'I'm not going anywhere': Ndabeni-Abrahams defiant in parly stand-off

26 August 2020 - 18:54 By THABO MOKONE
Minister of communications, telecommunications & postal services Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has brushed off mounting criticism from the DA.
Minister of communications, telecommunications & postal services Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has brushed off mounting criticism from the DA.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams says she will not resign, despite a stand-off with parliament over the appointment of councillors to the industry regulating Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

Responding to questions from DA MP Phumzile van Damme in the National Assembly on Wednesday over her defiance of the communications portfolio committee on the candidates they've send to her for appointment, Ndabeni-Abrahams stuck to her guns, insisting that not all candidates sent to her by her own oversight committee were suitable for appointment.

The matter has been a running battle between Ndabeni-Abrahams and the communications committee for several months now, after she wrote to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise in June declining to appoint some of the candidates recommended to her following a public selection process.

She argued that some of the candidates were not qualified to deal with the digital economy. But the committee wrote back to her last month, telling her the law did not allow her to reverse her decision.

This week the DA accused her of defying parliament after it emerged that Ndabeni-Abrahams gazetted only five of the six candidates that had been recommended to her by the national legislature.

"With regard to the appointment process to the Icasa council, does the minister believe she has the final authority on those appointments? And if she thinks she has the final authority, on what legal basis does she?" asked Van Damme, as some ANC MP heckled her while claiming her question was "out of order".

"If it's parliament that has the final authority, what was the reason for the minister ignoring two decisions by this house that all six vacancies must be filled at Icasa? And if she has ignored parliament, will she resign?"

But the questions were overruled by National Assembly house chairperson Madala Ntombela, who said Ndabeni-Abrahams was at liberty to decide whether or not to respond to the question.

"Honourable Van Damme, thank you for the suggestion of resignation. I'm not going anywhere," was the minister's response, before quoting at length sections of two acts she believed backed her controversial decisions - which remain at odds with those taken by the communications portfolio committee.

The matter then provoked a shouting match between DA and ANC MPs.

"Is the information out of Switzerland or Geneva?" shouted one DA MP, mocking Ndabeni-Abrahams's notorious confusion of that country and one of its popular cities.

"The reason I read the law is because it's what empowers both parliament and myself as the member of the executive, in terms of what is it that I can do and what parliament can do," said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

"The member, having read the act, may have a clear understanding of who has the final (say). I will stop reading the act. Honourable Van Damme, please make sure you read so that you can respond to your question as a law-making person in this legislature."

The DA wants Modise to institute disciplinary action against Ndabeni-Abrahams, arguing that her conduct was in breach of the Executive Members' Ethics Act and the Powers and Privileges of Parliament Act.

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