It has become common cause that politicians once in office often forget why they are in those positions. While in the state of being power drunk, issues such as arrogance, greed and general disrespect for the rule of law creep in.
It is no coincidence that the Constitutional Court this week ruled that former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini should pay at least 20% of the legal fees in her long-running social grant court battles with Black Sash and Freedom Under Law.
In her defence, Dlamini argued that “to hold her personally liable for the costs of suit would constitute a breach of separation of powers principle”.
She added that the court lacked “the authority to hold a Cabinet minister to account by ordering her or him to pay costs out of her or his pocket”.
But the country’s highest court disagreed with her assertion, which when read in context of how the social grant scandal began clearly showed that Dlamini felt that she could not be touched for her action as a Cabinet minister.
“Minister Dlamini’s argument that a personal cost order against her would offend the separation of powers has no merit. When courts make costs orders they do not make judgments on the political accountability of public officials. They do so only in relation to how the rights of people are affected by the conduct of a public official who is not open, transparent and accountable and how that impacts on the responsibility to a court by those involved in litigation.”
This stark reminder that no one is above the law is what politicians needed to hear.
The process to get to the judgment was long and painful for some of the most experienced public servants who were fired or forced to resign while Dlamini’s reign of terror continued unabated.
People come first and politicians are mere conduits who are placed in positions in government to ensure that those who elected them receive the best service from government. Their role is to provide political oversight while allowing the public servants to do their jobs. This a simple lesson that Dlamini missed.
The people of South Africa deserve better than this relic from the Jacob Zuma era of greed, wealth accumulation and public disregard.