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DA: Statement by Athol Trollip, Democratic Alliance Parliamentary leader, on the proposed Presidential oversight body (23/05/2010)

23rd May 2010

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The DA welcomes the Chief Whips Forum's establishment of a multiparty task team to investigate the establishment of a Presidential Portfolio Committee. The serious consideration afforded to the DA's proposal, which was submitted to Parliament and the National Assembly rules committee on 14 April 2010 and argued for the establishment of a body to oversee the work of the Presidency, is an important victory in strengthening legislative oversight of the Zuma administration.

Following the investigation by the multiparty team, its findings will be referred to the Chief Whips Forum, who will make recommendations to the Joint Rules Committee on the establishment of a Presidential portfolio committee.

In the DA's original document (which initiated this process and which is available on request), we suggested that with the creation of two new ministries, the expansion of the Presidency's budget to almost three quarters of a billion rand (between 2006/7 and 2009/10, the budget of the Presidency increased at an average annual rate of 46%) and the concentration of power vested in this organ of state, this shortcoming has now become a substantial and serious blind spot.

The Presidency and its function forms a significant part of the work of the national government as a whole and, in order that it exercise the vast power vested in it in an open and transparent manner, it is necessary that it account to the legislature in the same fashion every other national department is required to. The Presidency should not be exempt from this principle; indeed, it should epitomise it; and the President and the two ministers in the Presidency have a duty to lead in this regard.

Significantly, we believe the Presidency itself, either in the form of the President, the Deputy President or the Director General, should also report to that committee. It is not just about the two new ministries (indeed, as a proportion of the entire Presidency's budget, the two new ministries form a tiny component).

As a consequence of the DA's proposal, the Chief Whip's Forum has debated the matter and in those discussions the DA has emphasized that the following must be considered in the establishment of a Presidential oversight committee:

• Attainable time frames need to be imposed to ensure that real progress is made and that the establishment of a suitable committee is afforded the urgency it deserves. These time frames must apply especially to the Joint Rules Committee, which will take the final decision on the creation of this body.
• The legitimacy of this body will depend largely on the representative of the Presidency who serves on it. While it might be impractical for the President himself to appear, it is essential that either the Deputy President or Director General of the Presidency is present at each sitting of the committee.
• Initially, it was proposed that the Presidential oversight body focus on the work of the two ministries in the Presidency- National Planning and Performance Monitoring and Evaluation- and that the Office of the President be excluded. This would defeat the very purpose of this body, given that the two new ministries account for only R50 million of the Presidency's R727 million budget.

The DA's initial proposal envisaged the creation of a single portfolio committee on the Presidency, the purpose of which is to provide oversight over the work of the Presidency in general and the work of those two ministries which now also fall under the Presidency, in particular. Since 1994, no such portfolio committee has existed; this has limited the constitutional imperative that the legislature provides oversight over the work of the executive. The Constitution recognises that parliamentary committees are the best mechanism through which to achieve these ends; and the same principles that apply to the rest of government departments should now be applied to the Presidency.

After a year which has seen President Zuma directly undermine Parliament's critical oversight role- most notably through his failure to comply with the Executive Ethics Act and offer the House an explanation for his reasons for doing so- the establishment of a committee to oversee the Presidency will be an important step in restoring public faith in this crucial democratic institution.

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