‘I choose my name’

Parliament journalists call him the “lord of corporate governance” – he strikes fear into the hearts of state officials who appear before parliamentary committees. But for Mondli Gungubele, asking tough questions is just part of his job.

The former mayor of Ekurhuleni is in Parliament for his second stint as an MP. He sits on the portfolio committees that oversee communications and public enterprises and is one of the hard-hitters.

In fact, Gungubele was deployed to Parliament’s communications committee the night before the watershed meeting that decided that a full-blown inquiry be held into the SABC in October last year.

On several occasions since his return to Parliament in September last year, under-pressure state officials have publicly acknowledged that they found his questions and line of questioning tough.

Gungubele told City Press this week: “I got worried over time when officials would be briefing politicians and they would say, ‘You don’t have to worry about that because it is too technical.’” This was around 2007 when he was an MEC in Gauteng.

“I asked myself, if we are principals in this environment as politicians and we must determine the direction of government, how can it be correct that there are things that are technical that we must not worry about? I then said, I am not comfortable because I want to account fully for everything I do.”

Gungubele spoke to his political boss in Gauteng, ANC provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile, and suggested that he be deployed in the administration “so that, in future, no one says to me, ‘this is too technical’”.

The language of accountability

Mashatile allowed him an opportunity to be the chief director of an agency oversight committee, overseeing all government agencies. This is where Gungubele, and the team he led, took up a course to “master” evaluating and planning, especially the techniques of monitoring and evaluation.

“When I became mayor of Ekurhuleni, I introduced a management system; you’ve never had a politician introducing a management system. I engaged managers and they accepted it. Of course, they improved it in a number of areas.

“The rest is history, because we immediately beat the rest of the province in terms of what they call performance information and claiming systems. We were rated by Moody’s as the best-run municipality in the country.

“Around August last year, we were declared in the top three for customer satisfaction and we had clean audits … all those things were not accidental,” he said.

Gungubele, who has served in both the executive and the legislature, says it was a challenge that the two arms of the state have not come together to agree on the language of accountability “and whenever we raise these questions, managers are puzzled and they would say, ‘the things you are asking us to do, you want us to change the Treasury standards’”.

“In an institution that takes accountability seriously, all the elements in that institution must align with the language of accountability. It makes accountability painless, smooth and useful. If you are coming to account to Parliament, you must know what Parliament expects.

“You can’t just say, ‘a bridge was built’. Results-based management forces you to say, if a bridge of R20 million is going to be constructed, where is it going to be constructed, the structure, the components, the costs?”

Gungubele described his deployment to the communications committee on the eve of the SABC inquiry as a coincidence and credited the rest of his colleagues for great work in turning the public broadcaster around.

“I had been watching the SABC for some time. The lack of accountability, some cowboys who were doing whatever they wanted to do ... it used to irritate me. I was lucky to be deployed with a team that was mutually reinforcing.”

'I have committed to following my conscience all my life'

Gungubele said it appeared, however, that some MPs were not clear on their authority as MPs.

He said while some MPs appeared to be intimidated by Cabinet members who are conventionally their seniors in the party, others were silly and tended to have a cosy relationship with Cabinet members at the expense of delivery.

Gungubele is one of those ANC MPs who have publicly said they would follow their conscience in the upcoming vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

He explained: “I have committed to following my conscience all my life. I joined the ANC because of my conscience.”

Gungubele defines conscience as “your attitude to life”.

“Your attitude to life dictates who you must associate with. In other words, a party must preach its philosophy to those it wants to recruit and those who are being recruited. Once their conscience resonates with the philosophy of the party, they join the party because their attitude to life finds a connection with the philosophy of the party.

“It becomes ironic and contradictory for a party to say the reason that made you join it has become irrelevant. You now say that which made me join the party, can go to hell…”

He believes besides focusing on how ANC MPs vote, the issue should be what MPs are voting about. “I must take a decision because when I leave Parliament that day, I must be able to face South Africa and account for my decision; whether I vote in favour, against or abstain.”

For Gungubele, there are two things he doesn’t want to risk.

“It’s my life and my name. If I’m forced to choose, I can give the other up and choose my name.”