Opinion Piece

Judith February: We must hold the President to account in his ‘new dawn’

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba came to Parliament to deliver his Budget Speech amid much speculation. Would he or wouldn’t he be the FinMin to deliver the actual speech? In the end he was. Lest we forget, Gigaba paved the way for the Gupta family’s naturalisation as citizens. In June last year, he failed to appear before Parliament to explain the matter.

At the outset, Gigaba faced a severe credibility crisis. He was, after all the Minister of Public Enterprises in 2009 when he directly facilitated the appointment of dodgy executives approved by the Guptas at Eskom. It was on Gigaba’s watch that, inter alia, Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh were appointed. That was the start of the rot that caused Eskom to bleed millions of rand and allowed corruption to become entrenched. Lynne Brown, the current Public Enterprises Minister simply continued to facilitate the looting.

Thereafter, lest we forget, Gigaba went straight to Home Affairs where, as minister, he paved the way for the Gupta family’s naturalisation as citizens. In June last year, he failed to appear before Parliament to explain the matter.

Added to this, as Gigaba took to the podium, the Democratic Alliance released the judgment of the Pretoria High court in which Judge Tuchten found that Gigaba had breached the Constitution and had told deliberate untruths. This was in relation to the Fireblade matter in which the Oppenheimer family had sought to open a private terminal at OR Tambo. Gigaba, in response, said he would take the matter on appeal. Not another appeal by another minister intent on “clearing his name”?

Surely we have had enough of this lawfare in which ministers (and the former president) sought to defend themselves even when their legal positions were untenable? Former president Jacob Zuma was consistently engaged in litigation despite no prospects of success. But then if citizens are paying for such litigious flights of fancy, why be concerned about the expense or indeed the eventual result?

Ramaphosa has said we are ushering in a “new dawn”. If that is the case then Gigaba must go. As he delivered his Budget speech yesterday, he lacked the gravitas and the engagement with content that is needed from a FinMin trying to steer us out of difficult times. Gigaba is an intellectual lightweight, too interested in form over substance to be taken seriously. But more importantly, he also suffers from a credibility challenge given his facilitation of State Capture.

And so what we learnt from the Budget speech yesterday is that we will be paying for the corruption of the Zuma presidency for years to come. As Gigaba announced free higher education for households earning R350k or less, it seemed to come on the back of a VAT increase and then also cuts to infrastructure investment. The problem of course is that Zuma never truly applied his mind to the Heher Commission report and then simply announced free higher education in a most cynical, opportunistic move during the ANC Conference in December.

Ramaphosa’s administration is seemingly stuck with the decision except that there has been no real dialogue about access to higher education, further tertiary education options, the actual quality of matric passes, or indeed the need for infrastructure at Grade R and basic education levels. We do need to have a constructive conversation about the matric pass rate and the state of our universities if we are going to be educating for the future on any level. And so there are many contradictions in this “new dawn” Ramaphosa announced last week. But that is to be expected given the fractious nature of the ruling party. Ramaphosa is juggling many balls. For now, we will give him the benefit of the doubt. His consultative approach to a new Cabinet is to be welcomed because unlike Thabo Mbeki, he cannot afford to build the state and lose the party. Citizens however will be looking for real change and an end to corruption and a lack of accountability from those in power.

Earlier yesterday morning, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane failed to appear before the parliamentary committee for a third time to respond to allegations of State Capture. Zwane was however seen in the House later attending the Budget speech. The committee needless to say was unimpressed and will now pursue a subpoena it seems.

This is the kind of conduct which Zuma sanctioned and which was commonplace during his presidency. His ministers accounted to the Guptas and vested interests alone and ignored the democratic Parliament altogether.

Zwane, along with Gigaba and many others must depart the scene. (there is a long list of “Constitutional delinquents”, sadly). They have been corrupt and have caused damage to the economy, beyond measure. After that, the law must take its course. We cannot afford to protect this level of skullduggery for much longer.

Ramaphosa is aware that the “new dawn” will mean taking tough decisions. ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said in his latest tweet that, Ramaphosa must be left to, “do his job without all of us pretending we are presidents or telling him what to do . It is only the President who can appoint ..”

That is plain wrong. As Budget 2018 showed, we are all – especially the poor – paying the price for the Zuma years. We cannot sit back passively now. Citizens must hold Ramaphosa to account as the Constitution demands.

It is our right and our duty. We cannot abdicate our citizenship to the ANC even while we remain pragmatically optimistic about Ramaphosa and the change he has promised to usher in. DM

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