Report of the Secretary General
9: Parliament Report
17 December 1997
Major strides have been made in changing parliament itself, so that it becomes a tool to ensure transformation.
Public access to parliament has been greatly improved. For the first time in the history of this country, the public have mechanisms through which they can interact with parliament, nationally and provincially.
Standing Committees have assumed new ways of functioning – the sittings are open to the public, which can meaningfully input into the processes of formulating policy and making laws.
The ANC has the best record for establishing and servicing constituency offices across the country.
Our President, our Deputy President, ANC premiers as well as nationally and provincially elected representatives have interacted regularly with ANC structures and the broader public in the provinces and at a local level. We are the only organisation which has had the courage to engage the public on even the tough policy measures which all parties in parliament had agreed to. Our public representatives have addressed mass meetings, small meetings, peoples forums etc. They have regularly briefed the media. Every MP and MPL has opened a constituency office, and been allocated a geographic constituency to service.
However, there is still a lack of public awareness of the location of such offices or which MPs and MPLs service their area, We would urge that consideration be given to publishing the location of every constituency office and which MP and MPL services it. This could be done in the form of a handbook with phone and fax numbers, or also at the start of each Parliamentary year.
For instance, if the government produced an insert for major newspapers to cover the entire country that contains the President’s opening of Parliament address and such a list, it would go a long way to ensuring the public is better informed of how and where to contact their MPs and MPLs.
Legislation passed by parliament has signaled the start of a determined effort to realise our objective of building equity and correcting the wrongs of apartheid. Blacks in general, women, rural people, people with disabilities, children and young people, but particularly the poor, have been the primary beneficiaries.
There is however, still much work to be done.
We need to streamline the functioning of our very large caucuses. Our study groups and whipperies can be better utilised to feed into caucus, both nationally and provincially.
Attendance of parliamentary sessions remains a problem. The Chief Whip’s office in the National Assembly has introduced a number of measures which are already yielding results. We need to resolve the tension between attendance of sessions and active participation in standing committees. We are confident that the initiatives taken and lessons learned by all our Chief Whips will be shared so that we improve our method of work.
We are still too defensive about the fact that we had democratically won a substantial majority which proportionally gives us a substantial majority on all parliamentary structures.
We should be proud of the number of women MPs we have. But we have not been sensitive enough to the fact that most of our women MPs, unlike their male counterparts, remain the primary caregivers in their families.
Public access to parliamentary structures have been utilised mainly by the better resourced sections of society. The poor whose voices we desperately need to hear in parliament, do not have the resources to do so. This problem has some times been addressed through provincial hearings on key matters, but this is clearly not possible on all issues.
Much more needs to be done to build a broader cadre base who have the skills to utilise parliament effectively.
Our constituency offices also needs to be utilised more effectively to give the public access to parliament and to the ANC. We must firmly dismiss any notion that constituency offices should be neutral offices. The public needs to know that it is the ANC that cares.
Other broad issues which we need to look at include:
- what kind of parliament do we want – its size, its functioning, criteria for composition?
- what kind of image do we want to project – codes of conduct, costs etc?
- co-ordination with provinces and local government to ensure effective transformation;
- what role is there for the provincial legislatures to ensure the serious governance problems besetting the country are addressed in a constructive manner?