Time to guard the guardians

CityPress - - Voices - Pregs Goven­der Goven­der was an MP from 1994 to 2002. She is deputy chair­per­son of the SA Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion

Weigh­ing in on “this in­de­pen­dence thing” of chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions, an MP as­serted there must be “one coun­try, one voice”.

She was speak­ing in the re­cent meet­ing between State In­sti­tu­tions Sup­port­ing Con­sti­tu­tional Democ­racy and par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees. In­stead of be­ing vig­or­ously chal­lenged, she was sup­ported by other MPs op­posed to chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions crit­i­cis­ing gov­ern­ment.

This week, those with po­lit­i­cal power demon­strated a sim­i­lar lack of un­der­stand­ing and re­spect for the in­de­pen­dence of chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions.

Among other scathing and dan­ger­ous per­sonal at­tacks, the ANC’s Jesse Duarte and Gwede Man­tashe la­belled Public Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela a “pop­ulist” who is tar­get­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma as “her per­sonal project”.

Such at­tacks on a chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tion can­not go un­chal­lenged by other chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions as all share joint re­spon­si­bil­ity for cre­at­ing a cul­ture of hu­man rights in our coun­try. When chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions give ef­fect to our man­dates, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers across the board are en­trusted by the Con­sti­tu­tion to re­spond with due re­spect and to use due process.

Sec­tion 181 of chap­ter 9 of the Con­sti­tu­tion as­serts that “no per­son or or­gan of state may in­ter­fere with the func­tion­ing of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions”. It recog­nises that our in­sti­tu­tions are “in­de­pen­dent and sub­ject only to the Con­sti­tu­tion and the law”. In re­spond­ing to and in­ter­ro­gat­ing the rec­om­men­dati ons of the Re­view of Chap­ter 9 and As­so­ci­ated In­sti­tu­tions (pop­u­larly known as the “As­mal re­port”), Par­lia­ment has to ad­dress the re­al­ity of po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age.

It must scru­ti­nise po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in se­lec­tion pro­cesses, bud­gets, as well as Par­lia­ment’s role and re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure re­ports of in­sti­tu­tions sup­port­ing democ­racy are used to ex­er­cise over­sight over the ex­ec­u­tive.

If this is not done, there’s the dan­ger of chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions be­ing weak­ened and set up against each other rather than com­ple­ment­ing each other to achieve our shared ob­jec­tive.

Fol­low­ing the As­mal re­port, the In­de­pen­dent Panel As­sess­ment of Par­lia­ment was es­tab­lished in 2007 “to en­quire into, re­port and make rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the ex­tent to which Par­lia­ment is evolv­ing to meet the ex­pec­ta­tions out­lined in the Con­sti­tu­tion ... specif­i­cally the ex­tent to which Par­lia­ment en­sures there is ac­count­abil­ity, re­spon­sive­ness and open­ness”.

The panel’s re­port con­cluded that “the ef­fec­tive­ness of Par­lia­ment’s over­sight work is di­rectly re­lated to the in­de­pen­dence of the in­sti­tu­tion and the abil­ity of in­di­vid­ual MPs to raise a crit­i­cal voice against short­com­ings iden­ti­fied in other or­gans of state, par­tic­u­larly the ex­ec­u­tive”.

Such anal­y­sis has to en­com­pass our col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for not chal­leng­ing the deeply in­grained cul­ture of sub­servience to “the leader”, the sta­tus quo and the dom­i­nant hi­er­ar­chy.

Po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age can­not con­tinue. Crit­i­cal de­ci­sions can no longer be made on the ba­sis of fear­ing those who dis­pense or with­hold po­si­tion and power.

Our coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tion is praised as be­ing pro-poor. De­spite this, South Africa has high lev­els of poverty, in­equal­ity and vi­o­lence. Busi­ness and gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion un­der­mines South Africa’s abil­ity to trans­form this re­al­ity. Against this back­drop, the in­tegrity and con­sti­tu­tional man­date of those en­trusted with pro­tect­ing hu­man rights can­not be un­der­mined and at­tacked.

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