South Africa needs Parliament to listen more to the people

Improving public engagement will help our Parliament rebuild trust with South Africans

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30/06/2022 05:49:19

Picture: OUTA

South Africa needs Parliament to listen more to the people 

This week OUTA marks the International Day of Parliamentarism by renewing calls for our Parliament to prioritise engaging with the public.

The International Day of Parliamentarism was established by a United Nations resolution in 2018 and is observed on 30 June every year. Parliaments are the cornerstone of any democracy, and without a functioning and accountable parliament, governments fail. Worse than this, governments fail the very people they ought to serve in the first place: their citizens.

“South Africans are losing trust in their government. Parliament needs to be accountable to us, the people of South Africa ,” says Rachel Fischer, OUTA’s Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager.

Two of the three legs of our democracy function dismally: the legislature (Parliament) and the Executive (Cabinet). As South Africans we are holding on tightly to our faith in the judiciary (the courts), now headed by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and our Constitutional Court.

“State capture has brought our country to the edge of financial ruin, and also left citizens in a post-traumatic syndrome relationship with the institutions that ought to look after our needs. How can we move forward towards achieving a thriving, functioning, representative, accountable and transparent democracy? One of the answers is for civil society and the public to put pressure on Parliament to adhere to its duty of holding government to account. That is why OUTA is actively observing and promoting this year’s International Day of Parliamentarism, since the 2022 theme is public engagement,” says Fischer.

Public engagement is a two-way street: 

1) We must insist  that Parliament prioritise public engagement and public participation activities, and 

2) As citizens we must engage with Parliament, follow its activities, respond to its calls for comment, and hold them to account when they fail.

“As the public we must take ownership of Parliament,” says Fischer.

OUTA’s Parliamentary Engagement Office in Cape Town prioritises the Constitution and the right of citizens to engage with Parliament, and aims to ensure that Parliament upholds its responsibility of oversight over the Executive. Through this office, OUTA monitors Parliament and takes it to task for failing the public’s trust.

In February 2022, OUTA released our third annual report on parliamentary oversight, which found that Parliament’s oversight of the executive is inadequate with no significant improvement on previous years. According to the report: “A crucial part of Parliament’s job is to exercise oversight over the executive. It has failed in this, allowing state capture and corruption to become entrenched, and continues to fail, including by protecting and promoting those deeply implicated in wrongdoing.”

In addition to the annual Parliamentary Oversight Reports, OUTA monitors constituency engagement, political party funding allocations and expenditure, as well as electoral reform.

“In all these cases it is quite clear that there is a lack of transparency, accountability and even visibility. Where are these constituency offices? What is political party funding spent on and why isn’t this reported on timely and accurately? Why is the Portfolio Committee of Home Affairs kicking the can down the road for proper citizen education and involvement in the Electoral Amendment Bill? And finally, why do MPs get a 3% wage increase on an already-inflated salary of more than R1 million per annum? This increase for MPs is about R2 844 a month. Compare that to the state old age grant of R1 980  a month, the basic child support grant of R480 a month, and the temporary Social Relief of Distress amount of R350 per month. Surely the needs of those serving the public ought to come second to the needs of the public?” says Fischer.

OUTA calls on Parliament and the South African government to align their work with their own international agreements and local frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the National Development Plan (NDP), both of which have a target date of 2030. These in particular come to mind: SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries, and SDG 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. In the NDP, we highlight Chapter 13: Building a capable and developmental state and Chapter 15: Nation building and social cohesion.

“These goals aren’t there to sit pretty. They must be acted upon. Now is the time to act,” says Fischer.

More information

  • Comment by OUTA's Rachel Fischer as a videoclip is here and as a soundclip is here.

  • Join OUTA on Thursday, 30 June, from 12pm-1pm at 120 Plein Street, Cape Town, right in front of Parliament’s main entrance. We want to show Parliament that we insist on public engagement.

  • To find out more about Parliament, see its website here.

  • More on the UN's International Day of Parliamentarism 2022 theme of public participation is here.

  • For more on OUTA’s Parliamentary Engagement Office, watch a short video here. 

  • For more on OUTA’s Parliamentary Oversight Reports, click here.

  • For more on OUTA’s electoral reform activities, click here.