ANC Chief Whip’s response to the Daily Maverick article titled “Quality of Oversight suffers as recesses slash Parliamentary Calendar”, by Marianne Merten, 9th October 2019

13 October 2019

I wish to express my disappointment at the shoddy journalism of Marianne Merten in an article that appeared in the Daily Maverick dated the 9th October 2019. While the headline gives an impression that the article expresses a concern about parliamentary oversight in the 6th term of Parliament, in its essence it is an ill-informed broadside on the African National Congress.

Ms Merten deploys a straw man fallacy to make her argument. She has worked out, based on the programme of parliamentary portfolio committees, that on average two hours are spent on discussions on the annual reports and financial statements of each department and each one of its agencies. Without stating her reason and evidence, she then falsely conclude that these two hours are not sufficient to conduct effective oversight over the performance and financial management of departments and state-owned entities.

In order to lay bare the defectiveness of Ms Merten’s argument, we will explain the various ways in which Parliament maintains oversight over the national sphere of government. Section 55 of the South African Constitution gives Parliament the exclusive powers to provide mechanisms to hold the executive organs of state accountable to it and to maintain oversight over the execution of their mandates and expenditure of public funds.

The annual budget review and recommendations report is but one among many mechanisms that parliamentary Portfolio Committees use to maintain oversight. Actually, Portfolio Committees also receive quarterly reports from departments and their entities. Parliament also has specialised committees – the Appropriations Committee, in both Houses and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) – whose business entails exclusively oversight on budgets and financial accountability.

The clear objective of the article is not to present facts, but to cast aspersions on Members of Parliament, particularly those from the ANC as people who are failing to do the oversight work for which they have been elected.

Ms Merten also betrays her weak conception of parliamentary oversight when she disparagingly refers to the two weeks spent on training of MPs and the recess period as threats to effective oversight and making of legislation. She cannot relate to the fact the constituency work fulfils the constitutional obligation of MPs as elected representatives of the people to ensure government by the people.

She cites totally unrelated examples of the failure by the 5th Parliament to pass 40 draft pieces of legislation to project it as failure by the current MPs. Cabinet has not even published the Medium-Term Strategic Framework, but the article seems to suggest that Parliament was supposed to have passed legislation in the first four months of the new term.

The article gets it completely wrong when it makes a claim that no formal channels exist for Parliament to be updated on constituency work, while complimenting the DA and EFF. The motions and statements that ANC Members of Parliament make in the House are based precisely on the issues raised by people in various constituencies around the country they are deployed to. ANC MPs also intervene decisively on matters of service delivery, corruption, crime and other challenges raised by constituencies by engaging directly with the relevant municipalities and departments.

The article couches the democratic change of leadership that happens in the ANC in extremely subjective phraseology; for example the claim that the ANC has “cleared” its parliamentary benches and the ANC has “ditched” its Committee Chairpersons. This choice of language is intended to foreground the ad hominem narative in which the Secretary General is falsely accused of handpicking his preferred Committee Chairpersons. This is unfortunate as it reduces the process of election of ANC candidates by thousands of branches into a cloak and dagger operation.

The ANC has acknowledged in its own internal discussions the challenges that come with the loss of institutional memory, since several of our experienced MPs did not make it back to Parliament. But we also view as a positive development the inter -generational mix of MPs which places the ANC Caucus in good stead going into the future. The ANC has recently launched the OR Tambo School of Leadership through which all MPs have enrolled for various leadership and academic development courses in order to ensure that our MPs improve their capacity to perform their duties.

Ms Merten alleges without providing evidence that MPs do not read the reports from departments. She relies on the unfounded prejudice about South African MPs that they are overpaid and lazy, to make her argument. This is an unnecessary diversion from real issues.

The ANC Caucus Lekgotla held in September saw no contradiction in ensuring that in the programme of Parliament, a balance is struck between the work of making legislation, engaging with constituency work, conducting oversight through visits to departments and state organs and in the work of Parliamentary Committees.

During the last constituency period the ANC focused on addressing gender-based violence and acts of violence in society as being core to the social crises that needs urgent attention by government and all South Africans.

I wish to invite Marianne Merten and all journalists who write on Parliament to report fairly and objectively, on the basis of facts, rather than sensationalism and slander.

Issued by the Office of the ANC Chief Whip, Comrade Pemmy Majodina


Andile Mdleleni
082 694 1232