MPs on the Portfolio Committee on Communications asserted the National Assembly’s constitutionally mandated authority over Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on Tuesday evening.
Opposition MPs took strong exception to Ndabeni-Abrahams’ attempts to subvert parliament’s authority in the appointment of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa) council. While the ANC MPs didn’t join in the criticism, they certainly didn’t shield the minister as members of the governing party often do in committees when opposition MPs have a go at members of the executive.
Last month, while Ndabeni-Abrahams was still temporarily relieved of her duties as a Cabinet member after she was pictured contravening level 5 lockdown regulations, the committee compiled a shortlist of 10 names to fill the vacancies on the Icasa council. It took the unusual step of ranking the candidates.
Ndabeni-Abrahams had to select six names from the shortlist of those who will fill the vacancies if the committee concurs that they cover the required skills.
Ndabeni-Abrahams sent three letters to National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise and the committee.
In the first, she said she would only appoint four members and the committee should provide another six candidates because she was unhappy with the qualifications of the candidates.
In the second letter, she provided the names of the four she wanted to appoint, which coincided with the first four names on the committee’s ranked list.
In the third letter, she said she would appoint a further two candidates if the committee did not accede to her request to provide new candidates. Of the two names she proposed, one wasn’t in the committee’s top six.
On Tuesday evening, the committee obtained a legal opinion that Ndabeni-Abrahams didn’t have a foot to stand on in rejecting the committee’s shortlist.
“I have never heard of what we had to experience here,” said DA MP Phumzile van Damme.
She said the minister not only questioned the committee, but also the National Assembly, which recommended its candidates, and didn’t do her due diligence in ensuring her actions were legally sound.
“It is a grave embarrassment that this is the minister,” she said.
“I believe she must be removed from this position,” Van Damme continued, without any points of order being raised. “She has no idea what she’s doing and she must be removed from her position.”
Committee chairperson Boyce Maneli said the matter of Ndabeni-Abrahams’ removal wasn’t within the purview of the committee.
“I have never heard of this kind of thing before,” EFF MP Fana Mokoena echoed Van Damme.
“It is extremely disappointing from the minister.”
“The minister is setting a precedent that must not be entertained by parliament ever again.”
IFP MP Zandile Majozi said Ndabeni-Abrahams knew she was “not above parliament”.
ANC MP Nomsa Kubheka said she thought the committee did its work “exceptionally well”.
“Let’s put South Africa first. We are not here by mistake or by default,” she said.
“The minister is having her own space where she can do whatever.”
There was general consensus in the committee that it should write a letter to Ndabeni-Abrahams. Van Damme wants the letter to be “strongly worded”.
Mokoena also suggested that they write to President Cyril Ramaphosa so that he could understand what a member of his executive was doing.
The committee resolved not to accede to Ndabeni-Abrahams’ request.
It will also advise the minister to review the name which isn’t in the committee’s top six, based on the mix of skills required on the council. This will be reported to the National Assembly.