Parly’s Nkandla committee hits deadlock

Cape Town - The first sitting of the new parliamentary committee on Nkandla hit a deadlock between the ANC and opposition on Friday, as the latter refused to elect a chairperson until the mandate is reworked to expressly include the public protector's findings.

Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe said the opposition agreed beforehand to argue that "at the heart of it is the public protector's report and we need to be absolutely certain that all relevant documentation will be consulted".

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema made plain opposition parties feared the ANC could not be trusted to uphold Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's findings against President Jacob Zuma.

Instead, he said after the meeting, the African National Congress would want Zuma's bitterly contested submission to Parliament on Nkandla - in which he declined to comment on her report - to be accepted as the last word on the controversy that had haunted him for years.

Terms of reference

"I know exactly what the ANC is going to do. They are going to come here and accept the president's report as an accurate reflection of what happened and say the matter is closed."

The ANC reluctantly conceded that the first meeting of the committee be adjourned, but afterwards disagreed with the opposition as to what would happen next.

According to DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, it was understood that the terms of reference of the committee would be referred back to the National Assembly to be elaborated.

But Cedric Frolick, the ANC's nominee for chairman, said there was no need to do this.

"It simply requires further discussion but the secretary will be called and the Speaker will be called in to discuss it. I have stated the view of the ANC, as far as the proposal is concerned there is definitely a trust deficit and that can be dealt with without taking it back to the National Assembly.

"I think it is unlikely that the ANC will go back and review the resolution that is there. I think it just requires further political interaction between the chief whips of the different parties so they can move from a common understanding."

A day’s work lost

The office of ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani subsequently issued a statement accusing the opposition of frustrating the work of the committee.

"The office of the ANC Chief Whip is disappointed by the needless filibustering tactics today [Friday] by the opposition parties in the ad hoc committee.

"Due to this stonewalling by the very same parties who ostensibly support accountability, the committee has lost a day's work it may never recover."

The mandate of the committee was debated heatedly in the National Assembly this month when the DA argued unsuccessfully that it was too vague and had to be redrafted to include dealing with the findings of all investigations on Nkandla.

Urge to call Madonsela and Zuma

A motion to this effect was voted down by the ANC, with Sizani saying at the time the opposition should accept assurances that the committee would consider all relevant documents.

With Madonsela's 450-page report, in which she calls on Zuma to repay some of the R246m cost of the upgrades to his private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal, now the subject of a public row between her and the ruling party, the committee is expected to see more wrangling between the ANC and the opposition.

Malema told reporters he would, like the DA, argue that the committee call not only Madonsela, but also Zuma. Maimane said he saw the task of Parliament as ensuring that the remedial action recommended by Madonsela was implemented.

"The job of the committee is to uphold the remedial steps that the public protector put forward... the question of the committee must simply be 'why has the president not complied?'," said Maimane.

In his 20-page submission to Parliament earlier this month, Zuma deferred a decision on whether he should reimburse any of the public spending on Nkandla to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.

Madonsela, in her subsequent letter to the president, pointed out that her decisions could only be overruled by a court.