07 February 2017

For immediate release

On 7 February 2017, two days before the official opening of Parliament in 2017, Parliament Watch, 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 will be hosting discussions on the state of South Africa’s legislatures and the effectiveness of parliament and parliamentary committees in their functioning as a tool for oversight, openness and accountability.

The legislatures’ duties to oversee effective service delivery and advance social justice and transformation in South Africa are crucial. As Zukiswa Kota of the Public Service Accountability Monitor puts it: “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 a welcomed 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. The legislatures on-going 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 spent time in 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 are in the process of preparing a comprehensive report on their findings.

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. The impact of the increased securitisation of Parliament is also a serious problem.’ explains the Right to Know Campaigns’ Mhlobo Gunguluzi.

Measures to ensure public access could also improve, Dalli Weyers from the Social Justice Coalition: ‘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, the measures for openness have become stuck and wide access is dependent on members of the public having support from civil society organisations.’

 

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, not getting down to the nuts and bolts of committee work that can 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 NGOs access.

 

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.

 

 

For comment contact Jacob Nthoiwa on 074 331 1632 to set up interviews with the Parliament Watch spokes people listed below

Name Organisation and designation Contact details
Dalli Weyers Social Justice Coalition 082 460 2093
Daniel Linde Equal Education Law Centre 083 601 0091
Gaile Fullard Parliamentary Monitoring Group 072 198 5858
Nomaceba Mbayo Right 2 Know Campaign 078 049 3438
Sam Waterhouse Dullah Omar Institute, UWC 084 522 9646
Sheilan Clarke Livity Africa 073 429 2593
Thokozile Madonko Heinrich Boell Foundation 083 710 3440
Vivienne Mentor-Lalu Parliament Watch Coordinator

Dullah Omar Institute, UWC

082 494 0788
Zukiswa Kota Public Service Accountability Monitor 072 648 3398

 

#ParliamentWatch

 

 

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).