NATIONAL NEWS - MPs have failed to use their powers to act on state capture and maladministration.
This was the premise of two documents forming an affidavit submitted by lobby group, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
According to the affidavit’s author, Outa’s parliamentary engagement officer Matt Johnston, the anti-tax abuse lobby group wanted to use the documents to possibly take legal action against Parliament. He said parliamentarians failed to use the rules of Parliament to act timeously on allegations of corruption and state capture.
Johnston said Outa’s legal team was considering mounting a challenge over rules which allowed Parliament to decide not to take actions on matters of such significance.
“Outa is also engaging with the presiding officers of Parliament to spark internal motions that should lead to improved operations and participation,” he said in a statement.
Johnston claimed the two documents showed how a captured Parliament effectively condoned state capture by failing to address it as it happened, and a report assessing the current modus operandi in Parliament which supposedly led to serious underperformance.
“The reports show that Parliament’s own rules allow it to take no action on state capture and maladministration in general, and that members of Parliament used this impunity to do nothing.”
In the first document, researchers discuss how MPs were responsible for holding government officials and ministers to account. But, instead of acting to defend South Africans against looters, Parliament became a haven for implicated individuals.
In October 2017, Outa lodged complaints with Parliament about the actions of former ministers Faith Muthambi and Mosebenzi Zwane. Both allegedly abused their offices in service of the Gupta family. But, three years later, the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests had provided no substantive response to this, said Johnston.
“MPs were free to act in the immense zone of the ‘permissible but not required’ without constitutional constraint,” Johnston said in the affidavit.
He added that the rules of National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces failed to satisfy the constitutional provision which charged them to ensure accountability and oversight of the executive.
Current interpretations, he concluded, were mired by biases and political interest. These made Parliament toothless to act against individuals in government.
“Political interests and biases in the interpretation and application of these discretionary rules prevent tangible consequences resulting from them,” he says in the affidavit.
“Committee chairpersons were unable to assert themselves over members of the cabinet who outrank them in the political party they serve. High-ranking employees of major state-owned entities did not consider themselves to be truly accountable to members of Parliament either. They instead either mocked or attacked Parliament’s authority and would often give notice of absence at the last moment,” says Johnston.