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WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
20 February 2002
PREPARATION FOR FORTHCOMING CIVIL SOCIETY WORKSHOP
Chairperson: Ms B. Sonjica
Documents handed out:
Civil Society - Parliamentary Committee Workshop Agenda (Contact Trust)
Water Affairs and Forestry Portfolio Committee Minutes, 10 October 2001 (Contact Trust)
Contact Trust's Department of Water Affairs and Forestry Web Page
Water Affairs and Forestry Portfolio Committee Meeting Minutes, 10 October 2001 (Contact Trust)
[email firstname.lastname@example.org for these documents]
Mr L. Booth of the Contact Trust gave the Committee a background and brief explanation of the work of his organisation. The Committee was then given an opportunity to discuss the upcoming workshop as well as the Committee's role with regard to civil society and NGOs. The main concern presented was that not all provinces would be represented in the NGO and CBO presentations chosen for the workshop. They hoped that the nationally-focused NGOs would be able to fill the gaps, but more effort would have to be taken in future endeavors to promote complete representivity.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee would be looking at the preparations for the upcoming workshop with civil society. She introduced Mr L. Booth from the Contact Trust, the non-governmental organisation that was assisting in the organisation of the workshop.
The Contact Trust and the Civil Society Workshop
Mr Booth told the Committee that the Contact Trust had been working in the Committee for the past six years, but this was the organisation's first official work with them. He proceeded to explain who the Contact Trust was and what it did. He described Contact's mission that included increasing the level of meaningful public participation in the development of national policy and legislation, building constructive relationships between civil society and decision makers, and focusing on the non-profit sector in its work with civil society. He added that Contact did not take policy positions on anything but rather empowered people to speak for themselves.
Mr Booth then gave a brief overview of whom the organisation served. This included over 350 NGOs, CBOs and networks. The second largest group that Contact served was government departments on the national, provincial and local level. Mr Booth had found that many government departments were not in tune with the happenings of other departments and sectors. Additionally, Contact served academic institutions, businesses, political parties, media, and individuals. Businesses were charged for subscriptions to Contact services, and this assisted the organisation in providing the services free to civil society. He believed that everyone should have access to this information regardless of ability to pay if South Africa was to be a sustainable democracy.
Mr Booth proceeded by giving the Committee a list of the government departments and parliamentary committees that Contact covered, and he discussed the various services provided. The services included policy and legislation information, parliamentary committee meeting reports, parliamentary participation workshops, civil society network development on specific bills, and information and support to parliamentary committees and department officials. He mentioned that one challenge to achieving their goals was determining how to increase their outreach. Currently, this was difficult because financial limitations restricted Contact to electronic communication, but they were seeking funding for projects involving the use of the radio and languages other than English to expand the distribution of their information. These types of projects would allow them to reach many more people, particularly those whose access and resources were more limited. Maintaining a neutral status could also be considered a challenge for the organisation.
Mr Booth ended his presentation by stating that he hoped that Contact would be considered a service for the Committee to use and an additional link between the Committee and civil society. He invited Committee members to contact the organisation anytime for assistance or with questions.
Questions and Discussion
The Chairperson remarked that one should appreciate that someone was dedicated to working with the Committee, and the question arose of how they could utilise this resource. She said that Mr Booth had made reference to information from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs), and information of this sort in the form of statistics would be quite useful. She also mentioned that Contact could be a useful resource in determining public opinion on their projects and programs.
Mr E. Sigwela (ANC) stated that he was glad that a group was trying to fill the gap since many of the members had left NGOs and CBOs to serve in government. He asked if they had a directorate of the groups that Contact served. He also wondered what steps NGOs were taking to consolidate their efforts so that they did not overlap and could, therefore, offer more.
Mr Booth replied that he would make a directorate of Contact's members available to the Committee members, and he welcomed any suggestions of other groups that he could contact.
Mr J. Arendse (ANC) referred to the committee meeting reports and asked what would be done if members disagreed with the content.
Mr Booth responded that they acknowledged that mistakes were bound to occur and that every person would hear and note things differently. Though his staff was trained, many members of Parliament received the reports, and at times disagreement was revealed. Contact was happy, however, to discuss discrepancies and, if necessary, send notices amending information in the reports.
Mr P. Ditshetelo (PAC) said that the business community was motivated by profit, so he wondered what motivated Contact. He also wanted to know how well Contact was selling its services to businesses.
Mr Booth agreed that business was motivated by profit, but Contact was not. As a not-for-profit organisation, as accorded in Contact's constitution, they could not be profit-based, and, in times of insufficient funding, Contact staff would go without salaries. He stated that serving two different communities with such different views was difficult, but they believed that the information should be provided to all. If business used Contact's information to contribute to profit making, they would have pay for it. He added that Contact had not been very successful in selling to businesses because they did not have the capacity at the moment to negotiate how to further expand into small and medium enterprises in this regard.
Mr G. McIntosh (DP) asked where Contact got its money at the moment.
Mr Booth replied that 30% of their annual budget currently came from business, and the remainder came largely from international donors such as NGOs focused on natural resources or human rights. He maintained that Contact only accepted donations when it was understood that the organisation would not push any particular viewpoints.
One member inquired about Contact's spread throughout the country.
Mr Booth stated that they tried to approach other networks and media centers to achieve a wider outreach and spread the information in other languages. He continued by saying that Contact generally operated on demand and relied on other NGOs and CBOs to pass the information on to each other. Because of this, Contact's own outreach was very closely aligned with the spread of larger NGO and CBO sectors in the country. The limitation of funding prevented Contact from spreading in more areas or more ways.
The Chairperson, speaking in Xhosa followed by a translation, said it was a question of language. She found it encouraging that Contact wanted to resuscitate the use of other languages to ensure that everyone had access to this vital information.
Prof H. Ngubane (IFP) wanted clarification on the extent to which Contact coordinated with other similar NGOs in its work.
Mr Booth responded that many NGOs worked on providing research and statistics or determining levels of success in particular areas, but Contact's role was more in connecting people with issue-specific work with decision makers though the core of their mission included any organisations in achieving this goal. He said that other groups worked in the same field, but they worked together to share and not duplicate. These organisations generally only worked with Parliament, however, and Contact covered departments and other projects as well.
The Chairperson reminded the Committee that they needed to discuss the aims and objectives of the workshop and the list of those attending. The workshop arose out of a concern that the Committee's activities never received responses from NGOs or CBOs, and the lack of participation of civil society in their programs and projects was a worry.
Mr P. Mathebe stated that they had had a workshop on forestry last year, but the weakness was that it merely involved the Department counseling the Committee and business. It had not been very successful. He asked if the focus at this workshop would be mainly on water and sanitation.
Mr Booth responded that there would be one presentation to bring in forestry specifically, but many of the groups were also involved in forestry, and he would suggest that they bring this topic up as well. He added that the goals of this workshop were to build relationships between the Committee and NGOs and provide a forum for civil society and the Committee to discuss general or specific issues with which they were concerned.
Mr D. Maimane referred to a particular presentation that would take place at the workshop, and he inquired about the criteria for selection of those who would present because he felt that representation was not well spread. He also asked if groups were given specific topics to present on.
Mr Booth replied that he appreciated the concern stated by Mr Maimane and others over the criteria and representivity of the presenter selected for the workshop. He explained that he used the criteria accorded by the Chairperson last year. That criteria defined that the workshop was for NGOs, CBOs or other groups working directly with related projects, but business was not to present. Geographical balance and representivity was necessary as well, but the Chairperson had discussed with him the need for a different level also. Umbrella organisations and national organisations that had a broader perspective and focus would contribute a lot to debate. He also stated that some provinces had not produced applications to present, and that was why they were left out. Concerning the topics for presentations, Mr Booth said that they had not given groups specific topics.
Mr McIntosh thought it was good that the Chairperson wanted to interact with civil society, and the workshop was exactly within Contact's mandate, but he proceeded to explain that democracy was overwhelming this aspect of civil society. He stated that members of provincial governments were directly accountable to society in a democracy as they were elected by civil society. Civil society organisations today were more localised, and the aspects of civil society that they were discussing were more influential in pre-democracy South Africa and the organisations were now becoming interest-based lobbying groups. On the question of representation in the workshop, he agreed that there were gaps in geographic representation, and this was a concern. He wanted to know what their aims as a Committee were for the workshop.
The Chairperson said that a Committee such as theirs had a real effect on society, but they did not have the capacity to know everything happening on the ground. Civil society organisations were grounded and were likely to be much more successful in inviting responses to their actions and projects because of their independence. Building a link was one of the aims of the workshop.
Mr Booth stated that he was not in a position to comment on the role of NGOs except to say that the civil society demand to be involved in the workshop had been very high, and there had been a strong movement within civil society to get involved in the work of the Committee and Parliament.
Prof Ngubane agreed that it was important for civil society organisations to have the opportunity to come to them and share their concerns and issues. For reasons mentioned by Mr McIntosh, she added, they had lost a lot of money in recent years. Members of government and members of civil society might want to work together, but there might be situations where civil society wanted to get information and analyse it before making it available to local government, and members of local government might want to use the information for individual political benefit. NGOs had funders to report to in any case, and the connection at that level might not be sufficient due to such circumstances.
The Chairperson stated that their democracy was participatory, and the President had identified the need to strengthen the connection with civil society in his State of the Nation Address. Civil society mobilized people to participate very effectively and often much better than government.
Mr Maimane added that it was important to continue their interaction with NGOs so that they could inform the Committee of problems they encountered. He said that it was not a question now of whether they needed the workshop but of how they would work the workshop and use it.
Mr Mathebe said, on the issue of representivity, that in the future members from provinces not represented should be used to find links within those provinces to fill this role.
Mr Booth replied that he would take the advice to use members as a link to less-represented provinces in the future.
Mr Z. Ncinane (ANC) mentioned a particular presentation scheduled for the workshop by Rural Water Services, and he said that the representative was not from a rural area, so he did not believe it was possible for that person to properly represent.
Mr Booth told the Committee that the representative had been in charge of the research on sanitation and water delivery for the relevant projects at Rural Water Services and would, therefore, know a great deal about the issues.
The Chairperson suggested that the representative be accompanied by a community member in order to legitimize the stance.
Mr Sigwela asked if there were any plans for similar workshops inviting CBOs and NGOs from each of the provinces.
Mr Booth replied that Contact would be glad to assist in setting up such workshops if the Committee invited them to do so. He reiterated that they would need assistance from the members in order to expand the representation as they had invited all Contact members and networks and had contacted media and the Department for assistance in publicising the workshop. Many organisations that Contact was involved with had a greater outreach in certain areas, and that was the only way currently that Contact could reach further into communities and certain provinces.
The Chairperson stated that, to remedy this gap, they should see if the NGOs representing could give them information on projects in the provinces left out. That information was needed to empower members when going back to their constituencies, and the national organisations ought to have information on such things.
Mr Ncinane asked, in Xhosa but translated by the Chairperson, whether it was possible at this time to get representatives from provinces left out.
Rev A. Goosen (ANC) stated that he hoped this would not be a one-time experience but that they would continue this contact with civil society. Civil society had an insight into the community that the Committee did not have.
Mr Booth agreed stating that he hoped the Committee would enter into a dialogue with civil society and that the relationship would be continued in the future.
Mr S. Simmons (NNP) said that rural and urban areas should be covered at the workshop.
Mr Maimane again told the Committee that, though these issues and questions were important, they needed to discuss the content of the workshop and how to use the NGOs that were presenting as this could not be changed at this late date. The Committee needed to get information from the NGOs on poverty levels throughout the country and the impact of government programs in these areas. Additionally, they needed to decipher the role of local government with the NGOs and the funding situation of the NGOs linked to these projects.
The Chairperson replied that they should also look into delivery of projects in place and how they were running. She wanted to get a sense of the extent to which people were working with the programs and projects.
Rev Goosen brought up the fact that government was now looking into the powers of local governments and those of district councils. Some local governments were concerned that their powers were being taken away. He then suggested that civil society representatives might be able to give the Committee feedback on water boards in different areas.
Mr Mathebe stated that the NGOs should be given the opportunity to raise the issues of equitable shares and service delivery.
The Chairperson told the Committee that the members were beginning to bring up issues of cooperation between local and national government and other very important questions in water services. Though the Committee certainly needed to deal with these issues, they were digressing from the issues at hand. The points being made, and other aspects of the questions raised, were entirely too important and involved to be glossed over at that meeting, so she recommended that the debates suggested be postponed. Members agreed to keep it in mind for another time.
The Chairperson then referred to the Contact Trust web page on the Department, a document distributed to the members. She noted a correction in the report on Water Services Contracts Regulations saying that the Department was not waiting on the Committee to take action but that the process had been held up by NEDLAC.
Mr Booth noted the mistake and stated that it would be corrected. He appreciated input by the Committee to assist in correct reporting on the issues.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Booth, and the meeting was adjourned.
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