Parliament watch ahead of PSAM
Increased securitisation of Parliament hampers accountability, according to Parliament Watch
Better accountability in South Africa’s decision making structures, along with better oversight over service delivery and public spending, is key to
proper service delivery. Two days before the official opening of Parliament, a grouping of civil society organisations gathered to scrutinise the state of South Africa’s legislatures and the effectiveness of Parliament and parliamentary committees as a tool for oversight, openness and accountability.
Parliament Watch is a collective of nine independent civil society organisations working towards the advancement of social justice, the realisation of human rights, and strong constitutional democracy in South Africa.
“The legislatures’ duties to oversee effective service delivery and advance social justice and transformation in South Africa are crucial,” said Zukiswa Kota of the Public Service Accountability Monitor.
“Enhanced accountability and improved oversight over service delivery and public spending can impact positively on the performance of government departments and ultimately on service delivery.”
While recent years have seen an increase in public attention to debates and events in the National Assembly, the day-to-day work of parliamentary committees often escapes public engagement.
“Committees are the engine rooms in the legislatures, tasked with the development of laws and the critical work of interrogating the performance of the executive,” Kota said.
“The legislatures ongoing weaknesses in delivering on their mandates and their apparently worsening performance since the 2014 elections have made monitoring their performance even more necessary.”
During 2016, Parliament Watch members monitored meetings of committees at national and provincial legislatures, examining the ability of the members to critically engage with service delivery in an open and effective manner.
Monitors developed a scoring system to assess these criteria, and were in the process of preparing a comprehensive report on their findings, Kota said.
With good practices taken into account, Parliament Watch scored the overall performance of the legislatures below average.
“The blurring of the separation of powers between the legislatures and executive is a great concern, because the will of the executive is dominating,” said Right to Know Campaign’s Mhlobo Gunguluzi. “The impact of the increased securitisation of Parliament is also a serious problem.”
Measures to ensure public access could also improve.
Dalli Weyers, from the Social Justice Coalition, said, “After 22 years, you’d expect the legislatures to have made more progress in ensuring that a wider range of the public can access information from the legislatures to strengthen public engagement.
“But the measures for openness have become stuck and wide access is dependent on members of the public having support from civil society organisations.”
The following is Parliament Watch’s scoring of Parliament, parliamentary committees and the Eastern Cape legislature.
PARLIAMENT WATCH SCORING
Independence from the executive: 1/10
Parliamentary committees continue to appear weaker than the members of the executive over which they should exert accountability. In spite of shifting internal politics within the ANC which brought demonstrable improvements to the quality of authority over the executive at the end of 2016, the impact of this has yet to be seen and the norm, in which partisan allegiance influences committees and committee chairpersons to be protective of the executive, has not changed significantly.
Committee chairpersons’ performance: 5/10
The monitoring resulted in a diversity of experiences. There were many chairs who showed commitment to ensuring due process and a few who were willing to challenge members of the executive. However, we witnessed numerous situations in which committee chairs were protective and or deferential towards members of the executive, or where they blocked processes that could ensure accountability. Considering this range of factors, committee chairpersons scored 5/10.
ANC MPs’ meaningful engagement in committees: 4/10
We observed a small proportion of ANC MPs playing an active and effective role in committee meetings. Those few scored 8/10; however, the majority of ANC committee members scored a low 1/10, rendering an overall score of 4/10 for ANC members for their meaningful participation in committees.
DA MPs’ meaningful engagement in committees: 6/10
Overall, DA MPs came across as well prepared and as playing an engaged role in committees, often asking challenging questions of members of the executive. Parliament Watch monitors also observed that DA MPs frequently take positions for impact in committees, without committing to follow up actions themselves. Parliament Watch considers their input to increase deliberation and increase transparency, as should be the case in any parliamentary system.
EFF MPS meaningful engagement in committees: 4/10
Many EFF MPs in Parliament are new to working in the legislatures, and like all minority parties must divide a limited number of members across the committees. However, monitors strongly indicate that the EFF, a party that has attracted media attention through its strategies in the Assembly since 2014, is generally absent from committees and, for the most part, is not getting down to the nuts and bolts of committee work that could impact positively on service delivery.
Accessibility of national Parliament: 5/10
On the issue of accessibility, our constitutional provisions alone would result in a score of 8/10. However both national and the provincial legislatures monitored are not sufficiently improving their practices to increase public access and openness. Civil society organisations augment the measures taken by legislatures to increase access. The National Parliament thus scored 5/10 on the general implementation of the Constitutional obligations.
The Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature scored 4/10 for public access. The score is positively affected by the efforts of support staff to enable access for NGOs.
Securitisation of national Parliament: 1/10
The increased securitisation of Parliament over the past two and a half years is of grave concern and impacts on accessibility. This is plainly demonstrated by the more frequent use of barbed wire outside the parliamentary precinct, the increased police presence and the more frequent use of police force to disperse public protest. In addition to these more threatening measures, the newly implemented access control processes to enter the national Parliament contribute to a mood of suspicion.
Responsiveness to the Public: 4/10
We recognise that the legislatures have been responsive to the major politically charged issues such as the #FeesMustFall protests and the crisis of mismanagement at the SABC board. However, committees have failed to properly address other urgent issues affecting poor and marginalised people, including school infrastructure, inequitable police resourcing, and women’s inequality.
Oversight over departments: 4/10
On the oversight over departments, the regular oversight cycles were taken into account and the attempts of committees to perform these functions; however, the haste with which the oversight cycles are undertaken and the lack of follow-though on issues from all political parties has a negative impact on the score.
President Jacob Zuma will deliver this year’s State of the Nation Address on Thursday 9 February and the speech will be broadcast live on several channels, including SABC, at 7pm.
Parliament Watch collaborators include the Dullah Omar Institute, UWC (DOI); Equal Education Law Centre (EELC); Heinrich Boell Foundation (HBF); Livity Africa (LA); Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG); Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM); The Right to Know Campaign (R2K); Social Justice Coalition (SJC); and Women on Farms Project (WFP).