Destroy accountability, destroy Parliament’s raison d’être – Business Day, 1 December 2014

Destroy accountability and you destroy one of the two most important reasons for Parliament to exist, the other the passing of legislation.

WHEN UK prime minister Andrew Bonar Law died in office in 1923, King George V appointed Stanley Baldwin, a businessman commoner, to succeed him. The choice shocked Baldwin’s rival, the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, who assumed the job would be his. Rich, an accomplished foreign secretary, and former viceroy of India, Lord Curzon was a Tory grandee.

So grand was he that the king felt he should explain why he had been passed over. Reminding Curzon that he sat in the House of Lords, the king said: "I require my prime minister to confront his opponents every day in the House of Commons."

George V thus captured the essence of political accountability. The doctrine that the executive branch of government is accountable to Parliament is one of the better parts of our colonial heritage. It is one of the pillars upon which our constitution is built. The constitution carries accountability to the extreme of empowering the National Assembly to sack the president and his Cabinet by a vote.

Destroy accountability and you destroy one of the two most important reasons for Parliament to exist, the other the passing of legislation.

The erosion of the accountability function has been in progress for a long time. The earliest sign was speaker Frene Ginwala’s role in 2001 in helping to undermine the standing committee on public accounts’ efforts to investigate the government’s arms deal announced in 1999. In helping to shield the executive from parliamentary scrutiny, she set a precedent that speaker Baleka Mbete has zealously followed, so helping to precipitate the crisis now facing Parliament. That crisis arises not from how decorously MPs do or don’t behave, but from the fact that President Jacob Zuma refuses to account to the taxpayers Parliament represents for what has been done with their money.

Even the law-making function has been undermined. Parliament has become a rubber stamp for decisions taken in Luthuli House. So much legislation is now so intrusive and so economically destructive that SA would be better off if that parliamentary function were put on hold too.

A few months ago, an editorial in The New Age dismissed the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as a "6% party". If it ever came to power, the country would probably be worse off than it is under the African National Congress (ANC). But it has punched above its weight in dramatically exposing how Zuma and his party are destroying Parliament. When ANC MPs sing and cheer as riot police manhandle an MP, then we know that the longer that party stays in office the greater the likelihood is that it will turn SA into a banana republic.

Accordingly, as the political year ends, there is reason for cautious optimism — not that the ANC will change its ways in the foreseeable future, but that more and more people will wake up to the threat it poses to democratic institutions. That threat arises partly from arrogance and partly from the ANC’s Marxist-Leninist ideology.

In the heady days of the "miracle" transition, few people wanted to recognise this. But thanks to the opportunism of the EFF, it is becoming more and more difficult to deny. Even within the ANC parliamentary caucus, there must be people who disapprove of the destruction Zuma is wreaking upon Parliament. What they lack is the courage to say so.

• Kane-Berman is a consultant at the South African Institute of Race Relations.