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Monday, March 30, 2015

IEC can't afford another wobble

Political connections are hard to wriggle out of.
Raenette Taljaard may have been reminded of this 6 months ago when ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe accused her of having a “clear political affiliation” to the Democratic Alliance in her position as an IEC commissioner.
Mantashe targeted her in his row with DA leader Helen Zille, who had claimed the IEC was in danger of becoming “another ruling party lapdog” in the buildup to the 2016 municipal elections.
Mantashe’s exact words to Zille were:  “The attempt to link the IEC to the ANC is disingenuous. …The irony is that the only Commissioner in the IEC with clear politician affiliation is Raenette Taljaard, a former DA MP and former CEO of the Helen Suzman Foundation.”
It did not matter that Taljaard had meticulously safeguarded the non-partisan nature of her job as part-time commissioner. It did not matter that she had left the DA after quitting as an MP 10 years earlier, or that she had resigned as CEO of the Helen Suzman Foundation more than two years before taking up her part-time post at the IEC.

The way things roll

This is the way things roll in public office. You are vulnerable to finger-pointing, even if it is unfairly directed and especially in this politically charged.
Yet the ANC has chosen to use its majority vote in parliament to recommend the appointment of Vuma  Glen Mashinini, who is currently special projects advisor to the president, as an IEC commissioner. This puts Mashinini in line for the top job as chairperson. He got the thumbs up despite being widely regarded as an ally of Jacob Zuma. “So what?”. That was the vocal and irritated response from ANC MPs to the backlash from opposition parties in the National Assembly. The ANC pointed to Mashinini’s considerable experience as deputy chief electoral officer which would make him a tempting candidate. His more recent consultancy work in election services in other parts of Africa could also be useful, as long as there is no conflict of interest.
In his interview before a panel headed by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Mashinini reportedly said: “I am an adviser to the head of state, my role is professional and non-political.”
It may be true that Mashinini would prove to be a fine commissioner or even chairperson. But perception counts in public office and for the entire opposition, his link to Zuma is too close for comfort.
The IEC, with a previously umblemished record, recently wobbled during the controversy over a botched R320 million leasing deal which led to chairperson Pansy Tlakula’s resignation. The IEC, an institution tasked with ensuring the country’s elections are free, fair and transparent, cannot afford even a hint of scandal.
The controversy over Mashinini coincided with the resignation of Taljaard. The IEC was among those who paid tribute to her “unquestionable integrity”.  Her departure prompted speculation that she was walking away midway through a seven-year term in protest against Mashinini’s imminent appointment. She has insisted that the timing was coincidental. After 18 years in public office, she wants to focus on her academic work at UCT. The independently minded Taljaard appears to have no interest in being drawn into the divisive political storm. It could be, in part at least, that she would not want her past allegiances to be used as a cheap shot to detract from the real issues at stake.

The power of Number 1

The person with the power to make a difference is Number 1. The decision to accept or reject parliament’s recommendation rests with him. Zuma could still make use of Mashinini’s considerable skills, by retaining him in his office, but not the IEC. By doing so, he would shield the IEC from risk and would be putting South Africa first.

This article was previously published three weeks ago on:

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