A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
PUBLIC SERVICE AND ADMINISTRATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 September 2007
ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN DEMOCRACY, SERVICE DELIVERY & FIGHTING CRIME: ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION
Chairpersons: Mr R Baloyi (ANC), Mr P Gomomo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Document of Dr M Phosa: Round Table Discussion: Parliament 17 October 2007
Audio recording of meeting [Part 1]&[Part 2]
The meeting took the form of a round table discussion, led by some insight given by Dr Matthews Phosa. He stressed that there was a need need to revisit the values of the Constitution that we negotiated during the period of 1990 to 1996, to ensure that the democracy remained vibrant and true to the values. Everything should be done to preserve the “Mandela legacy”. There was a need to engage with and respect the opinions of others, to allow every representative of society to voice that opinion and to involve civil society in deeper discussions. Parliament’s oversight role was vital and he believed also that the community must have input into that oversight. He raised the question how a Member of Parliament would balance the party line with the broader public interest. Service delivery would be accelerated if Parliament called on people to account. The role of opposition parties was vital, and the nature of political debate must be fully understood and the checks and balances must be maintained. He said that business had a crucial role to play, as did non government organisations, whose speciality and specialist knowledge should be fully recognised. The test of leadership was not always that a leader would win the battle, but rather how he would manage and incorporate the views of well-meaning adversaries. Partnerships and alliances were valuable, and he concluded that government should be governing in partnership with stakeholders throughout the community, and act with them on such vital issues as fighting crime and ensuring service delivery. Members expressed views on these comments and added other pointers.
Role of civil society in deepening democrary, accelerating service delivery and fighting crime
The Acting Chairperson, Mr Richard Baloyi, noted that the meeting would take the form of a ‘Round Table discussion. A similar round table had already been held on the state of the public service, where the Committee considered the report of the Public Service Commission, and would still be having another focusing on the future public service trainer of choice. The focus today was on discussing the role of civil society in developing democracy, accelerating service delivery and fighting crime. He welcomed and introduced Dr Matthews Phosa to lead us in that debate, and explained that this would not be a question and answer session but rather an opportunity for public representatives to engage. He noted that there were Members of other Committees also present, and he asked everyone to introduce themselves.
Dr Matthews Phosa noted that he would raise issues to provoke discussion. He moved from the very simple premise that after many years of a democratic process, parties must have learned what did and did not work where the strengths and weaknesses were, where the country could improve and strengthen, and where it could deepen democracy. It was very important to take the history of the negotiations leading to democracy into account. Not only did parties enter the negotiations armed with the Harare Declaration and the Freedom Charter; but they had also willingness to unite the nation and move it in a particular direction, irrespective of other affiliations. The discussions at Codesa I and 2 and the Constitutional Assembly had led to a paramount constitution. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, fair and just State administration, the right to differ, transparency in public life, free media, protection against the misuse of power, protection of minority rights, equality before the law and therefore the rule of law; protection of democracy, and independence of the judiciary - and above all the separation of power – to name but a few - were very important underpinnings of democracy. People fought and died for these values and South Africans dare not ever walk away from them. They must focus on the national agenda. It was necessary to look at Parliament from outside in, not only from inside out. He would like to suggest that there was a partnership. He thought that South Africa must do everything in its power to preserve what he termed “The Mandela Legacy”.
The Mandela Legacy was a difficult phase and Dr Phosa felt sure that Dr Mandela would write more about it during his lifetime. Parliament was running a nation in transition and this transition must be managed very maturely with even hands and level heads. Issues like national reconciliation and nation building were critical and Parliament should always take them into account. He believed national reconciliation was an ongoing project and not an event in progress. Consensus was vital in the Codesa processes, and this should be retained at national, provincial and local government. At Codesa, parties gave and took. That was one of the main legacies of Mr Mandela, bringing people together who differed. He always stressed that it was necessary to negotiate with your enemy, because a friend would not need to be convinced. This would involve a high level of tolerance and the sense of building a common purpose. Debating issues and agreeing to disagree was vital.
Parliament must build national trust. It must debate vigorously but at the end must arrive at decisions that were binding on the nation. Parliamentarians could not afford to be irresponsible. Perceptions were vital, and people must ask how much respect did they had for each other. At Codesa Dr Phosa had to trade some of the most difficult compromises, and he put some of the requests, knowing that they were likely to be refused, but needed to air the issues anyway. Any politicians who thought they had already arrived were mistaken; they should rather understand they were making a transition, and needed a more steady hand and balanced head to deal with these issues.
South Africa had further to repeat and revisit an understanding of how society worked, and how allowing each the opportunity to voice an opinion strengthened and deepened democracy. Democracy was not one but several voices, and they should be allowed to contest the State’s view. The day those voices were silenced was the day that the process of undermining democracy would begin. South Africa must ensure a vigorous and ongoing public debate, and not only would this involve the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, but society at large was also part of the checks and balances, and must be taken into account.
An interesting example was that of appointing the SABC Board, where members of civil society confronted the President. A questions must be asked as to why they had lost faith in Parliament, whether they felt betrayed, whether they felt Parliament did not do things right. If parliament did not take into account certain issues, the people would take it to the Executive. Parliament must be proficient in minimising discord.
Dr Phosa stressed that the principle of the separation of powers was vital. Parliament was the voice of the people. It must not act as a kind of junior partner to the executive, as this would lose the checks and balances, and would resort to slogan driving. Parliament must be able to hold the Executive accountable. In its role of oversight it needed to analyse budgets, problems, ensure that there was delivery on the ground; and evaluate and monitor activities, amongst other functions. Dr Phosa would argue that there was no adequate mechanism for the communities to give input on oversight functions. Committees, during their oversight visits, might call on departments or call public hearings in other provinces, but members of the public would not ask questions or would not voice their concerns. The public mechanism must be improved, so that “public hearings” had public participation, with public input into oversight functions.
Dr Phosa then posed the question how a Member of Parliament would align the so-called party line to his or her mandate on the one hand and the broader public interest on the other hand. It was a difficult issue. There was a need for all political parties to discuss how to set the balance of responsibility to the public against party line or party mandate. The question arose who the MP was serving, having come into Parliament with the party. He himself did not have an immediate answer but thought the matter must be discussed. A further challenge was the dominance of the ANC, which was not facing an immediate threat from any other party.
Dr Phosa noted that a main function was to ensure that service delivery was happening. It could be accelerated if Parliament itself, through its standing committees and other structures, made a call. He queried how it could happen that suddenly three towns in the Free State were suffering fires and we did not know about it, and how it could be that babies were sleeping in cardboard boxes at Baragwanath, and we didn’t know about it. This begged the question of what the provincial government and the local government were doing, how they should be accounting to the other arms of government, and whether there was effective oversight. South Africa had sufficient funding, but was not delivering the way it should, nor perhaps holding local government accountable enough. He believed that there was a need to be very vigorous in oversight functions. When matters like this hit the media people would immediately form opinions, that perhaps were not fair, and there was a need also to mediate these matters.
Dr Phosa said his next point concerned opposition parties, who were needed, and whose voice must be respected. Again he cited the events at Codesa. It would have been possible for the ANC simply to negotiate with the National Party, but it wished every party to come to that negotiating table. Although politicians may not like what they heard they must listen, must understand, must appreciate that the opposition represent people in the country, and understand that any opposition was dynamic for democracy. From his own experiences, he believed that tension aligned all parties to other dimensions in democracy. No one party could have all the wisdom. It was the role of opposition parties to question the motives, the actions, and the problems of the governing party; however strong the line of questioning and whatever were your own feelings they must interrogate, question and bring forward other dimensions. They were a force for a democratic South Africa. The irritation of opposition politics was a necessary irritation that also added substantial value to the service delivery processes. He reminded all parties that the object of this new democracy was to build a nation, and those with differing political views were just as committed and patriotic as the next person. There was a need to rise above the petty politicking, and engage at the level where all parties would drive the nation on real issues. Checks and balances existed all over the world, and were historical facts that were healthy and good. The Executive being held accountable was also healthy. He wondered sometimes to what extent did some reports and policies get interrogated, and to what extent they would simply be filed away and gather dust.
Parliament was an institution where parties could vigorously debate the direction into which to take the country. There were, however, very specific interests outside of government and government structures, and other parties outside Parliament who were important and active participants in the debate regarding democracy. Organised business, represented in our country by such organisations as the mining Chambers and Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), Afrikaans Handelsinstituut, South African Chamber of Business and similar organisations, was one sector. NGOs and the broader community in all their formations, both urban and rural, were another. Parliamentarians must firstly know who these people were, and secondly must talk to them, and take their views into account, even if they were not agreed with. Wisdom could lie in the unexpected corners of this country. Parliament represented the people and must listen to the views of the people from outside. Government must hear the non-political view on its economic and social policies, and the creation of forums was a positive step to ensure that government did receive information from organisations and stakeholders and regulate on important matters.
Dr Phosa said that where an issue was challenging the public mind and perception, Parliament should be speaking, not for the purposes of media appearances, but to hold individuals and organisations accountable. The issue between ABSA and the Minister of Finance should have had a reaction as the public was interested in it. In America, where a person was alleged to breach the public health interest, Congress interrogated him as they regarded this as a matter of public and national interest affecting the whole nation. Dr Phosa would like to see something similar happening in South Africa. If not, then Parliament would not be paving the way for debate, but merely following. In matters of national interest it must lead and guide debate. In the fields of specific and specialised interest NGOs had a vital role, as they tended to have more information because of their areas of speciality.
Dr Phosa noted that on returning from exile, it was important to obtain information about political prisoners, and this had come from the NGOs, who proved themselves extremely valuable. He urged that they be seen as a vital resource. Sometimes he understood that they would express strong and perhaps disturbing views – for instance on the HIV and AIDS issues. There was nothing wrong with that. Other vital topics they could discuss included housing, pensions, theft of pensioners’ monies, and he urged a proactive approach. The NGOs provided a supplementary pillar of democracy. The test of leadership was not always that it could win the battle but, more importantly, how it managed and incorporated the views of all well meaning “adversaries” into improving democracy and the lives of all people.
Dr Phosa understood that no political party would enjoy being questioned or criticised in public. However, if any politician attempted to silence the voices that differed from their own or diminish the roles of representatives of society, they ran the risk of tampering with the very ideals that people fought and died for, and for which the Constitution stood as a monument. It was not a crime to hold a different view, and be able to offer a different perspective or information.
Dr Phosa noted that he was an advocate of a strong and decisive government, democratic processes,
healthy and lively debate, and of a model of government that provided strong and substantial checks and balances to ensure that each and every voice in society was heard and taken seriously.
Dr Phosa made the point that to say that the issue of crime was “government’s fault” was illogical. It was a convenient statement, but government was just one player. He urged that those stakeholders mentioned must form a partnership with the government to fight crime. All should take responsibility and form a front against crime – from those buying stolen goods, to communities hiding criminals and crime, to business, the public sector, the police and government.
As much as government was about alliances, it was also about partnerships. In an alliance there might be differences of nuance and of detail. However, there was always silent agreement and all possible efforts should be made to enable the centre to hold, to avoid fracturing of alliances and short or long term political consequences. There was also the question of government in partnership, in the liberal sense of the word, as any government must always willingly or reluctantly be in partnership with its voters, special interest groups, NGOs, trade unions, organised business and a variety of other groups. Government was given a mandate, but this was not an unconditional mandate to do whatever it wished. The process of consultation with alliance structures and community partners was the lifeblood of the age-old principle of government in consultation. Whilst a government must govern strongly, it must do all it could to strengthen partnerships in the process. If it were to lose touch with its community partners, it ran the risk of isolating itself. Although this might be a complex, cumbersome or time consuming process, it was vitally necessary.
The Chairperson noted that Dr Phosa had made the important point whether parliament was at the tail or front end of debate.
Mr P Gomomo (ANC) raised some questions, but they were largely inaudible on the tape recording. He noted the need to look at what was happening in the Department of Home Affairs, and to look at the driving of audits.
Mr M Sikakane (ANC) noted that sometimes it was difficult for parties to be completely open and sincere; parties would want a certain way to be followed.
Mr Sikakane said that sometimes there was a problem with the line between legislature, executive and judiciary. He cited the example of the Public Service, when in 1994 the entire hierarchy was white, as historically this group had been protected by apartheid laws. New legislation was drafted, but this was challenged by the judiciary. He wondered where the lines were to be drawn between the Legislature, which was the representative of the people, and the Judiciary.
Mr K Minnie (DA) thanked Dr Phosa for his input. He noted that when the ANC took over they had fired many people with skills or those who were appointed on merit, and that very appointment system of skills and merit was now being brought back.
Mr Minnie noted that the protection of the Constitution was protection of the democracy and values that were negotiated. That was not an issue for debate, and it was the primary task of all to uphold that constitution. He agreed that the country was still dealing with transformation and nation building.
Mr Minnie believed there was a link between job creation, shortage of skills and crime. He believed if South Africa could create more jobs it would have less crime. He asked Dr Phosa to comment on availability of skills and whether all the skills that were available in the country were being used.
Mr Minnie agreed with the statements on the role of opposition parties. He also agreed with the issue of Parliament leading and guiding the debate, and believed that parliament would be failing the country if it did not lead debate. He believed that the issue of oversight would follow from that.
Mr B Mthembu (ANC) agreed that Dr Phosa’s point about the right to differ was important. Similarly he agreed with the point that South Africa was still a nation in transition, and one of the critical issues, which was the foundation of building this nation, was consensus. Parliament was the voice of the people under a constitutional democracy, catering for various sectors through the political parties, which represented various perspectives or political mandates of particular interest groups. The challenge was how to arrive at consensus in Parliament, given that people came with various perspectives or mandates. Strictly speaking, in order to move forward there was a need for a dissenting voice, to create creative tension. Consensus was necessary, but at the same time the other voice would allow for creativity. There were two contrasting forces in synergy.
Mr Mthembu said that oversight and responsibility were core functions of Parliament and he thought Dr Phosa had rightly pointed out that there were shortcomings. In terms of the Constitution Parliament had to come up with mechanisms for oversight and accountability. During the first term of 1994 to 1999, Parliament saw its role mostly at a legislative level, to deconstruct the apartheid laws. From 1999 to 2004 there was a great awareness by Parliament of the need to exercise oversight and accountability, and to come up with appropriate mechanisms to do that. The Office of the Speaker had commissioned a study on accountability and oversight, which reported on a number of these weaknesses, some being highlighted by Dr Phosa.
Mr Mthembu noted that Parliament needed to assert itself more vigorously in listening to the people’s voices and had come up with a new Vision, which included a new mechanism for oversight and accountability. Parliament had the right to make laws, although these were initiated through the Executive. Parliament needed to accelerate the process of the review of the Rules of Parliament.
Mr Mthembu agreed that NGOs had a role to play in the developmental state. However, equally important was their accountability, and whom they represented. Everyone needed to be accountable and brought into the fold.
Mr I Julies (DA) said that the main issue seemed to be service delivery to all the people of South Africa. He respected what Dr Phosa was saying, stating that he had left the ANC at a point because he was of the view that people within that organisation were acting for their own benefit, not for the people of the country, and he could not live with that. Two years ago, when he walked into Parliament, he wondered whether he would find MPs talking about reconciling the people of the country coming there to fill their pockets. Sometimes he wondered if his real role was being part of the process of law making, although the Chairperson of his Committee assured him that this was so.
Mr Julies said that it was a crucial point that Parliament should lead Cabinet. Oversight was vital, and he cited examples of the Department of Home Affairs, corruption, investigation of Members and officials. He would like to see all MPs respect one another, and remember that they were here solely to serve the people. The ANC had many good ideas to put on the table, and was often duty bound in its conviction to serve the people of the country. Human beings naturally had a greed and lust for money. MPs must remember that it was the people that voted MPs into Parliament, that they should not put their party first and the people of the country second.
Ms L Mabe (ANC) liked Dr Phosa’s point that leaders must look at themselves and at how they were seen by the people, lest they stagnate and run out of ideas. The world envied South Africa for having a leader like Dr Mandela. Whilst he should not be idolised, there was still so much to learn from him and his peers, who might be able to bring about some consensus in the current thinking to best serve the country. She agreed with the comments on the balance between party mandates, and the mandate given by the public. She reminded him that the governing party’s way was the way of the people, and if the view of the broad public were not taken into account by the ruling party it would run the risk of finding itself not ruling in a few years’ time.
Ms Mabe noted the challenges on oversight. She noted that during a recent discussion on the raising of fees at one of the universities, the university management took the view that there was nothing wrong with a 14% increase in fees, and would not even come to the negotiating table as requested by the students. Clearly there was a need here to change policies, and in an example such as this there was a need to negotiate and inform the stakeholders, who could include the poor and highly marginalized. Perhaps Parliament needed to take on board why students were making their points, whether the policy of access to education was being promoted, whether there was financial aid for students, and the need to ensure that within the market economy there was also the need to give people education to uplift the country in future. Parliament must be at the forefront and here the policy issues must be discussed, and the need to invest in people who were the future.
Ms Mabe also noted that the question of balance between the organs of State was vital. Parliament must protect itself to ensure it did not play second fiddle to the other arms of the State. Perhaps there was a need to engage on what should be the role ANC MPs in representing the views of the public and how best to make the Executive account.
Ms Mabe wished to make the point that with the current budget, South Africa could do a great deal. Government could do more to deliver. Parliament must ensure that members of the Executive responsible for those budgets would be confronted positively to ensure that what affected the members of the public would be taken on board and whether the Executive was doing as expected, and whether the public’s voice was being heard. The example given of Baragwanath Hospital was about who had the biggest share of the public cake, and the question must be asked whether the necessary follow ups were being made at community level, local government level, hospitals, and what was the outcome and achievements of the oversight visits. It was also possible to hold the provinces to account.
Ms Mabe also raised the question of Khutsong, where there had been public concerns for some time. She asked why it was so difficult to resolve the questions, and why the situation had been allowed to go on for so long until other communities took the example from Khutsong. Residents must engage in addressing this issue and talk to leadership. There had been a number of visits, but it was often frustrating that there were not joint visits, and the outcome of those visits was vitally important.
Ms Mabe wanted to get some confirmation on the comments about resources. She did not believe that Parliament had insufficient funds, but the question was where the resources were being used, and whether it was possible to do better oversight. She challenged her colleagues whether they would all ensure that they played a proactive role in the budget processes of Parliament, or were just spectators letting other people decide on resources instead of saying what was needed to ensure that oversight could be done. She wished to be controversial; she urged the need for taking an interest in the budget of Parliament.
Ms Mabe said, on the issue of skills shortages, that she could not understand why Parliament was not discussing with the institutions of higher learning the types of graduates being produced, and whether the skills taught matched the needs of the country. If Parliament continued to provide funding yet at the end of the day was not getting the right kind of skills, then it was an issue that needed further debate.
Mr P Gomomo took over as Chairperson from this point.
Dr Phosa said that he would respond to some of the points, and was impressed by the way in which the Acting Chairperson and Members had engaged on these issues. He commended the way Members were prepared to see others’ perspectives.
On the question of the public and debate, Dr Phosa thought it was the responsibility of Parliament to ensure that the public knew what Parliament was doing. Most people were likely to be of the view that the national debate was taking place in the media, not in Parliament. Parliament must lead. It should have schoolchildren standing in long queues to listen to Parliament debating. He was pushing the point that MPs could not allow national debate to be initiated elsewhere, and simply tail the process. Parliament had the responsibility to inform the public, and must listen to everyone, and then make judgements in the engagement process
Dr Phosa noted that the question of striking a balance between the public interest and the party line must be discussed in the parties. Clearly the discussion could not be finished today. This was a challenge facing past and present parliamentarians. To label each other would be a shortcut to political suicide. There was a big difference between responsibility and cover up, and there should not be a party policy that would label an MP a traitor for holding the Minister accountable. There was no reason why a parliamentarian should be afraid.
Dr Phosa noted, in relation to Mr Sikakane’s question on the role of the judiciary, that South Africa was a constitutional State and had deliberately put forward the principle of separation of powers between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The Constitutional Court and other Courts were empowered with authority in certain areas. Any difference between an institution and an individual would be resolved in a civilised manner in a court of law. That should give a person security and a guarantee. If the person did not like the decision of the Court, that was fine, but it did not mean that the decision was wrong. There was a need to protect the principle of separation of powers, and protect the role of the judiciary, respect the rule of law and the principle of the separation of powers. As part of a Constitutional State, the Constitutional Court would play a pivotal role. Although there was no need to agree all the time, such institutions must be respected, and allowed to be serviceable, amicable and functional.
Dr Phosa did not have an answer on the question of sincerity or insincerity on the part of a Member of Parliament. The political parties must debate that issue. The question to be answered was what mobility on policy matters would an MP have if he or she felt very strongly that the party might be making a mistake. He noted the comments on the creative tension of instability and agreed but said that the “instability” must in fact be certainty coming from a different point of view. Parliament must play the leading role it was supposed to play to support its competency, and must never become a junior partner to the Executive. He reiterated that MPs would need to deal with the perception issues, such as the questions around the SABC Board.
Dr Phosa agreed with Mr Mthembu that the issue of tolerance was a key point.
Dr Phosa addressed Mr Minnie on the skills and creation of jobs. Sought Africa had a harbour and industrial State economy, which might expand to a scientific and military economy. There was talk of broadening the skills and having more knowledge-driven skills. South Africa needed to look at how it was training people, and had to invest more in education. If South Africa wanted to fight crime it must produce people who could be employed, and who could create jobs with skills training. However, this was not merely the duty of the government, but must include the private sector, NGO’s, and everyone skilling the nation. Project Consolidate was a partnership between Local Government and the private sector to capacitate the municipalities. That type of cooperation was exactly what was required. Everyone must work together. If South Africa could educate and upskill people correctly it could hit back on the level of crime. Talking about crime, he reiterated that once again everyone had the same responsibility to fight crime, and to work with the police. Parliament must lead.
IN relation to the comments made by Mr Julies, Dr Phosa said that he would not like Members of his party saying that they were afraid of censure from the party. They could not represent the people if they were afraid. MPs should always be prepared to pay the price for the truth. Democracy was a much bigger issue than party politics. Nothing would be served by having frightened people in Parliament, nor those who only worked for their own pockets – in this regard, he believed that everyone was watching out for the latter, as they were not needed by the masses, nor by parliament. Government was not for the parties, but for the people. Everyone, in terms of the Constitution, must receive services, irrespective of whatever their differences were.
Dr Phosa noted the comments about the role of the media. He recalled the recent fires in the townships; and asked why MPs had not known or anticipated a problem. The oversight function was vital, and might even help the Executive. There was a need to anticipate issues, to evaluate the performance of the Executive, and government at all levels. Parliament would not be stern with those who did their jobs, but they must know what was expected, including being kept fully up to date instead of having to learn about things from the press.
Dr Phosa noted that references to Khutsong, and agreed on the need to find a way of talking to Khutsong to find a solution. Parliament could not look the other way, should be leading and trying to reach consensus, reconciling the decisions with the community needs.
Mr Peter Pedlar, Acting CEO, State Information Technology Agency (SITA), thanked the Chairperson for the invitation. He noted that Business Day had claimed that South Africa was the white-collar crime capital of the world. Other crime, such as hijacking, was also very high, and there had been a plea for Dr Mandela to become involved in the perceived lack of leadership. A Professor at Harvard had stated that he could only identify three real leaders – the first was Jesus Christ, the second was Mahatma Ghandi; and the third was Nelson Mandela. They all gave a very powerful reason of what they wanted to achieve in their lifetime, could get people to follow them on the basis of their powerful vision, and were prepared to die for their beliefs. He noted that it was the mandate of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) to ensure that there was digital inclusion for all the citizens of the country in its IT systems. It could not do that in isolation, nor close its eyes to the harsh realities. There was already a social revolution, and this needed action. He wanted to talk about leadership, following up on the quotation from the professor mentioned earlier. Leaders must take ownership and ensure accountability. He had seen Parliamentary oversight improving in the seven years that he had been associated with and appearing before this government and his political leaders. However, despite those improvements some of the leaders still did not know what the mandate was of SITA. Even in the Portfolio Committee of Arts and Culture the lines were quite blurred. Therefore he asked that the MPs must exercise the oversight, hold people accountable, ensure that they delivered on the mandate, but at the same time have principled leadership. He had already seen many attempts at bribery from politicians, and in view of the fact that there was not yet economic emancipation, this was not acceptable.
Mr Donovan Williams, Executive Member, South African National Civics Organisation, felt that less debate was needed in South Africa, but more conversation. South Africans were not used to talking with each other as opposed to debating. Some Members were perhaps confused on the issue of focus on Parliamentary oversight. When putting together the country’s self-assessment report there was an ongoing refrain – particularly from NGOs – that Parliament must be seen to be exercising oversight, and needed resources to do so, for instance researchers. However, having said that it did not require huge research capacity to be able to visit Khutsong, to be able to check if the Department of Public Service and Administration were delivering there. There was another matter, which was difficult to understand in a developing economy, of the ideology of “oppositionism”. This meant independence from Government, and Parliament in particular – independence of the way of the ruling party, not independence from the private sector, and a sense of being at opposite ends. The problem was how to develop the economy. A dictatorship could accelerate growth, but it was more difficult in a democracy. The only way to develop a democracy was through consensus building, and this required partnership, not opposite ends of debate. A building on the sacrosanct institution of democracy was an important aspect, and this would involve respect for legitimacy, including from civil society, who often had the task to disagree, but did not have authority to make decisions. There had been a lessening of the “mass-based” civil society, and a growing civil society based on think tanks and research.
Mr Williams posed the question whether it was possible to have independent agreement, or whether there should be a measure of independent to disagree. Partnerships could be composed on collective wisdom of different stakeholders. In the past perhaps there had been too many organisations doing more advocacy than intermediary work, but when it came down to questions of service delivery, then more intermediaries within all sectors – political, NGO, and private sector - were needed, who could converse rather than debate.
Mr S Tsenoli, Chairperson, Portfolio Committee on Provincial and Local Government (ANC), wished to raise the question of poor service delivery, and cited an example from the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA). In local government, in a case of corruption, this matter must be reported to the police, but there was a further provision that said that the Minister or the MEC could also intervene. Knowingly or unknowingly, corruption could be encouraged through this Act. He said that in a municipality, where the Auditor General issued a management letter requiring proof of permission for certain actions that were corruptly undertaken, the Municipal Manager never supported the ANC, who in turn would not act against the Manager. The ANC later requested an investigation and an enquiry commission but nothing came of that, nor would the police investigate the lack of response because of the wording of the Act. Such corruption would impinge on service delivery. He further stated that the time spent in Parliament and the time spent in constituencies was not managed properly, and oversight visits were sometimes haphazard. Parliamentarians could not be on the spot at all times, and perhaps this was a management weakness of Parliament. He suggested that it would be useful for all MPs to go through the documents again to be reminded of their responsibilities on oversight.
Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) felt that this had been a fruitful debate. She felt it was useful to discuss issues directly and acknowledge and accept weaknesses. She agreed with the concerns about Parliament not leading in matters; as MPs often seemed not to be up to speed with all the issues that affected the people they represented. Perhaps they should look at the extent to which MPs accepted and used indigenous knowledge around law and order and the systems that served Africa well in the past. The systems used in Parliament were largely copied from other countries, especially Canada, and it took time for people to become fully conversant with those systems and be able to make a meaningful contribution. Another issue of concern was that of service delivery. Ms Mashangoane noted that she came from North West, a troubled province, where service delivery was problematic. MPs must make sure that there was proper use of resources to the benefit of the people. However, further to that they must do more. Yesterday she had heard that the National Schools Nutrition Programme was not implemented because of lack of commitment from the people who were supposed to do the job. Parliament seemed to be helpless to enforce delivery and she felt disempowered in situations like this. She disagreed with Mr Minnie’s remark that too many people had been fired, believing that more people should be fired until they were contributing properly to the policies of the government.
Mr E Schoeman, Joint Standing Committee on Defence, noted that MPs were privileged to have seen the transition but held a huge responsibility. They were the servants of the people, but would also be judged by history in what they had achieved and not achieved. Dr Phosa had given thought-provoking input, and the answer to the question of whether we were really giving effect to the lofty ideals of our Constitution, and of those leaders who had worked so hard to achieve democracy, was that they had not. He made the point that the face of Parliament that the people would see was not the true face. They saw the TV coverage where there was a lot of grandstanding and debating, but did not see what happened at committee level, where there was much consensus and cooperation. It was very difficult to know how best to project the image of Parliament, because Parliament was still seen as a building in Cape Town. Public hearings were held, but the question was how many people were actually reached. Politics was also a numbers game. Anyone who achieved power did not want to relinquish it, and it was a natural response to become defensive if criticised. He wondered if there was not an inherent tension between straight political power and nation building and reconciliation. True democracy was not only the will of the majority, but involved taking into account the interests of the minority. Politicians should be standing back and saying how it wanted the political landscape to look in future, whether they still wanted to see a majority party predominantly representing one section of the community and an opposition party predominantly representing another. In a full democracy he would say that the opposition party should look like the ruling party and not represent a different sector of society.
He was further concerned whether the lessons of history had really been learned. In the Anglo-Boer War the Afrikaner fought against the English to achieve freedom, but then went on and suppressed the freedom of other people. Similar examples existed in the State of Israel. The mistakes of the past should not be repeated. In the old apartheid regime the media was vilified as seeming to be the voice of imperialism. The judiciary was vilified if they dared to take a more or less independent stance. Government should not be getting involved in these issues, nor should it ignore complaints from the public. The message heard today was a message in time, and urged MPs to forget for a moment their party political affiliations, instead talking freely about what was in the real interest of the future of this country, and building and working towards that.
Ms M Tlake (ANC) noted that many of her points had already been given by other speakers. She thanked Dr Phosa for this useful exercise that had helped MPs to look analytically and critically at themselves. Dr Phosa had spoken of the Mandela legacy, the Freedom Charter, the Constitution and upholding of human rights – all of which were the basis of the ANC. However, after a decade, MPs needed to think why they were still asking themselves where things had gone wrong, and why the Madiba Legacy that was full of truthfulness, fairness, respect and democracy and freedom was not living. It was difficult to gain true insight from books written by politicians, as they pointed to the fact that politics by its nature was full of propaganda, manipulative, deceitful and required politicians to toe the party line, with a conflict between self interest and public interest. Those challenges were still here today.
Ms Tlake noted that the media could be a very good tool externally, but sometimes she felt that it was not being patriotic and perhaps was not always following the right role. She agreed with an earlier speaker that perhaps there was a need to talk rather than debate. Parliament needed to assert itself. She had found it to be a very rigid institution in its management and administration, and there was a need to restructure it, to find room for new people to come in who could share their skills to add value. A person could be new in Parliament but clearly not new in the ANC, and there were different and good skills. Before MPs could think of the betterment of the community they must start with the betterment of themselves to become healthy Parliamentarians with a critical and analytical way of doing things.
A person from an NGO (not identified), noted that he was speaking as an outsider, and it made no difference which party he belonged to, as his mandate was independent of any political affiliation. It was a core function to better lives of the people the Departments were serving. He felt that there were some challenges that needed to be dealt with in practical ways. Financial problems in institutions or systems meant nothing to those who were dying of poverty and hunger, who believed that Parliament was there for them and was failing them. He thought that Parliament needed to do something about those departments and provinces who were not spending the money budgeted for year after year. Delivery targets were set, but not met, and he was aware that the situation might not be cured in one year, but at least people should know that something was being done to try to cure the situation. Secondly, he agreed that at this stage more research should not be needed. The surveys and research had been done, and some action needed to follow. His NGO did outreach work for poor communities and tried to give information on access, but nothing was coming back from municipalities or departments. People could not be expected meaningfully to participate in processes when they could not even access anything as basic as an ID document. Lastly, NGOs were not involved in budget discussions and the question was whether the needs of the people were really being addressed by budgets. He would suggest that someone should be interviewing the people in the communities to find out what processes were taking place. There was also a need to find out if there was compliance with what was set out in the manuals.
Mr A Nyambi (ANC) noted that he had been in a fortunate position, when first taking office, that he was not assigned to any one committee, and therefore could visit any committee sitting on a particular day. He had picked up that Members were aware of their roles but that they still had to learn to be critical of the Executive. The process of the African Peer Review mechanism had given useful lessons, but it could be useful also to have the Executive deal with these matters also to get a broader understanding. Often a Committee would develop a programme, have it approved, plan an oversight visit, and then be told at the last minute that there was no money and have to cancel. This was unacceptable. He wanted some explanation of the role of the executive and the judiciary.
Mr Nyambi mentioned that there was indeed a brain drain in South Africa, and the years of experience could not be substituted so easily. He felt that there was a need to get a balance of keeping people who could empower those coming in.
Mr Nyambi posed the question of cross border municipality problems, and the problems in particular of Bushbuckridge and Khutsong. He noted that Members should be empowered to deal with issues. The past would stay with us for a while, but he hoped that research forums like this one would be useful.
Mr N Gcwabaza (ANC) thanked Dr Phosa for reminding MPs where they came from and the reason for their existence, not just as Parliamentarians, but for the people of this country. He too wondered if at the various imbizos and forums government was listening sufficiently to what the people were saying, and if they were listening, whether they were responding sufficiently and quickly enough to the needs of the people. Sometimes not enough progress was seen in delivery, nor were people being told of progress. He felt that a linked issue was the relationship between Parliament and State departments, where implementation was at different levels. Relations were not always good and there were probably undeclared tensions, and the challenges around lack of delivery were in those areas. The President, in a former State of the Nation address, had said that there should be no more learners being educated in the open. A couple of months after that an official from the Department said that he had heard that statement but the reality was that there was no money to do what the President and Parliament had said should happen. He was not sure that the deadline of having all children taught in proper school buildings was ever met. The bucket systems of sanitation, which should have been eradicated long ago, still persisted. The budget was so rigid that it was impossible to respond immediately and sufficiently to the urgent needs of the people. He questioned whether there was planning without looking at the priorities, or without listening to what the people believed was a priority and what could wait.
He cited the example of the former Deputy Minister of Health, who, having heard that there was a problem in certain hospitals, went to visit and then announced what she had seen. Her conduct at the public level might not have been correct, but the fact that she had been fired raised the question of the effectiveness of parliamentarians doing oversight or doing constituency work, who might pick up on a problem, and decide that it needed urgent intervention. He was worried that there might not now be a precedent that an MP could be ignored by a relevant Executive member when reporting on an issue that needed attention. He asked what was the status of these reports that were submitted on real practical issues that existed. In regard to babies having no cribs in hospitals, and instead being put in cardboard boxes, there was not only the question of what the Executive was saying to the department, but whether the bureaucrats listened to the Executive.
The Chairperson noted that some useful comments had been made about what Parliamentarians should expect to achieve, and what should they do, in particular, about the funds that were unused. He noted that Dr Phosa had said that a leader must have a vision, as without a vision a nation would perish. The Freedom Charter was the vision of the leadership at that time, and was still being used. The most obvious point in that was the need to integrate society. The fact of having parties meant that there was not full integration. Good leadership would involve the need to see that the Constitution and the rules were set up for all. He said that MPs needed perhaps to change their mindset first and concentrate on the fact that first and foremost everyone was a South African.
Dr Phosa said that the comments raised had been very interesting. It would be useful for these Minutes to be referred to the Speaker to note the comments of all parties. He agreed that it was up to everyone – not only the police – to join hands in the fight against crime, which would be a major battle, but one that could be won.
Dr Phosa agreed with some of Mr Schoeman’s comments, but did not believe that the government needed a puppet media. Government should rather be engaging the media and encouraging to report things in the public interest. Praise singers likewise would not help if they were not telling the truth. It was necessary to take the pain of the truth, and the necessary tensions in the building of democracy. He agreed that tolerance and conversation were necessary, and that everyone should be really listening to the others, then following up and implementing. He believed that people could still be independent even when they agreed. That was an important point. There was not necessarily the need to be on opposite sides to be independent. Opposition parties were necessary. In the North there was a saying that even your own dog will bite you if you kick it. Parliament had a role in coming and asking questions and holding the Executive accountable. The caucus was an important part in which all parliamentarians should engage.
Dr Phosa agreed that there could be problems in misuse of power, and this was a problem to be watched. Local government should not follow its own path. There must be responsibility around the MFMA. He believed that there was a need to take a critical view of both the MFMA and Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and understand the roles of the civil servant and their responsibility. This had raised a further issue, which he thought perhaps was worth discussing in a different workshop.
He believed that, having been in government and then moving to the private sector, serving the people was the highest sacrifice a person could make. The role of politicians should never be underestimated, and it must be appreciated. Service to the people was an honour, and there must be honour and integrity in carrying it out.
He agreed that there was need to know what managers and CEOs were doing. He did not wish to use emotive words like “firing” but believed that they must be held to account and that MPs needed to take the necessary action to deal with issues, and themselves make sure that management was held to account.
The follow-ups were not too difficult, and there should be a willingness to undertake follow-ups as these were needed by the community.
Dr Phosa stressed that the executive must be held accountable, and that provincial and local government should be accountable to fulfil the executive’s directions. If a Minister did not perform he believed, quite frankly, that it would be uncomfortable to keep that Minister in Cabinet. He said that the point had been made that questioning was sometimes interpreted as lack of loyalty. He felt that this was nonsense; that would undermine the idea of accountability, and that needed to be discussed again in caucus meetings. There should be no fear about questioning the Minister in charge of health issues what was to be done about babies in cardboard boxes. The party should agree on delivery issues, and on holding people accountable. There would initially be resistance, but there must be engagement as this was part of the checks and balances.
The issues of the Moseneke Commission and salaries was raised, and he himself believed that it was not wrong to increase salaries where adjustments were necessary, but there was a need for sensitivity.
In response to Mr Gcwabaza’s query whether MPs were listening correctly, he did not think that they were. He said that there was no point in filing a report and not following up on it. The oversight debate was held earlier in the morning. There needed to be a team strategy. Someone had jokingly said that there were no more children learning under trees, because the trees had been cut down. There should be consequences for not following up properly. Parliament must do a lot of work on the issue of oversight. There should not so much be strict-sounding statements about having to use the entire budget, but the issue was rather about responsibility. At the moment matters were moving one day to the next. There was really a need to sit down and do a budget on implementation, to interrogate the links from one year to the next, and decide where and how to get to places.
He commented that the basic values of Dr Mandela and the ANC were values that could never be departed from because they were the cornerstones of the Constitution, and the matters for which people lived and died. He had indicated the need to understand this was a society in transition, with challenges of how to exercise management with a steady hand rather than a boiling head. Dr Mandela had taught the nation how to manage difficult transitional questions using simple issues like promoting national reconciliation and integration of society. These could happen if everyone made a contribution. Consensus decisions were also important. Everyone could learn from those experiences and national consensus was important on international issues. There must be a building of trust in the nation and respect for own institutions; the institutions itself must also deserve the respect, and this would come if government would serve the people with integrity and with honour.
The Chairperson noted that it was a challenge for MPs to be faced with real and urgent issues, to find government departments where year in and year out there were qualified audit reports and delivery problems, where there was lack of delivery of basic services such as water, and where government departments who had not delivered nonetheless had merited its staff with excellent performance. The issue was to constantly look at the role of parliament.
Mr Baloyi quoted from a report, noting that :.
“One of the distinctive features of public participation in South Africa had always been that it was firmly grounded in the Constitutional imperative of democratic public participation and keeping the public involved in legislative policy and other legislative processes. The Constitution made Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures as well as municipalities in the country the primary democratic institution in South Africa. The people that were involved in this institution, not only as public representatives, but also through access to committee meetings and deliberations, had also the right to speak and to make presentations to committees and meetings, which was in line with the Constitution which says that all people should be entitled to take part in the administration of the country.”
He stated that it was an honour to have the opportunity to thank Dr Phosa for what he had presented today, which went over and above what had been presented in a recent study on the status imaging of Parliament. Everyone had been empowered by this discussion. He appealed that the information passed on today to Members should in turn be passed on to others who could not be here. He thanked the Members of other Committees, and looked forward to further round table discussions. He further thanked the Chairperson of the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
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