What’s the point, Madam Speaker?

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@ city­press. co. za

An­other day. An­other com­mis­sion. An­other com­mit­tee. An­other task team. An­other panel. That is the story of gov­er­nance in present­day South Africa. This week saw the in­sti­tu­tion of yet an­other of th­ese bod­ies. The lat­est, a stel­lar 17-mem­ber panel to be headed by for­mer deputy pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe, will re­view the ef­fect of post-1994 leg­is­la­tion on the South African cit­i­zenry. It in­cludes lu­mi­nar­ies such as for­mer Re­serve Bank gov­er­nor Tito Mboweni, FirstRand co-founder Paul Har­ris, Hu­man Sci­ences Re­search Coun­cil head Olive Shisana and erst­while Au­di­torGen­eral Ter­ence Nombembe. The only peo­ple miss­ing from this ver­i­ta­ble A-Team are Su­per­man, Bat­man and Won­der Woman.

Na­tional As­sem­bly Speaker Baleka Mbete al­most made sense when giv­ing her mo­ti­va­tion for set­ting up the panel: “It’s all very well to pass laws, but the point is what is the im­pact on peo­ple’s lives? That is the is­sue we hope to have more in­sight into through the work of the panel.”

She ex­plained that de­spite the coun­try hav­ing trans­for­ma­tory leg­is­la­tion and struc­tures, in­equal­ity re­mained a huge prob­lem.

“Has it [trans­for­ma­tion] worked?” she asked be­fore an­swer­ing. “The ev­i­dence tells us no, if you lis­ten to South Africans. So why has it not worked? That is what we will look into.”

On the face of it, you might agree this is the sort of work that needs to be done. If laws meant to im­prove the lives of peo­ple are not do­ing so ad­e­quately then some­thing is wrong. It means ei­ther the laws are in­ef­fec­tive or wrong; have not been backed up with re­sources, man­power and skills; or the in­di­vid­u­als who are sup­posed to im­ple­ment them are the wrong peo­ple.

But where it be­comes puz­zling is that, other than pass­ing laws and pro­vid­ing over­sight over gov­er­nance, bud­gets and ex­pen­di­ture, the work of Par­lia­ment is to see to it that the state bu­reau­cracy does its job. It is meant to see to it that each rand the fi­nance min­is­ter al­lo­cates to de­part­ments, provinces, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and state en­ti­ties achieves the de­sired re­sult. Par­lia­ment is sup­posed to make sure that the laws it passes, of­ten af­ter ex­haus­tive and costly pro­cesses, are not merely aca­demic.

The Con­sti­tu­tion is clear that Par­lia­ment has the power “to en­sure that all ex­ec­u­tive or­gans of state in the na­tional sphere of govern­ment are ac­count­able to it” and to main­tain over­sight over “the ex­er­cise of na­tional ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity, in­clud­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of leg­is­la­tion”.

In ad­di­tion to the work done in the cham­bers of Par­lia­ment, MPs also have well-funded con­stituency of­fices to which their par­ties al­lo­cate fund­ing. From th­ese of­fices, they are sup­posed to mon­i­tor on-the-ground de­vel­op­ments and be a port of call for cit­i­zens who are be­ing failed by arms of govern­ment. They are sup­posed to in­ter­act with or­di­nary peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions that are ac­tive in com­mu­ni­ties.

The Na­tional Coun­cil of Provinces also has an ac­tive Tak­ing Par­lia­ment to the Peo­ple pro­gramme through which its mem­bers visit com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try, tap­ping into their is­sues and then rais­ing th­ese with the rel­e­vant or­gans of state.

It is, there­fore, puz­zling to hear Mbete ad­mit to what ap­pears to be sys­tem fail­ure. If in­deed she is ad­mit­ting to such a whole­sale fail­ure, then it means the 490 men and women who pop­u­late the two houses of Par­lia­ment do not know their man­date and pow­ers. If this is the case, then we have to ask how they got to where they are in the first place.

But let’s go back to the ques­tion of what it is this panel is sup­posed to dis­cover. Mbete said the spe­cific man­date would be to look at the triple chal­lenges of poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity; the cre­ation of and eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth; land re­form, resti­tu­tion, re­dis­tri­bu­tion and se­cu­rity of ten­ure; and na­tion­build­ing and so­cial co­he­sion.

If mem­ory serves cor­rectly, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s first ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pointed a high­pow­ered Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to craft a Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP). The first thing the com­mis­sion did was to pro­duce a com­pre­hen­sive Di­ag­nos­tic Re­view, which painted a pic­ture of the chal­lenges fac­ing us. Armed with this bulky doc­u­ment, the com­mis­sion went back into the field to work on so­lu­tions. The re­sult was the NDP, an­other bulky doc­u­ment that charted a de­vel­op­men­tal path for South Africa.

Both the Di­ag­nos­tic Re­view and the NDP an­swered the ques­tions Mbete now ap­par­ently seeks to an­swer through her panel, and the lat­ter has even been adopted by the very Par­lia­ment she heads. The plan may have been ques­tioned on ide­o­log­i­cal grounds, but the qual­ity of the work that went into it has never been in doubt.

The mem­bers of the panel – who are par­tak­ing in this UN De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme-funded pro­ject for free – prob­a­bly feel hon­oured to be have been called to per­form this pa­tri­otic task, but it bog­gles the mind as to what we are re­ally try­ing to achieve with it.

Be­cause they are prob­a­bly un­able to work for free, they miss out on in­tern­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties

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