22/06/2017 14:28 SAST | Updated 23/06/2017 06:19 SAST

Secret Ballot: Mogoeng Mogoeng Leaves It All Up To Mbete

He handed the decision back to Mbete, but urged she act in the best interests of citizens.


The decision to hold a secret ballot in a vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma may be back in the hands of National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, but it is clear South Africa's Constitutional Court wants her to favour the interests of good governance over the interests of the ANC.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled on Thursday that Mbete has the constitutional power to prescribe that voting in a motion of no confidence be conducted by secret ballot. The court set aside Mbete's decision in April where she stated she did not have authority to do so.

Although the court would not insist on the route Mbete must take on the matter, their judgement is fairly expressive.

The chief justice began mostly by outlining the role of good governance within a constitutional democracy, saying public office-bearers who occupy positions of authority have power -- power which comes with responsibilities -- and is not to be used for the advancement of "personal or sectarian interests".

He said the objective of these office-bearers to explain "how they have lived up" to their promises is to "arrest or address under-performance and abuse of public power and resources".

"It thus falls on Parliament to oversee the performance of the president and the rest of cabinet and hold them accountable for the use of state power and resources entrusted to them," Mogoeng Mogoeng said.

"When all the regular checks and balances seem to be ineffective or a serious accountability breach is thought to have occurred, then the citizens' best interests could at times demand a resort to the ultimate accountability-ensuring mechanisms."

He said there are institutional and other risks that members of parliament, particularly of the ruling party, are likely to be exposed to when they openly question or challenge the suitability of their leaders for the position of president.

The judgement asked that when making her decision, Mbete consider that "openness if one of our foundational values" and the National Assembly's internal procedures have due regard to the need to uphold the value of transparency in carrying out its business.

"Considerations of transparency and openness sometimes demand a display of courage and the resoluteness to boldly advance the best interests of those they represent no matter the consequences, including the risk of dismissal for non-compliance with the party's instructions," Mogoeng Mogoeng said.

"The correct exercise of parliament's powers in relation to a motion of no confidence in the president must therefore have the effect of ensuring that the voting process is not a fear or money inspired sham, but a genuine motion for the effective enforcement of accountability."

Mbete has previously been criticised by opposition parties on her fitness to hold office as well as her alleged bias in support of the ANC and its president.

Last month, she was quoted saying Zuma and the influence of the Guptas are not the main problems facing the tripartite alliance.

But she also said she was not opposed to a secret ballot in a vote of no confidence against Zuma.

The ball is now in her court.

Mbete's decision in this matter will highlight either one of two things: her independence as speaker of the National Assembly or the control, power and influence Zuma still holds.