SA cabinet out-of-sync with the law; Ministers playing with ConCourt findings, ignoring Treasury – Patrick McLaughlin

In a disturbing echo of past power struggles during the Covid era, South Africa faces a critical juncture as legislative powers are wielded recklessly, reminiscent of a bygone autocratic era. With an unstable presidency and a complex alliance between the ANC, SACP, and COSATU, a rush to pass controversial legislation before an imminent election has ensued. Opposition voices are stifled as the National Health Insurance Bill and a slew of others move through Parliament, raising concerns about the erosion of democracy and a potential form of legislative state capture. Minister Gwede Mantashe’s recent energy-related move further exemplifies the autocratic tendencies at play. As the sixth Parliament races towards closure, the looming threat to the ANC’s majority may paradoxically offer a chance for Parliament’s salvation, ushering in an era of increased transparency and accountability.

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SA cabinet out-of-sync with the law

Ministers playing with ConCourt findings, ignoring Treasury

By Patrick McLaughlin*

In a disconcerting déjàvu, reminiscent of those awful times during the Covid era when under Nkosazana Zuma the country was seemingly run as a power grab and any oversight by Parliament forgotten, South Africa finds itself back at the same critical juncture where legislative powers are being wielded without care or thought and the separation of powers audaciously ignored.

How closely we have got, just before an election, to the same perilous state is quite shocking but this time we have arrived by a different route.  With an unstable presidency endlessly stitching together the complicated alliance between the ANC, SACP and COSATU, leftish thinkers amongst them continue to push for their new socialist order whilst others try to rebuild a badly stained reputation. All three have now instigated a frenzied rush to push through Parliament any amount of contentious legislation before the political landscape shifts. 

In recent weeks, there has been flurry of bills seeking passage accompanied by the minimum of debate, the situation arising caused by shortage of time left before the sixth Parliament ends.  With palpable political change on the horizon and the alliance grappling with an uncertain future, some fifteen pieces of legislation are on their way through Parliament, opposition voices drowned out and executive dominance in full display, 

The National Health Insurance Bill symbolizes this hasty legislative race, a risky concoction at the best and lacking clear implementation plans, financing guarantees and no picture provided of the essential resources needed to give the framework any chance. At the moment it stands merely as an excuse to hire more executives.

Similar forced marches have been conducted with employment equity and electoral reform legislation, expropriation, electricity, nuclear, gas exploration bills and public procurement legislation. Changed, after all those public hearings, is the pointing system putting transformation ahead of value for money and once again, contrary to opposition requests not to do this

Pushing through a plethora of legislation and every time disregarding all opposition objections, raises questions about the state of our democracy and the speed at which Bills are railroaded through 

Parliament hints at a form of legislative state capture.   Such an image is amplified, when ministers act on their own, not only ignoring Parliament but not gaining the approval of National Treasury before making their grandiose statements.  Such is the habit of oligarchs.

As an example of this autocracy, Minister Gwede Mantashe, has now introduced the coup de grace by finally showing his hand on energy.  Whilst his department of mineral resources and energy has over the last fifteen years managed to create conditions where no sensible investor or major fuel company has been interested in creating or running a fuel refinery, he has just circulated a new draft Bill that will establish an entity called South African National Petroleum Company (SANPC).  He states, “This will be the State’s energy champion and facilitator of energy infrastructure across the entire energy value chain”.

Whilst the ANC and COSATU navigate the current complexities of coalition politics, the SACP is probably the only grouping in the trio that contemplates beyond the next elections. With Mantashe as current chairperson of the ANC and a past chairperson of the SACP, herein most likely is the root of the problem. 

OUTA, in their 2021 report on parliamentary portfolio committee relationships with ministers noted, after a face-to-face meeting with portfolio committee members and chairperson Joe Lupidzo, “the apparent inability of Parliament to call Minister Mantashe to account.”  Any power structure that resists Constitutional Court orders; avoids the people’s parliament; neglects electoral reform; sidesteps fair immigration legislation; never sorts out the NPA and the state’s intelligence system and pays lip service to the findings of the State Capture Report, is the same power that is reducing Parliament to becoming an echo chamber.

But whilst the loss of a complete majority for the ANC party is a threat to them of enormity, it also might be at the same time the saving of Parliament.   As the sixth Parliament hurtles towards its closure and the current political triad capitalizes on its majority to force through a barrage of Bills fueled by the urgency of an impending election, it represents a total fear that any new coalitions and any change in power structures are going to let a lot more people into the kitchen to see what the cook is up to.

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*Patrick McLaughlin started Hof ten years ago, monitoring Parliament for major business institutions. Hof Communications supplies parliamentary affairs and government policy updates in the form of its private publication, “ParlyReport”

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