“It is as if there is no oversight in Parliament,” Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said on Friday.
As chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Zondo listened to testimony from former and current MPs on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday on how Parliament failed to prevent large-scale looting of the state.
Veteran DA MP James Selfe told the commission a constituency-based electoral system would strengthen Parliament’s oversight function.
Selfe continued with his testimony on Friday after he told the commission on Tuesday many calls over the years for a parliamentary investigation into Bosasa fell on deaf ears.
On Friday, he and Zondo entered into a discussion about the electoral system – currently a closed list system which means parties compile a list of candidates.
“There is a very chill wind that blows that is the result of the way the current electoral system is structured,” said Selfe.
He added MPs needed an individual mandate – not just a party mandate – and this should come from a constituency, saying he had introduced a private member’s bill to this effect to Parliament a few years ago, but it was rejected by all the other parties.
Zondo said: “My sense is that the bosses of most political parties don’t seem to have an appetite for a structure where the party can’t instruct its members how to vote.”
Selfe, who was the DA federal council chairperson until 2019, said: “As someone who was a party boss, I can tell you it is very convenient if you are a party boss to have the sort of electoral system that we have at the moment. Because you can ensure discipline, you don’t have to worry about forums you don’t have to worry about people stepping out of line.”
However, he said he would argue it did not necessarily serve the interests of democracy, accountability and oversight.
“We ought to be in a position where a Member of Parliament is able, on bona fide grounds following his or her conscience, to take a view that is different from the party,” he added.
Zondo said it appeared a constituency system would improve Parliament’s oversight “to a large extent”.
After Selfe, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s (OUTA) parliamentary engagement manager, Matt Johnston, detailed how his organisation’s attempts to contribute to Parliament’s oversight function and hold ministers implicated in state capture to account, came to naught.
Zondo said it appeared nothing happened to people who “engaged in wrongdoing” and they get new positions.
“There is complete impunity,” he added.