Time to rein in ‘unthinkable’ lack of oversight on Presidency’s budget” – FF Plus Chief Whip Corné Mulder

The Presidency budget, known as Budget Vote 1, stands at R625 million but notably lacks a Parliamentary oversight committee—a matter of ongoing concern for several political parties advocating for increased scrutiny of the Presidency. Judge Zondo’s state capture report has also underscored the need for an accountability-focused committee. While the ANC has been dragging its feet on appointing an oversight committee, they agreed to examine similar committees established in the United Kingdom Parliament to oversee the British  Prime Minister. Members of Parliament’s Rules Committee, including Chief Whip of the Freedom Front Plus, Corné Mulder, have just returned from this visit. Mulder told BizNews that he would like to see the robust interaction with the head of government in the UK replicated in South Africa’s Parliament with the opposition chairing committees, and told BizNews that it was “unthinkable” that the President was spending taxpayers’ money without adequate legal oversight, especially as President Ramaphosa is consolidating power in his office. – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:10 – Introductions 
  • 00:56 – Corne Mulder on what prompted the visit to Westminster in London
  • 02:05 – On Zondo’s recommendation of more oversight on the president
  • 02:49 – The ANC realisation of the problems at hand
  • 03:24 – What he found from some ANC members in the delegation
  • 04:18 – The oversights in the British system
  • 07:32 – On if he thinks there’s enough methods to rein in the government at this point in time
  • 08:28 – On if if the ANC now accepts it, how does it become practice
  • 09:14 – On what we can expect to see
  • 10:24 – Is the Zuma era what prompted this inquisition into oversight
  • 12:30 – Conclusions

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Excerpts from the interview

During Zuma’s presidency, it became obvious that the Presidency needed more oversight

It was during the Zuma presidency when it became quite obvious that there are huge problems and the state capture that was allowed under those pretences and what happened there prompted the Zondo Commission to say, well, we need to have some kind of oversight. But if you look in terms of the Constitution it’s unthinkable from day one that you can have the office of the presidency where millions of millions of taxpayer’s money is being spent without any legal oversight. It’s just unthinkable. 

Presidency has enlarged substantially since 1994 with no oversight

When we started in 94, the presidency was technically just the presidency dealing with the president himself. But over the years, that office has increased year after year with more functions and more appointees, administering the presidency and the deputy minister. At the moment, we’ve got all kinds of so-called commissions in the Presidency, a Commission on Environmental Affairs and all kinds of people being appointed but there’s no oversight over that portfolio, and it’s become a huge problem. 

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We need a President who can think on his feet 

Questions to the Prime Minister in the British system happen every week on a Wednesday for about half an hour, and it’s a spontaneous interaction. The Prime Minister is not given any indication beforehand which kind of questions will be asked that he could prepare. He needs to be prepared across the whole spectrum of what may come up. The South African system is completely different. We’ve got questions for the president once a term. So, that is about every three months that there’s an opportunity for that and then you have to submit your questions about 14 days before question time in writing. The questions must be accepted that it’s okay and then the officials can go process that and give the president a written report. So, it’s completely different. I would love to see our situation where you’ve got a president or a prime minister, as in the British case who thinks on his feet and can handle that. 

ANC coming around to oversight of the President, we need chairpersons from opposition parties 

I’m very thankful that it seems that the ANC at last realises that that’s a problem and we welcome that reality and that change. We will now have to go through the process and see how we can take that further. It could be that the ANC has now suddenly seen the light, or it could be that the ANC suspects there may be different presidents in the near future and then they will likely do some oversight over them, we don’t know. 

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I think it’s unlikely that the ANC will agree to that kind of interaction in terms of question time [in the U.K. parliament]. They don’t like the idea. They don’t want the president to be vulnerable in that sense and that may be a bridge too far for the ANC, I believe. But the fact that we will create some kind of oversight mechanism, at the moment doesn’t exist, nothing whatsoever. So, we will be able to create some kind of oversight mechanism, some kind of committee. The composition of that committee may still need to be discussed. 

It will be in the best interest of Parliament if you can have chairpersons coming from the different parties in Parliament and give different parties the opportunity to play that kind of role. If the ANC is prepared to do that, we will know soon and if not, then we’ll have to find another mechanism to keep the President to account. It can be implemented quite quickly. If it’s not done now, it will be time for the next term after the election of next year in any case. 

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