Holding ministers to account is hard work: here are some tools

Voting is not enough. Parliament needs strong MPs and active citizens to strengthen oversight.

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19/10/2023 08:14:36


Holding ministers to account is hard work: here are some tools

A stronger democracy needs a stronger parliament, and OUTA has produced some tools to help parliamentarians and active citizens work towards building a stronger parliament.

OUTA is campaigning for stronger parliamentary oversight, to help build a culture of accountable government.

We believe this is the responsibility of both parliamentarians and active citizens.


Tool 1: PARI’s report assessing the state of parliamentary oversight and what can be done

OUTA teamed up with the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) to produce a report on parliamentary oversight, State of Parliament and its MPs: Identifying challenges to oversight and proposing solutions.

This report was commissioned by OUTA, researched, written and produced by PARI, and made possible through funding by KAS. It is available online here.

OUTA is grateful to PARI and KAS for their involvement in this project. See more on PARI here and on KAS here.

The report explains how the Constitution requires parliament to “scrutinise and oversee” the executive (the president and the ministers), explores the oversight function in parliament, explains the concepts of explanatory accountability and amendatory accountability, considers how well oversight is working and what can be done to improve it.

“PARI undertook exhaustive research to furnish a contemporary and comprehensive understanding of parliament’s current state,” says Rachel Fischer, OUTA’s Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager. PARI carried out research and extensive interviews with current and former parliamentarians and parliamentary observers for this report.

“The oversight mechanisms available to committees and individual MPs are generally sufficient for exercising their oversight duties. However, our research revealed that Parliament’s ability to exercise oversight over the executive, and to hold the executive accountable, is weak. We found that committees are incredibly busy and spend a lot of time and resources on oversight work – but the effectiveness of individual committees is starkly uneven. A few committees perform well, while most others appear to be very weak,” says the report.

The report is aimed particularly at new parliamentarians who will take up their positions after the 2024 elections. It is also aimed at the public, to encourage greater understanding of how parliament should work and public support for this.

It provides straightforward assessments of basic requirements for oversight, for example, explaining what an effective MP should be doing and what an effective parliamentary oversight committee meeting should do.

“This report is essential reading for those who want to understand parliament’s oversight role and how to improve it, for both parliamentarians and active citizens,” says Fischer.


Tool 2:  OUTA’s report on parliamentary oversight

In September, OUTA published its fifth annual report on parliamentary oversight, Parliament: The fairytale that became a nightmare.

While the PARI report is based on extensive interviews and research, the core of OUTA’s report is a quantitative and qualitative assessment of how 11 of the parliamentary portfolio committees have worked.

This report found that parliament is a failed institution, with limited improvement over the years.

More information on this report and the full report is available here.


Tool 3: Explained: The role of Parliament

Here’s our quick two-and-a-half minute video explaining what parliament does, and why all citizens should register and vote.

The video is available here.


Tool 4: Tips for MPs

OUTA has produced a guide to oversight for MPs, Tips for Members of Parliament to aid in more effective and improved oversight duties.

This is based on the PARI report State of Parliament and its MPs: Identifying challenges to oversight and proposing solutions.

OUTA has e-mailed this guide to all MPs.

The guide is here.


Tool 5: The oversight dashboard

OUTA has developed a parliamentary oversight dashboard, to provide a quick look at the quantitative information in our annual parliamentary oversight reports.

Parliament has 27 National Assembly portfolio committees aligned to the executive, the ministers in cabinet.  OUTA currently assesses the work of 11 of these committees, for the committees most relevant to OUTA’s projects.

Qualitatively, OUTA analyses the extent to which annual Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) recommendations are followed through on in portfolio committee meetings as well as in the following year’s Annual Performance Plan (APP) for each department. In October, as per the parliamentary cycle, departments and state-owned entities are required to report to parliament on their progress for the year. The Auditor-General South Africa also reports on audit findings. Each portfolio committee then produces a BRRR. OUTA compares the BRRR recommendations with the departments’ APPs to see whether any of the recommendations have been acted on or change the way that the executive carries out its work.

Quantitatively, OUTA analyses the performance of the portfolio committees through the following matrix:

1.            The number of committee meetings that each portfolio committee holds;

2.            The number of times the executive (ministers or deputy ministers) attend committee meetings;

3.            The number of stakeholder engagements (including public hearings); 

4.            The number of civil society engagements; and

5.            The number of oral and written questions posed to and answered by the executive.

The dashboard is here.



More information

A soundclip with comment by Rachel Fischer, OUTA Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager, is here

On 17 October 2023, OUTA hosted a webinar on parliamentary oversight, Demystifying Parliament: Understanding its challenges and embracing opportunities for improved oversight. The webinar was hosted by OUTA Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager Rachel Fischer and panelists were Gregor Jaecke of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Devi Pillay of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) and Moira Levy of the Institute for African Alternatives. A recording is here.

More on OUTA’s work on parliamentary oversight is here.

Help us oppose corruption

OUTA is standing up against government corruption and mismanagement. 

Our work is made possible though donations by our paying supporters.

Join us in working towards a better South Africa by becoming a paying OUTA supporter. 

In 2023, we’re in court challenging the AARTO law, the Karpowership generation licences and SANRAL’s secrecy over toll profits.
We’re also challenging electricity prices and defending South Africa’s water resources.

We want to see South Africa’s tax revenue used for the benefit of all, not a greedy few. 

Any amount welcome.