Speech by the Acting Chief Whip of the Majority Party, Andries Nel, on Parliament Budget Vote
1 June 2007
Madame Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Honourable Members, Comrades and friends,
This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the death of ANC President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Inkosi Albert Luthuli. This outstanding representative of our people was a beacon of hope during the dark days of apartheid tyranny. His visionary leadership of the ANC inspired many including the volunteers who, 52 years ago, organized the Congress of the People at Kliptown.
Today our people's aspirations, hopes and desires are anchored on the firm foundations of the Constitution, itself a legal expression of the noble ideals contained in the Freedom Charter. Our Constitution is supreme, has an entrenched Bill of Rights and contains the values that guide all the branches of government in their work.
The doctrine of the separation of powers is a fundamental feature of our democratic system and bestows on Parliament, the power to make, amend, repeal laws and perform the oversight function.
The inspiration we draw from the brave and heroic acts of Inkosi Luthuli, OR Tambo, the 1956 Women's March, the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising and the many unsung heroes of our struggle, reminds us of the sacred duty we have as the democratically elected representatives of the people - to remain loyal to the cause of our people.
The ANC supports Parliament's budget in the firm conviction that the work we continue to do, remains consistent with the people's ideal of realizing the vision of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
In its thirteen years of existence, the democratic Parliament has completely overshadowed its pre 1994 predecessor, the racist, unrepresentative, closed institution that passed oppressive laws. Today's Parliament is an open, transparent, participatory institution that is dedicated to the creation of a better life for all.
We are day by day succeeding in further transforming Parliament into a people's Parliament that is responsive to the needs of the people and that is driven by the ideal of realizing a better quality of life for all the people of South Africa.
The transformation of Parliament is important - not only for functional reasons, but also for achieving the overall aims of our National Democratic Revolution. The NDR seeks to build a society based on the best in human civilisation in terms of political and human freedoms, socio-economic rights and value systems. Choices regarding the transformation of Parliament must therefore be compatible with our social goals and values. We wish, at the outset, to express our appreciation to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, the House Chairpersons of both Houses and Secretary to Parliament for their leadership and tireless efforts.
Much progress has been made and many notable achievements have been scored in the past years:
In March this year, Parliament unveiled the new Parliamentary Emblem that projects the vision, mission and values of Parliament to our people and the world. This symbolic milestone is of significant importance in our efforts to create a country that is a true expression of our people's spiritual and material aspirations.
Madam Speaker and many other speakers have outlined the significant progress that has been made and I shall not repeat these.
We are indeed proud of the commendable role that our Parliament has played in the establishment and functioning of the Pan-African Parliament.
To improve institutional governance, the Joint Rules Committee adopted the new governance model of Parliament. The model provides for the creation of structures to ensure efficient and effective management of the institution.
The refurbishment and upgrade of some committee rooms, the creation of ten new ones, as well as two members' lounges, are some of the efforts that must be commended. This is particularly so considering the space constraints arising from the fact that this, is an institution that was never designed with the interests of all the people in mind.
However, correct philosophy teaches us that the process of social transformation is a long and complex one and that the solution of certain problems will give rise to new ones. We must, therefore, guard against the twin dangers of, on the one hand, suggesting - as some here have done - that nothing has changed (or in fact that there has been retrogression) and, on the other hand, to pretend that there are no problems and that our forward march cannot be accelerated.
We wish to raise three related challenges.
The first issue, often raised in these debates and elsewhere is about the alignment of resources.
Is Parliament's allocation of resources aligned with the vision and mission that we have adopted? This is a matter that needs to be debated constructively in the Budget Forum and the Parliamentary Oversight Authority.
We also wish to urge all members to participate actively in Parliament's budget process.
Secondly, we wish to address the notion that "Parliament" has an existence independent of Members of Parliament.
In a representative democracy not a single one of Parliament's functions are capable of being executed without the Members who constitute Parliament.
Consider the absurdity of a Parliament without Members passing legislation, overseeing executive action, facilitating public participation, promoting co-operative government, overseeing international relations or debating matters of national concern.
Without Members of Parliament the buildings that house Parliament will be reduced to little more than a museum, an architectural landmark, a tourist attraction or a conference facility.
Yes, the wheels of the parliamentary administration will continue turning but will do so without any forward movement or delivery on the mandate that determines Parliament's reason for existence.
A Parliament is a Parliament through its members and the voters they represent. There can be no Parliament without Members of Parliament or the citizens who elect them.
Unfortunately, this does not always seem readily apparent in the manner that certain administrative processes are conducted. At times one is left with the impression that some are of the view that the parliamentary administration is something that exists for itself, rather than something that exists to support Members of Parliament in executing the mandate given to them by the Constitution and the people of South Africa.
The importance of a people and member centered approach to the administration of Parliament needs to be understood and internalized at all levels of parliamentary administration.
The manner in which certain events or programmes are planned and executed suggests that Members of Parliament are an optional add-on or an exercise in logistical management.
Consider for example the following statements contained in the Strategic Plan for Third Parliament: 2004 - 2009:
On page 29 the statement is made that: "Parliament also embarked on training programmes for members empowering them in their oversight roles."
Would a more correct statement not have been that, "The administration of Parliament, at the request of Members of Parliament, facilitated training programmes for Members on their oversight roles."
On page 32 the statement is made in relation to the establishment of Parliamentary Democracy Offices that: "An ongoing key activity in a Parliamentary Democracy Office would be political discussion to obtain people's views on matters of national importance, major policy or legislation before Parliament."
It is not made clear who will be party to these political discussions, but the absence of a clear reference to Members of Parliament must be a matter of concern.
On page 37 the assertion is made that, "The creation of an internal culture and external reputation for Parliament supporting the delivery of effective and efficient services remains one of the key challenges of Parliament. This will include initiatives to educate members and staff on the desired behaviour aligned to Parliament's values."
It is not clear who the "Parliament" is that will be educating, "members and staff", about what.
Again on page 37 it is stated that, "Locally the key focus is on the critical concepts of public involvement and the involvement of the people. Issues within this sphere relate to: Gearing Parliament and members, the institution's systems and processes towards fulfilling the needs of all South Africans through public participatory, democracy-based and sustained approaches. Targeting special categories within this broader parliamentary constituency for special affirmation and empowerment."
Implicit in the first part of the statement is, again, the notion that Parliament and members are somehow separate entities whilst the latter part of the statement implies that Members of Parliament, instead of being central, are an element of a "broader parliamentary constituency."
Thirdly, and related to the above, are questions concerning the institutional governance of Parliament.
On page 34 of the Strategic Plan for Third Parliament it is stated that, "In establishing a Joint Rules Committee (from Joint Rule 53), its functions and mandate broadly extended beyond Parliament's core business to include all aspects of the management and administration of Parliament. Furthermore a range of subcommittees were established, the majority of which focused on domestic matters related to the management and administration of the institution."
The document goes on to argue, correctly in our view, that: "Leaving aside the intended purpose of this model, in practice it gave rise to numerous difficulties. The distinction between practical, detailed management issues and policy-making became blurred. As a result, the subcommittees, and even the Joint Rules Committee itself, increasingly ended up devoting much of their time to issues of micro-management. A lack of administrative support for the subcommittees added to the difficulties. A lack of implementation of Joint Rules Committee decisions also occurred. As a result, issues of policy and the core business of Parliament were sidelined."
It then states that, "The new governance model was adopted by the Joint Rules Committee in November 2004, and provides for a Parliamentary Oversight Authority that accounts to Parliament, ie both Houses, and has the following responsibilities: Formulating policy directives for the various services and facilities of Parliament; and Ensuring policy implementation by giving a broad indication of the levels and extent of the required services and facilities for Parliament and monitoring their implementation."
The above critique of the Joint Rules is, in our view, correct. Members of Parliament are not elected by the people of South Africa to run a parliamentary administration, but to represent them and to carry out a Constitutional mandate. However, Members of Parliament must be able, through the appropriate structures, to give "a broad indication of the levels and extent of the required services and facilities for Parliament and monitoring their implementation."
As Madame Speaker indicated at the beginning of this debate the Oversight Authority has not met for more than six months to attend to the matters listed above as its responsibilities.
The Joint Rules Committee and its sub-committees, for all their shortcomings, at least had the virtue of meeting fairly regularly and providing a forum for the articulation and discussion of concerns.
The above is a matter of serious concern which needs to be addressed urgently.
We are confident that we will through our collective effort be able to find solutions to these challenges.
To succeed in our work, we rely on the commitment of those who work daily to ensure that Members of Parliament are able to serve the people of South Africa.
We thank the Secretary to Parliament, the Secretaries to the NA and the NCOP and all members of the Parliamentary Service: security personnel, catering staff, cleaners, service officers, Hansard staff, table staff, legal advisors, researchers, finance staff, staff in the Office of the Leader of Government Business, parliamentary liaison officers and other members of the parliamentary Public Service.
We should convey a word of thanks to all the members of the ANC Caucus Support Staff, administrative assistants, secretaries, personal assistants, financial and technical staff, researchers, political assistants and managers, as well as all the administrators in our constituency offices countrywide.
We must thank the media on their important role of keeping the public informed about the work of Parliament and also the range of organisations - academic, nongovernmental and community based, who participate actively in the work of Parliament.
We further wish to thank the Whips of all the parties for their co-operation to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament.
We wish to thank the Leader of Government Business for her support and efforts at improving co-ordination between Parliament and the Executive.
We wish, again, to thank the Speaker of the NA, the Chairperson of the NCOP, Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP, the House Chairpersons in the NA and NCOP for providing the support and leadership that they have.
Let us intensify the struggle against poverty as we advance in unity towards the realization of a better life for all.
Let us build a People's Parliament.