with private sector business.” The answer is inconceivable considering that the potential involvement of Lonmin in illicit financial flows was one of the aspects covered by the Farlam commission into Marikana – whose report Zuma has been “applying his mind to” for several months.
As for the statement that “The government does not interfere with private sector business” nothing could be further from the truth. This government has introduced legislation controlling who you may employ, what conditions you must comply with to get state contracts, irrespective of price or quality. An obvious example is the fact that the day before this debate Minister Ngoako Ramatlodi had withdrawn the operating licence from a mine whose labour policies displeased him, but of course Zuma declared “I am not aware of this decision”. In fact this government, as the previous government did, interferes in every aspect of society all in the name of transformation.
President Jacob Zuma also has no knowledge of the incident just over a month ago in which one of the most senior figures in his cabinet accused the judiciary of producing biased judgments. This occurred when Julius Malema asked Zuma whether he had condemned Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s comments on the potential corruption of the judiciary. Nhleko is reported as having told senior managers of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) that “some elements of the judiciary meet with characters to produce certain judgments.” He added that this practice was becoming a common feature in the judiciary. Zuma replied: “It’s literally the first time I hear of it.”
This was his answer despite the fact that Nhleko’s comments were widely covered in the media. It is one of the issues leading up to the request by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng request for a meeting between the Judiciary and the President. The mind boggles if one considers that in response to every issue raised by the judiciary the President may answer “It’s literally the first time I hear of it.” Or perhaps “I cannot answer this question because I don’t have the report,”
One of the other methods used by the President to avoid answering questions is to waffle on giving no answers.
A perfect example of this on Thursday was in response to Geordin Hill-Lewis MP, Shadow Minister of Trade & Industry, who asked Zuma whether he would sign an African free trade agreement to cover 26 countries from the northern to the southern tip of Africa. Zuma gave a rambling, non-committal answer, to which he added if the opposition wanted to be in government, it needed to win an election.
Unsurprising the DA objected to this non answer when DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said in the National Assembly “The Honourable Hill-Lewis asked a simple question: ‘Will South Africa sign the agreement, yes or no?’ He didn’t ask for a waffle with cream and chocolate”.
Regrettably neither South African businesses nor the citizens of the country know whether the government will sign the agreement on our behalf, a clear withholding of information that we are entitled to. Through the withholding of this information it is obvious that despite Zuma’s answer to an earlier question that “The government does not interfere with private sector business.” is incorrect because by withholding this information business is not being given the opportunity to plan for the possibility.
Little wonder that Julius Malema prefaced his comments to Zuma with this comment “Your minister attacks the judiciary, you know nothing about it. Your minister closes a mine, you know nothing about it. And that becomes the response of a sitting state president and that becomes a huge embarrassment to the country”. This is not the first time that this allegation has been made against the President addressing parliament on 14 March 2015 Mmusi Maimane stated “President Zuma has become President “I did not know””
The President ended his answer to the last question insisting that South Africa was getting along just fine and that “this is a well-governed country”. In my opinion no country is well governed where the head of state has to say “I did not know” to important matters of state.
Although Speaker Baleka Mbete showed restraint during the session her rulings were not without controversy for example when President Zuma failed to follow a directive from Speaker who asked him to sit down so she could give an MP a chance to raise his objections she did not react and allowed him to continue disrespecting the chair. Also her refusal to insist that the President answer questions fully her standard comment being “You may not like the answer‚ but it is an answer“.
On Sunday writing in the Sunday Times Peter Bruce commented “I thought President Jacob Zuma had a good day at question time in parliament on Thursday. You wouldn’t see many heads of state subject themselves to abuse and teasing like that.” Peter Bruce has obviously never seen Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons where the Prime Minister is subjected to a far more robust session of abuse and teasing. He also does not have the benefit of seeing the questions prior to the session.
No! President Zuma did not have a good day so much so that yesterday (Tuesday 11 August 2015) he took the unprecedented step of calling a media conference to report on progress since his state of the nation address. This was nothing more than a PR stunt, aimed at repairing the damage of his performance during last week’s oral questions session in Parliament. However on this platform he does not have to endure the scrutiny of Parliament which is obviously unable to answer to.
Oh well, at least we did have a question time on this occasion……….
Until next time,
This newsletter is published by Clive Hatch former Leader of the Opposition in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature and former DA Provincial Leader. These views are my personal views and do not represent those of any other person or organisation.