Scopa: It's David vs Goliath
S'thembiso Msomi: A David and Goliath battle is raging in Parliament.
The David, in this case, is the multi-party Standing Committee on Public Accounts, chaired by the straight-talking Themba Godi.
As for the Goliath, it is the mighty ministry of defence headed by political blue-blood Lindiwe Sisulu.
Tensions between Scopa and the ministry, which have been simmering for a while now, threatened to reach boiling point yesterday morning when Sisulu again failed to appear before the committee.
On two previous occasions, the minister had agreed to appear before Scopa to discuss a damning auditor-general's report on the financial state of affairs at her department - only to withdraw at the last minute, citing other commitments.
Yesterday she again gave the committee a miss, insisting instead on a closed session with Scopa members to deal with "numerous and negative comments made" about her and her department to the media.
"These were made in my absence and quite clearly without giving me an opportunity to respond. I am making myself available so that we can deal with each comment and I have an opportunity to respond to it. I think it is only the right thing to do," she said in a letter to Scopa yesterday.
Committee members, from across the political divide, were peeved and demanded that Godi finalise another date on which the minister would be forced to attend.
This may seem like an insignificant skirmish between the minister and the committee, but in reality, its conclusion may help redefine how the executive relates to the National Assembly.
During Thabo Mbeki's tenure as president, the ANC-dominated Parliament was often accused of being the Cabinet's lapdog - hardly ever holding a minister to account.
The post-Polokwane establishment vowed to change that, promising that its members would have more bite in Parliament.
In the early days of President Jacob Zuma's administration, there was much hope that the promise would turn into reality as we saw parliamentary portfolio committees, such as the one on energy, giving their line ministers a hard time over government plans that were going wrong.
But old habits die hard, and there are growing indications that a number of ministers are treating Scopa and other National Assembly committees they should account to as mere irritants.
One of the constant complaints about ministers in the National Assembly is that too many of them ignore the parliamentary questions posed to them.
And, if the opposition is to be believed, Sisulu is one of those guilty of this, with more than 20 written questions sent to her office without any reply.
David, therefore, has to win the current battle against Goliath if the National Assembly is to avoid slipping into the same dismal state it found itself in especially after 1999.
Godi should immediately summon the minister to appear before Scopa, failing which, the National Assembly should censure her for not showing the respect due to this important constitutional body.