New Agenda 91 — Decode colloquium

‘How can we help and support MPs?’ – Chief Justice Zondo

In the keynote address to the In Defence of our Constitutional Democracy colloquium Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: “I think that Parliament has a very important role to play in bringing down levels of corruption in our country and it has the power to do that. The question is whether it will be prepared to use that power” He went on to say,” I think that it’s our duty to do what we can to help Parliament and work with it to try and see what solutions can be found.”

He mentioned a few key points that are needed to support MPs and help them to make Parliament more effective, echoing some of the recommendation in the Zondo report:

MPs need to have access to expert skills to do their work properly. This could be through education and induction for MPs so they can understand the purpose of the portfolio they follow in the committees to which they are assigned. It could involve more resources for portfolio committee researchers to enable them to explain key details to Members. It could involve calling on expertise from sector experts.

MPs need a system to follow up on questions and recommendations made by committees. The Executive often ‘forgets’ to answer questions posed in portfolio committee meetings or does not respond to committee recommendations. The Executive and government departments are not bound to do what Parliament recommends, but they are required to consider the issues and to respond.

MPs must learn from the mistakes made during state capture. A key error, which pre-dates the Commission on state capture, was the ruling party’s rejection of calls by the Opposition for a public inquiry into the allegations of corruption that were surfacing at that time. “If Parliament had allowed the [parliamentary] motions for the establishment of a public inquiry, In all probability state capture would have been stopped because of what would have been revealed.”

Zondo referred to the case of PRASA. For five years Parliament did nothing, despite mounting evidence of inappropriate expenditure, which increased every year and was each year flagged as a problem by the Auditor General.

The unwillingness of MPs mainly from the ruling party to act against corruption points to the need for a permanent commission on corruption and state capture, which would act independently of any party bias. This would ensure that “whatever Parliament might try to slip under the carpet in terms of allegations of corruption and state capture can be investigated and brought into the open … and hopefully a strong public opinion would force Parliament to do the right thing.”

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