The DA welcomes the Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise’s accedence to our request for an urgent debate in Parliament on corruption related to Covid-19 procurement. The act of stealing emergency relief funding through procurement corruption is a new low for the ruling ANC and its family members, and there are still far more questions than answers. The debate has to get to the bottom of this.

However, the wording of the Speaker’s letter of reply is concerning. It would seem that she has already decided which lines of questioning she will allow in the debate and which she won’t. In the opening paragraph she states the following: “I find no basis for your request that Parliament should summon the President to account on how he will deal with members of his party and son.” But she then goes on to say that allegations of Covid corruption are indeed serious and should be considered by the National Assembly.

This seems to indicate that President Ramaphosa could be shielded from answering questions relating to the involvement of, and consequences for, his own party members, and that his son’s contract to modify Gauteng taxis could be off-limits too. This would not be acceptable. It would make a mockery of the President’s strongly worded commitment to tackle the scourge of Covid corruption that has been revealed in recent weeks.

It would also make a mockery of the Speaker’s own words, when she recently assured South Africans that Parliament would “sharpen MP’s capacity” to hold the Executive to account and to “ask those unpleasant, sharp questions.” She was also quoted as saying, “A Member of Parliament is never wrong. No question is ever unimportant or wrong. A Member of Parliament must put questions to us. It is our duty to back an MP.”

If that is indeed the case, I expect her to offer MPs the opportunity in this debate to ask precisely those sharp questions of the President, even if they concern the business dealings of his own family and the family members of his senior party members.

Public utterances of accountability and of zero tolerance for corruption cannot only be words. They have to translate into actions too. The president can’t talk tough on corruption on the TV, but then allow his party to reinstate and redeploy the corrupt within its own ranks, as we recently saw with the VBS-implicated officials in Limpopo, and now again with the swearing in of disgraced former eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede to the KZN legislature.

Perhaps the memory of the last time the President had to answer a question relating to his son’s dubious business dealings with the corrupt Bosasa is still fresh in the Speaker’s mind, and she doesn’t want a repeat of that self-incriminating fiasco. But then she must be honest with South Africans about her intentions, and not sell them the idea of a tough, no-holds-barred Parliament.