No need to reconvene parliament over Eskom woes, says Baleka Mbete

26 March 2019 - 19:23 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA
Baleka Mbete has turned down a DA request for parliament to be reconvened.
Baleka Mbete has turned down a DA request for parliament to be reconvened.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has declined the DA's request to reconvene parliament so that it can establish an ad hoc committee to deal with the energy crisis.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, parliament said Mbete agreed the prevailing energy crisis was a very serious matter for the nation. “However, existing portfolio committees were empowered to deal with the issues at Eskom. These included the portfolio committee on public enterprises, which conducted an extensive inquiry on Eskom in 2018.”

Mbete said the relevant committees could, therefore, take up the matter if needed and there was no need for the National Assembly to be reconvened at this point. “Even if an ad hoc committee was required, such would not require the house to reconvene,” said the Speaker.

Although the National Assembly had risen on March 20 and stands dissolved, it remained competent to function in terms of the constitution, said Mbete.

“According to the rules and procedures of the National Assembly, relevant committees, including ad hoc committees, could convene to discuss matters and potentially report if needed. This did not require the National Assembly to meet first,” she added.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen wrote to Mbete on Friday, just two days after the National Assembly ended its work to allow MPs to focus on election campaigns.

In the letter, Steenhuisen explained that he was making the call for parliament to remain in session “in light of Eskom entering Stage 4 load-shedding which has already cost the South African economy an estimated R12 billion in three days and is placing an extensive burden on the economy”.

He proposed that the ad hoc committee be made up of MPs from the National Assembly's portfolio committees on energy, public enterprises and trade and industry.

The purpose of this ad hoc committee would be to urgently inquire into the circumstances surrounding the potentially imminent threat of the collapse of the national energy grid; invite experts and industry stakeholders for input; summons the relevant officials and ministers to account for the current crisis and provide evidence for actions previously taken to prevent the current situation; deliberate and resolve to implement solutions to prevent the potentially imminent collapse of the national energy grid, and put recommendations forward to the National Assembly to consider and move for any urgent, necessary legislative amendments to existing legislation and regulations to deal with the potentially imminent threat of the collapse of the national energy grid and the threat it poses to the national economy.

On Monday morning, DA leader Mmusi Maimane, addressing journalists at the party's headquarters in Johannesburg, said the Eskom crisis was no longer the baby of the ANC-led government, but that of the entire country.

"I would like to request that parliament be reconvened urgently. Even though parliament has risen we must reconvene for the sole purpose which is to establish an ad hoc committee consisting of portfolio committees in public enterprise, energy and trade and industry.

"That ad hoc committee must do a number of things, but crucially it must begin by passing the cheaper energy bill, which will seek to break up Eskom into two separate entities, one for supply and the other for distribution.

"This is important because the distribution component ought to face competition where municipalities are able to purchase energy directly, they can be able to do so and this is vital if we are going to avert this crisis that is looming for the people of South Africa,” said Maimane.