May 31, 2012

Afrikaner: National Assembly Losing Public Confidence

The Freedom Front Plus have, with other parties, expressed deep concern about the inexistence of meaningful debate on matters of public importance in the South African parliament over the last three years.

Below is an article published by Independent Online:

Opposition parties hammered the [National Assembly] on Tuesday [29 May 2012], describing it as a “malfunctioning” institution which was not giving South Africans their money’s worth, and as “boring, dull and a place of mediocrity”.

Speaking during the Parliamentary budget debate, opposition parties called on the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, to restore pride, dignity and public confidence in the institution.

The parties also called on Sisulu to act decisively and speedily on the Auditor General’s report on Secretary to Parliament Zingile Dingani’s alleged misuse of funds to build a perimeter wall at his home in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

DA chief whip Watty Watson said the National Assembly, as the heart of the country’s democracy, should “give expression to the nation’s will” by ensuring that the implementation of laws was overseen.

“But the National Assembly’s arteries are clogged, its processes and procedures stifle free-flowing engagement between us and the government, between us as non-executive members and, most importantly, between us and the South African people.

“Stressing that one of Parliament’s most vital functions was the holding of regular debates on topical issues, Watson said it was a “disgrace” that, in 2011, only four of the 14 political parties elected to Parliament had been able to debate a subject for discussion that they had proposed. And, as of May 11, a total of 505 parliamentary questions remained unanswered.

“Only six of those unanswered questions were put by members of the ruling party. We, in opposition, with the greatest role to play in holding the government to account, are waiting for answers to the remaining 496 questions,” he said.

Describing SA as a country with huge unresolved issues, ID MP Lance Greyling said it was vital for Parliament to position itself at the pinnacle of the country’s difficult debates.

“But unfortunately, many of our debates are sterile, both in relevance and content. We need more snap debates which are responsive to the burning issues of our time.

“We also need to be showing leadership in these debates and avoid them descending into lowest common denominator politics, which simply intensify division.”

He said there seemed to be “a fundamental inertia” in the institution that sapped “the idealism of those parliamentarians who are desperately trying to drive through progressive changes”.

‘’We need to win back the public’s respect for Parliament, but we can only do that if we show a true willingness to discipline our own.

“Unfortunately, the numerous scandals that have beset this institution and our soft approach in dealing with them does not inspire confidence.”

Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corné Mulder warned that Parliament was running the risk of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the public.

“Rule 103 makes provision for debates on matters of public importance. During the term of the current fourth Parliament, which started in April 2009, we have had, in more than three years, not a single debate on a single matter of public importance,” Mulder said.

“Then Rule 104 makes provision for debates on matters of urgent public importance. During the term of the current fourth Parliament, we also have had, in more than three years, not a single debate on a matter of urgent public importance.”

He cited the e-tolling saga, the proposed youth wage subsidy, the furore around The Spear portrait of President Jacob Zuma, service delivery demonstrations, farm murders, the Bheki Cele and Richard Mdluli sagas, the non-delivery of textbooks to schools and others.

“But none of these issues are seen as matters of public or urgent public importance,” he complained.

ANC MP Vincent Smith said much more needed to be done to fully transform Parliament into an institution where participation by all South Africans became a reality.

He said that in almost all instances, public hearings in the formulation of laws were held in the parliamentary precincts, meaning that poorer South Africans found it almost impossible to attend.

It was time to examine the arrangement of having Parliament more than 1 000km from the seat of government, meaning that members of the executive had to have two state provided homes and two vehicles at their disposal.

Opening the debate, Sisulu voiced concern that more and more legislation was being returned to the National Assembly for correction.

“This speaks both to the constitutionality of the legislation passed, as well as its quality,” he said.

Sisulu cited, as an example, the recent Cape High Court decision to grant the National Prosecuting Authority leave to appeal against an earlier judgment which found 29 sexual offences to be unpunishable as legislators had failed to prescribe penalties for them in the Sexual Offences Act of 2007.

“This highlights and reiterates that the legislation that we pass has a huge impact on our citizens. “We must take the utmost care to ensure that the law shields and protects the most vulnerable in our society.

“The poor quality of legislation is often the consequence of inadequate scrutiny.” Sisulu said the report of the Independent Panel Assessment of Parliament had noted that it did not have sufficient capacity when it came to drafting and amending legislation.