DA leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
DA leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

The DA says it expects the ANC to offer it the position of chair of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) in parliament.

Scopa is a powerful finance watchdog committee that holds ministers and senior public officials accountable as to how they spend public funds, and has the authority to instruct the auditor-general to conduct forensic investigations when it senses foul play.

At a media conference to unveil the party’s shadow cabinet for the sixth administration, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and his chief whip John Steenhuisen said it would be “the right thing to do” for the ANC to offer the position of Scopa chair to the DA as the biggest and official opposition party in the National Assembly.

This comes just a day after the ANC in the Western Cape accepted a similar position in the provincial legislature, following an offer from the DA provincial caucus in recognition of the status as the official opposition in the only province the ANC does not govern.

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The DA in the Western Cape had previously offered the Scopa leadership to the ACDP, while the ANC in the National Assembly has, for more than a decade, preferred the African People’s Convention’s (APC) Themba Godi in that position. But with Godi no longer an MP after a poor showing in May’s election, the DA now says the days of giving the Scopa chair to smaller parties are gone.

“I also think that we’ve fielded excellent candidates to serve on Scopa in Alf Lees and Benedicta van Minnen, and I think any government that’s serious about transparency and accountability would surely want to submit itself to the best forms of oversight. And that means a party that’s able to act without fear or favour in terms of public finances.

“The government is only as good as [its] oversight, and a strong Scopa would lead to far stronger financial stability and far better oversight and accountability,” said Steenhuisen before Maimane weighed in.

The DA leader indicated that there were informal discussions underway with the ANC in this regard.

“When it comes to parliamentary accountability, size, indeed, does matter ... If the ANC says it’s serious about accountability, this would be [the] route to go to ensure that we exercise the appropriate accountability. It’s easy to get a small party to agree with you; it’s quite a different process when you’ve got a party [with] the size and the muscle of the official opposition, such as the DA, to, in fact, do the hard yards of not just looking at public accounts just to gloss over them, but to interrogate them properly.”

Turning to more internal DA arrangements, Maimane said it had resolved not to deploy other long-serving and experienced MPs, such as James Selfe, Mike Waters and Thomas Walters, to the shadow cabinet. Selfe is the chair of the DA federal executive, while Waters and Walters are deputy chairs of the federal council.

Maimane said the party preferred them to focus on those positions as the DA prepares for the 2021 municipal elections. “One of the things going into elections 2021 and the focus on the future is that there’s work that must be done in parliament. But there are certain members that I want to focus on some of the work we want to do in the party and advance our electoral objectives going into 2021.”