Toothless parliament watchdog lets rowdy MPs off

No real consequences for misbehaviour by members since 2014

23 December 2018 - 00:04 By THABO MOKONE
Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete refers bad behaviour in the house to the powers and privileges committee, often to little effect.
Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete refers bad behaviour in the house to the powers and privileges committee, often to little effect.
Image: Esa Alexander

Parliament's powers and privileges committee, as its name suggests, is supposed to be one of the most powerful legislative structures when it comes to disciplining MPs for behaving badly.

But if the events of the past four years are anything to go by, the committee that derives its mandate from the authoritative Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act is simply a lame duck.

Under chair Lemias Mashile of the ANC, the committee has proven to be a place where disciplinary cases referred to it by Speaker Baleka Mbete go to be buried.

In terms of the rules of parliament, Mbete is allowed to send MPs to the committee to be disciplined for bad behaviour such as disobeying her rulings, using foul language and violence.

But the exercise has proven futile. No MP has suffered real consequences for misbehaving in the house, at least since 2014.

Between October 2014 and June this year, Mbete referred 11 cases of bad behaviour to the committee, ranging from contempt of parliament and breach of parliamentary privilege to MPs threatening each other with physical violence.

The cases involved prominent MPs such as DA leader Mmusi Maimane, EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu, ANC backbencher Peace Mabe and maverick MP Mervin Dirks, as well as former state security minister David Mahlobo, among others.

But after several years of processing the misdemeanours committed by legislators, many of them got away scot-free as the committee dropped the cases - all except those involving Dirks, Mahlobo and the DA duo of Richard Majola and Tim Brauteseth.

Maimane was investigated by the committee after refusing to withdraw an unparliamentarily remark in November 2014.

In its report four years later, the committee has dismissed the matter, saying it "fell within the powers of the presiding officer and could have been dealt with at the time".

The committee said it had been hamstrung by court challenges instituted by the EFF over the constitutionality of the enabling legislation, with some sections of the act having been declared invalid by the Constitutional Court.

There is also a related matter pending in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

"The committee is mindful of this court challenge brought by the applicant and its potential impact on its functioning, especially its ability to recommend sanctions contained in section 12 (5) of the act," says the committee in its report.

Shivambu has also gone unpunished for "showing the middle finger" to then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2014, with the committee finding that he's since apologised for his wayward ways.

The committee also resolved not to take action against Mabe after she apologised for calling Maimane a "bloody bastard".

"With regard to Ms Mabe's matter, the committee acknowledged that it could have been dealt with by a disciplinary committee had it been in existence at the time," it says.

However, the committee has found that Mahlobo should face the music for allegedly misleading the house over his relationship with #FeesMustFall activist Mcebo Dlamini.

The committee ought to "determine the process required to investigate and deal with the matter", the report says.

Dirks is facing two cases of ill-discipline, one of them for allegedly threatening to assault fellow ANC MP Tozama Mantashe.

Majola and Brauteseth are also due to face disciplinary proceedings in the new year, for allegedly preventing the National Freedom Party's Shaik Emam from returning to his seat after delivering a speech.


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