Faith Muthambi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Faith Muthambi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Faith Muthambi, the newly elected chair of the co-operative governance and traditional affairs portfolio committee, has rubbished suggestions that Jacob Zuma-era ministers have been deployed to strategic positions in the national assembly to frustrate President Cyril Ramaphosa’s clean-up campaign. 

On Tuesday, the ANC used its majority to elect controversial former ministers to lead various committees in parliament. Muthambi has been implicated in allegations of state capture, allegedly flouted public service regulations, and has previously been accused of lying to parliament.

However, she insisted she is “fit and proper” to lead the committee. 

“We are all from the same party. We are leaders in our own right, and no reasonable person would act against the party’s mandate,” said Muthambi shortly after being elected.

The ANC has been rocked by disputes between factions aligned to Ramaphosa and those supporting secretary-general Ace Magashule, a top lieutenant of Zuma.

Magashule is accused of seeking to undermine Ramaphosa and was seen to have scored a major victory in the ANC’s internal battle in his alleged capture of parliament through the appointment of portfolio committee chairs.

“It’s utter nonsense,” Muthambi said in response to allegations that former ministers were deployed to chairperson positions to frustrate Ramaphosa’s reform agenda. 

In 2018, DA and ANC MPs agreed that Muthambi — who was previously communications minister and most recently led the public service department during Zuma’s scandal-ridden tenure — should be hauled before the ethics committee to answer to allegations that she abused her ministerial position by sending confidential cabinet minutes to the Guptas, which allowed the family to influence government policies.

Lying to parliament

MPs also wanted Muthambi to be charged for lying to a parliamentary ad-hoc committee when she testified at the inquiry into the crisis at the SABC. Lying to parliament is a criminal offence that can attract a prison sentence or a hefty fine.

The ad-hoc committee report, released in 2017, criticised Muthambi’s incompetence in carrying out her responsibilities as the shareholder representative. The report also said Muthambi should be investigated by the ethics committee for possibly breaching the ethics code and the constitution.

However, no action has been taken against her to date. Parliament’s ethics committee is responsible for enforcing the code of ethical conduct for MPs in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. It has the power to issue recommendations for tough sanctions against MPs found to have breached the code. However, it has largely been ineffective and has in the past failed to bring to book legislators accused of serious transgressions. 

Meanwhile, it was “business unusual” for the public enterprises’ committee, which will have to immediately get down to dealing with the crisis at state-owned enterprises, newly elected committee chair Khayalethu Magaxa said. The committee will launch a busy programme on Thursday when it will be briefed by the department of public enterprises on its annual performance plan and strategic plan ahead of the budget vote debate, which takes place next week.

Magaxa, a former leader of the ANC in the Western Cape and a member of the Western Cape provincial legislature, was elected unopposed as chair, though in several other committees the DA attempted unsuccessfully to propose its own candidates.

‘Compromised candidates’

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said in a statement after the chairperson elections that ANC MPs “had missed a golden opportunity to build a stronger and more inclusive parliament that will allow for greater and more meaningful participation from all represented political parties”.

“Instead, ANC members sitting on these portfolio committees elected to support deeply compromised candidates that have been at the forefront of state capture and the looting of national, provincial and municipal governments. This cast of characters now heading up parliament’s portfolio committees include Zupta-era stalwarts and Magashule-faction heavies such as Supra Mahumapelo, Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane, Sfiso Buthelezi and Bongani Bongo,” said Steenhuisen.

The finance committee, which elected former transport minister Joe Maswanganyi as its chair, will also have a lot on its plate and will have to assist in the rebuilding of the SA Revenue Service and eventually the state of the Public Investment Corporation, once the commission of inquiry under former Supreme Court of Appeal judge president Lex Mpati has concluded its work.

The transformation of the financial sector would also be a high priority, and the committee would continue with its oversight of the Steinhoff matter, Maswanganyi said. 

Former deputy trade and industry minister Bulelani Magwanishe was elected unopposed to chair the justice and correctional services portfolio committee.

Immediate issues facing the justice committee are the DA’s request for a probe into the fitness of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to hold office and the decision by Ramaphosa to remove Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi from their positions in the National Prosecuting Authority.