Opposition parties want Baleka Mbete gone

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

In a surprise alliance, five opposition parties have banded together to move a motion of no confidence in National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete on Thursday. The five are the Congress of the People, Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, Freedom Front Plus, and United Democratic Movement.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, tabled during a media briefing at Parliament, the parties called on African National Congress MPs to support the motion.

Here is the joint statement:

The Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters, the United Democratic Movement, the Congress of the People and the Freedom Front Plus, will tomorrow submit a motion of no confidence in the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete.

For the sake of a functional and vibrant Parliament, we call on the ANC in Parliament to support our motion, or for the Speaker of the House to do the right thing, and resign.

Mbete has become an obstacle to constructive debate and executive oversight in Parliament. 

She cannot, in good conscience, simultaneously hold the office of ANC Chairperson and Speaker of the House.

It is not tenable that the Speaker of the National Assembly, a figure which is intended to be the impartial chairperson of all Parliamentary activities, simultaneously holds high office in the governing party.

In the current political atmosphere; where there are a number of investigations ongoing into the actions of the President and his cabinet, South Africa would be better served by an independent-minded Speaker that is willing to place loyalty to country above loyalty to party.

Mbete has a long history of placing herself and her party first. There are a number of factors that, taken together, disqualify Mbete from continuing as Speaker of the House.

Leadership role in the ANC:

Her leadership role in the ANC is the most important disqualifying factor. In Parliaments across the world using 'neutral Speaker' models such as our own, Speakers are expected to maintain impartiality at all times. Mbete simply cannot remain Chairperson of the ANC, caucus with the ANC and simultaneously hold the position of Speaker. It compromises her integrity as Speaker and undermines Parliament.

Compromised on executive oversight

Mbete's credibility has been compromised by a number of utterances in the past. While campaigning for the ANC in this year's election, she said, in reference to the Public Protector's report on the Nkandla security upgrades, that "A lot was clarified, in fact, by Thuli's report. She then goes on to say a few things which, in our view, are actually debatable because in the African tradition you don't interfere with a man's kraal. The issue of a man's kraal or a kraal of a family is a holy space."

Mbete then later added: "And Thuli says: 'No, they benefited and therefore President Zuma ought to think of paying some money'. We beg to differ very strongly, very, very strongly."

We simply cannot trust the Speaker to give the opposition a fair chance at executive oversight if she is on the record undermining the Public Protector to protect the President.

Politicisation of Parliament:

Baleka Mbete has hired ANC loyalists to fill offices in Parliament that are supposed to the impartial and apolitical. These include Johnny de Lange and Arthur Moloto, both long time ANC MPs who were not elected this year. These posts were not advertised, and reports indicate that the posts will pay very large salaries of significantly more than R1 million per year. 

Poor internal management of Parliament:

As the political head of the National Assembly's administration we expect the Speaker to ensure MPs are given all the information they need to oversee Parliament's budget and budgetary process and to ensure that MPs concerns over Parliament's administration are heard and addressed quickly.

However, since the start of the fifth Parliament the Speaker has convened only one meeting of the Parliamentary Oversight Authority (POA), the highest decision making body on policy matters, and she has cancelled its meeting twice. Requests for more frequent meetings were denied. Resolutions taken by the POA, over which the Speaker presides, requesting a brief to be provided to MPs on Parliament's budget process have not been provided.

Requests for an oral question session to be scheduled in the first term, in line with the rules of Parliament and to fulfil the Assembly's constitutional mandate, were also blocked by the Speaker on the grounds that all presiding officers were attending a conference.

The events of 21 August:

The parties supporting this motion all have different perspectives on the events of 21 August. But we are all agreed that Speaker of the House did not perform her duties correctly on that day. 

Firstly, she failed to maintain order in a tense situation. Secondly, she contributed to the deterioration of the situation by reacting angrily and attacking an entire party's MPs as a collective. Thirdly, in allowing the situation to deteriorate, she helped the President to escape comprehensive oversight. There has also been no attempt to produce answers to the unanswered questions of the 21st of August.

The threatened militarisation of Parliament:

Mbete has allowed the Security Cluster to essentially undermine the independence of Parliament by allowing their unacceptable proposed intervention into Parliamentary security to go unchallenged. The Speaker should have been the first to reject the security cluster's anti-democratic proposals last week. It represents a dangerous infringement on Parliament's independence and an unacceptable level of militarisation of Parliamentary security.

It is the constitutional mandate of the Speaker to secure the precinct of Parliament and when absolutely necessary to call for the protection of Parliament by the Police, in the most threatening circumstances only. Instead, the Speaker has surrendered control of the Parliamentary Precinct to the Executive, in the Security Cluster, rather than taking the actions that she herself ought to be taking.

There is currently no clarity on any heightened mandate of the Police inside Parliament, since a briefing by the Security Cluster of the Executive, precisely because it is not their mandate to deploy the Police to Parliament.

Integrity Issues: 

Mbete's personal integrity has been compromised on a number of occasions. In 1997, she fraudulently obtained a driver's licence; in 2006, she chartered a jet that cost almost R500 000 to attend Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's inauguration as Liberia's President; she stood by Tony Yengeni after he was convicted of defrauding Parliament, even accompanying him to Pollsmoor on the day of his admission to prison as a show of support; and she shielded MPs from accountability on the travelgate scandal. Her involvement in these controversies makes her unsuitable to continue on as Speaker.

Parliament must be home to vigorous debate. Baleka Mbete stands in the way of vigorous and open debate. 

The bottom-line is that Mbete is not an appropriate choice for Speaker. Her role in various scandals in the past, her on-the-record defence of state expenditure on President Zuma's private residence at Nkandla, her involvement in the ANC leadership, her appointment of a number of ANC politicians to key Parliamentary positions and her inability to maintain order in the House all disqualify her from continuing on in this position.

She has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the opposition. She must vacate her position in the interests of Parliament and our democracy. 

ENDS

Photo caption: WANTED GONE... In a surprise alliance, five opposition parties have banded together to move a motion of no confidence in National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete on Thursday. The five are the Congress of the People, Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, Freedom Front Plus, and United Democratic Movement. Image: EWN.