'Mind your language': Mabuza defends ministers amid parliamentary criticism

Some cabinet ministers have expressed 'disquiet' about how they are treated by parliamentary committees, Deputy President David Mabuza says

18 March 2021 - 06:00
By kgothatso madisa AND Kgothatso Madisa
Deputy president David Mabuza. File picture.
Image: GCIS Deputy president David Mabuza. File picture.

Some cabinet ministers have expressed “disquiet” about how they are treated by parliamentary committees, complaining that “abruptly scheduled” oversight meetings disrupt their cabinet duties.

Deputy President David Mabuza disclosed this during a question-and-answer session with MPs on Wednesday, where he was asked to explain if he had found that ministers “poorly answered” parliamentary questions.

FF Plus MP Dr Corne Mulder put the question to Mabuza in his capacity as leader of government affairs in parliament. The question comes after 172 written questions to ministers were unanswered by the end of 2020.

Mabuza said while parliament had a duty to hold ministers accountable, they have often raised unhappiness with him about how portfolio committees dealt with them.

“We must say that we often encounter some disquiet on the side of the members of the executive, probably we must always try to maintain a cordial relationship between the members of the executive and the house,” Mabuza said.

“For instance, if a portfolio committee decides to sit, there should be ample time to communicate to the minister to say, 'We require you to come and present yourself before the portfolio committee on such a day.' But I’ve noted that there are very abrupt meetings that are set daily, and those meetings seek to disrupt the working of the executive because a particular member would request to be excused from a cabinet meeting to attend to a portfolio committee.

“Now if we can try to align our work ... ” Mabuza said.

Mabuza also urged MPs to “mind their language” when speaking to cabinet ministers in the National Assembly. Mabuza said this as he defended the ministers from claims that they were undermining the authority of parliament to hold them accountable, after it was pointed out to him that at least 172 written question went unanswered by ministers in 2020.

The deputy president also voiced his unhappiness about the tone MPs used when addressing ministers, saying they should be “moderate” in their approach.

“We know, all of us, that we account to parliament. Maybe the language that we use to make us feel that we must account should be moderate. It should be a language to say, ‘Minister, you are supposed to present a report.’ No, not to say, ‘You must come. We don’t want to hear your reason. You must come.’

“You are talking to your colleague; you are talking to your minister,” Mabuza said. “I’m saying in the execution of our duty let’s mind our language so that we remain professional at all times.”

Mabuza made his comments on the same day that higher education minister Blade Nzimande and his deputy Buti Manamela were slammed by their oversight committee after they excused themselves from a meeting to discuss the university funding crisis that has seen institutions burning and resulted in a loss of life.

Ministers such as international relations minister Naledi Pandor and Pravin Gordhan of public enterprises have had wars of words with MPs either at committee level or on the floor of the National Assembly.

EFF MP Veronica Mente said Gordhan and acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni had the tendency to either blatantly refuse to answer parliamentary questions or respond in a condescending manner.

Mabuza said he had taken note of the cold war between the EFF and Gordhan.

“I can see the altercation between EFF members and minister Gordhan,” Mabuza said. “There’s animosity between yourselves and the minister. Of course I’m going to take up this matter with the minister and come back to you in writing.”

Mabuza was at pains to defend the staggering number of written questions that ministers had failed to respond to in 2020.

He argued that ministers had remained accountable by appearing before committees and taking oral questions.

Turning the tables on MPs, he said they should limit their questions to matters of national interest instead of focusing on issues to that should be handled by provincial legislatures and municipalities as it was time-consuming for ministers to verify information supplied to them.

Mabuza raised concerns about how parliament was not giving ministers enough time before asking them to appear in committees.