Forgetting the most essential part of service delivery
If Provincial Week is to make a difference, we need to reassess the tourism indaba it’s become, writes Bridget Masango
DURING our orientation as new Members of Parliament in the National Council of Provinces, the NCOP chairwoman, Thandi Modise, rightly pointed out that we members must fulfil our unique mandate through the three pillars of legislation, public participation and oversight.
Provincial Week, which was this week, is one such programme that combines oversight and public participation.
However, having completed my first Provincial Week this year, I cannot help but wonder whether the programme is adding value to South Africans or merely window dressing poor service delivery.
I was optimistic that we would be interrogating our province’s service delivery efforts and engaging with various communities to hear the real issues that were affecting them.
At first glance, I thought Provincial Week was a good example of combining oversight and public participation where we would have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. Our suggested sites were ignored by the Gauteng Legislature, which instead produced a distorted programme that did not represent the real state of service delivery in the province. By this I mean a programme that shows the full extent of service delivery – the successes and failures of the government.
Upon arrival, we were again informed by Premier David Makhura that the programme would cover a wide range of integrated interventions from various departments and that we would be given the opportunity to engage and listen to communities about their experiences.
Again, I became hopeful because this is what Provincial Week is all about. But my hopes were short-lived. We spent most of our time isolated in a formal meeting room without any community members present; something that could easily have happened in Parliament.
Nevertheless, municipalities presented the status of their service delivery and plans made to increase the level of service delivery in the province. This was encouraging until we went out to meet people and saw the sites for ourselves.
The story on the ground was far different to what we were told in the meeting.
At a community meeting in Sedibeng, residents told us about their service delivery concerns which related to housing, employment, electricity and water.
Except for housing, all the concerns are the sole responsibility of the national government.
I carry the stories of the Sedibeng residents with me. Stories of illegal occupation of houses, housing money that is missing, reserved jobs and potholes on major roads leading to health facilities like the Vanderbijlpark clinic and education facilities like Boiketlong Christian Primary School, which is run down and dilapidated.
We were confronted with these issues but could not deal with them by speaking to the responsible officials or establishing the facts surrounding each one.
These South Africans have put their faith in us as public representatives. We have a duty to champion their concerns at national, provincial and local government levels.
In the end it seemed that with every visit, the delegation was scurried along, moved quickly from one destination to the next. There was little time allowed to engage with people or to oversee each site in its entirety.
We were no more than sheep being herded from one point to another to have the wool pulled over our eyes and made to believe the provincial government’s “good story”.
Instead of an open evaluation of the level of service delivery in Gauteng, the Gauteng Provincial Legislature merely responded to Provincial Week as a tourist indaba.
And if the increasing spate of service delivery protests around South Africa is anything to go on, then we have a duty to transform Provincial Week into a meaningful exercise by Parliament and to do so now.
It is for this reason that I made the following constructive proposals in the NCOP’s debate on Provincial Week in order to rethink the way it is implemented:
Extend the time. One week every year is not enough to get to grips with the issues that matter to people in provinces. In fact, one might go so far as to say that the delegates to the NCOP should be spending most of our time in our provinces rather than in Parliament.
Smaller delegations. The size of the delegations can be reduced to effectively interact and engage with residents.
Show the good and the bad. Projects and delivery cannot be window-dressed to give a distorted view and thus prevent the NCOP delegates from intervening.
One such area was perhaps the DA-run Midvaal Municipality where we visited new housing and road projects in the area but were not given a platform to engage with the municipality on service delivery concerns.
In short, we must focus our attention on the basics of service delivery.
In line with the government’s “Back to Basics” campaign our initial visits should include water treatment plants, local schools and hospitals and police stations.
Imagine if we had visited the Eikenhof pump stations on the East Rand.
Perhaps we would have seen that the back-up substation was “out of service” and then we could have intervened to prevent or mitigate the water crisis that occurred in large parts of Gauteng on September 15 this year.
As the DA delegates in the NCOP, I believe that we have the opportunity to transform provincial visits into meaningful oversight and public participation where the NCOP is best placed to respond to the concerns of all South Africans.
Unfortunately, though, I have to conclude that Provincial Week in its current form is little more than an expensive provincial tour.
It is not adding the value that it can and should be adding to the lives of our people.
But, if we can make these small changes to the way we run the NCOP, then I am confident that we will make a huge difference in the lived experience of all South Africans.
FOR THE PEOPLE? The Gauteng Legislature produced a distorted programme that did not represent the true state of what is happening on the ground in each province, but instead appeared to be about window dressing, says the writer.