UNITED DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT

MEDIA RELEASE

SPEAKER CONFIDENCE DEBATE:  UDM'S POSITION BY B HOLOMISA, UDM PRESIDENT

Dr Pallo Jordan has ably conceded that the Speaker of the House of Assembly Dr Frene Ginwala, executes her duties as a member and activist of the ruling party.  Although he would have liked the House to believe that partisanship is not inconsistent with impartiality he did not even attempt to rebut the accusations of partiality in the handling of the arms procurement fiasco by the Speaker as raised in my open letter of the 14th May 2001.  It is significant that 10 of the 12 political parties in the House of Assembly either abstained from voting or voted against the motion.  This should make the Speaker do a thorough introspection and review the way she has conducted the business of the House with regard to the arms procurement deal.

It is my considered opinion that my drawing the attention of the Honourable Speaker to these concerns is designed to restore a sense of balance and quilibrium in the House in a situation where our fragile democracy could well be imperilled by the honourable Speaker's zeal to pursue an approach that goes against the essence of parliamentary consensus, however noble her intentions may have been.

For instance, in my open letter to the Speaker I raised the central question which has still not been answered.  Who has given the brief to the nvestigating agencies?  Who oversees the investigation?  To whom are these agencies accountable?  What is the position of parliament in the scheme of things as the body which initiated the probe into the arms deal?

Until we are otherwise advised it is our view that SCOPA, as the custodian of public funds as mandated by parliament has not been given a role in the authorization, direction and monitoring of the current investigation.  The Honourable Speaker Dr Ginwala has not identified herself with the House in he 14th Report and appears to have distanced herself from SCOPA in the handling of this probe.

For parliament to operate as an institution of independent accountability over the executive requires that members of the ruling party exercise oversight over colleagues of their own caucus.

At times of political controversy and crisis, such as those that the ANC has prompted in recent weeks and months, this is a lot to ask - perhaps too much.

Hence, we must continue to search for two precious commodities.

First, we must look to strengthen our most important mechanisms of democratic accountability, such as SCOPA, and find ways to insulate them from party political pressures.

It is one thing for the ANC to use its majority to push through its policy and law-making agenda, but quite another for it to use its majority to defeat meaningful oversight of executive action.

Second, we must encourage moral authority and leadership.

As Speaker Ginwala said very recently at the Hague Global Forum on Corruption, "public representatives need to set an example and provide value-driven leadership based on unambiguous principles".

For instance, there is a very disquieting feature in the developments, which followed the Defence Review of 1998.  That Review's budget was estimated at R9.7 billion and was subsequently approved by parliament up to 2005/6.  The aim of the Defence Review was to reduce personnel costs through demobilization in order to free funds for capital expenditure.  The R30 billion budget, which has now escalated to R51 billion has not been authorized by parliament.  The investigating agencies will have failed in their task if they do not establish the source and reason for the departure from the original mandate.  That original budget had taken into account the socio-economic demands of our society, hence the conservative figure.  These social considerations have been echoed by President Mbeki in his discourse in the AIDS pandemic debate.  How do we explain this surreptitious escalation of the arms budget to R51 billion when these socio-economic conditions have not changed?  Every now and again we hear the Ministers complaining that their budgets are inadequate.  Why do they support this extravagant expenditure?  There can only be one explanation for this discrepancy.  The escalated budget is the cash cow for the ruling party and the sub-contracting companies of its surrogates.

In conclusion, while Speaker Ginwala has, with the exception of this recent blemish on her record, provided good leadership to parliament during a critical phase in its evolution, she - like us all - has been let down by some of her most senior colleagues in parliament and in the executive.

Whether they know it in their hearts or not, their time will come.

Bantu Holomisa
Cape Town
08 June 2001