SA’S R250m CON­STITUENCY MYS­TERY

CityPress - - Voices - Voices@city­press.co.za ALICESTINE OC­TO­BER and JEANNE VAN DER MERWE

Ev­ery year, tax­pay­ers spend about R250 mil­lion – a full round of up­grades to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s Nkandla home – on con­stituency of­fices for MPs. But very lit­tle is done to fol­low up on what hap­pens to that money and tax­pay­ers must rely on po­lit­i­cal par­ties for guar­an­tees that the mil­lions aren’t dis­ap­pear­ing into the ether.

The con­stituency sys­tem is sup­posed to give or­di­nary cit­i­zens ac­cess to MPs.

Four years ago, an Afro­barom­e­ter study found that only 3% of South Africans could name their lo­cal MP and just 1% of about 3 000 re­spon­dents to a News24 sur­vey knew who their lo­cal MP was.

In the cur­rent fi­nan­cial year, about R242 mil­lion in con­stituency money will be paid to po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Next year, that will climb to nearly R260 mil­lion.

Fi­nan­cial state­ments ob­tained by City Press un­der in­for­ma­tion law show tax­pay­ers spent more than R1 bil­lion on con­stituen­cies between 2009 and last year.

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties are sup­posed to give the sec­re­tary of Par­lia­ment the ad­dresses and tele­phone num­bers of all their con­stituency of­fices ev­ery March.

Par­lia­ment’s me­dia of­fice didn’t re­spond to a re­quest from City Press for the list, and one of Par­lia­ment’s own of­fi­cials who re­cently asked for it also had no re­sponse.

Last week, three months af­ter the elec­tions, the ANC was still al­lo­cat­ing con­stituen­cies and some MPs spent the week that was meant to be used for con­stituency work at by-elec­tions in­stead.

There’s no re­quire­ment un­der Par­lia­ment’s cur­rent pol­icy for po­lit­i­cal par­ties to en­sure that ev­ery part of the coun­try has ac­cess to an of­fice where cit­i­zens can ask for help on leg­is­la­tion or prob­lems they have with gov­ern­ment. The lo­ca­tion of th­ese of­fices is left en­tirely up to po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The Par­lia­men­tary Mon­i­tor­ing Group re­cently went on­line with a new web­site called The Peo­ple’s Assem­bly, which sum­marises each MP’s work.

The site con­tains in­for­ma­tion about each MP’s con­stituency of­fice as well as a feed­back form for cit­i­zens.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Gaile Fullard, said it was “ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult” to get par­ties’ con­stituency in­for­ma­tion, “which is crazy as this should be openly avail­able to the elec­torate”.

Fullard added that 52% of the Na­tional Assem­bly and 86% of the na­tional coun­cil of prov­inces’ cur­rent MPs are new, which makes it even more dif­fi­cult to col­late all the in­for­ma­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Gre­gory Solik of pres­sure group My Vote Counts, the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing the use of con­stituency money con­tained con­tra­dic­tions and his or­gan­i­sa­tion was await­ing a le­gal opin­ion on it.

He said: “Ev­ery­thing around th­ese funds is vague. The word­ing of the pol­icy is vague, the re­port­ing is vague, the en­force­ment is vague.”

In 2010, an Afro­barom­e­ter study found only

Ev­ery­thing around th­ese funds is vague. The word­ing of the pol­icy is vague, the re­port­ing is vague, the en­force­ment is vague GRE­GORY SOLIK

PHOTO: LERATO MADUNA

INTO THE ETHER Very lit­tle is done to fol­low up on what hap­pens to the money tax­pay­ers spend on con­stituency of­fices for MPs, leav­ing them to rely on po­lit­i­cal par­ties for guar­an­tees that the mil­lions aren’t dis­ap­pear­ing

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