The people must use public hearings to instil democracy


The medium-term budget policy statement that the minister of finance will deliver to Parliament towards the end of October, will again provide South Africans with a clearer picture of the priorities of our government. By updating the revenue, spending and borrowing projections for the current financial year, it will tell us how our limited resources are being earmarked to sustain the necessary programmes flowing from the laws of our democracy.

The statement will reflect the collective understanding of the Cabinet on the economic and budgetary challenges ahead and provide the finance minister with an opportunity to make adjustments to the budge that was announced in February if conditions have made such adjustments necessary. It also enables legislators and the public — workers, business and civil society leaders and citizens generally — to consider the government’s budget plans several months ahead of the budget itself. It is debatable, however, whether significant numbers of South Africans are making use of available public participation opportunities to influence the budget. Parliamentary oversight over the budget has become a continuous exercise. The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act of 2009 has empowered Parliament to make adjustments to the budget as a whole, as well as to the budgets of specific government departments.

Before the act was passed, Parliament could either approve or reject the budget, but not make adjustments to it. This act places great responsibility on Parliament. This responsibility has begun to reframe the nature of the relationship between Parliament as the legislature, and the executive as the custodian of service delivery.

Since our democracy, a number of laws have been passed to reframe our society and give expression to our Constitution. The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act itself flows from the Constitution’s provision in section 77(2) that: "An act of Parliament must provide for a procedure to amend money bills before Parliament."

Several laws have been passed in the month of October since 1994 including the Employment Equity Act of 1998. The office of the public protector was established in 1995 and, in 1996, the Independent Electoral Commission was established. Both were established in terms of chapter nine of the new Constitution.

The list of institutions supporting democracy in chapter nine of the Constitution includes the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, the Commission on Gender Equality and the auditor-general. It was in October 1996 that the Constitutional Assembly adopted the Constitution itself.

SA’s democracy holds because it is based on consensus on two main levels. The one is our goal of a united, democratic, nonracial, nonsexist and just society. The other is about rules of procedure. The benefit we hope to derive from this aspect of consensus is that the institutions that underpin democracy — and our rules of procedure — assume a life of their own, becoming not only impersonal but self-perpetuating.

The legacy of past racist policies remains a dominant feature on our socioeconomic landscape. For as long as the majority of South Africans languish in hunger, homelessness, illiteracy and disease and other social ills, for so long will our system of democracy hang on a thread. Our system of democracy cannot survive long in social conditions that hold out too little for the majority of the population. The public hearings held so far — to hear first-hand how the laws of our democracy have affected the lives of people — have drawn hundreds of participants. Some came as individuals, others came to speak on behalf of civil society organisations. At the hearings in the Eastern Cape (held in East London) and the Northern Cape (held in Kimberley) people spoke frankly, passionately, mainly about the problems with applying some of the new laws and programmes introduced since 1994. There were also proposals for how to improve things. The problems recounted were not unexpected, but the depth of some of the alleged perversion of important social programmes and laws was shocking.

We heard, for instance, that a ward councillor has allegedly contracted a property agent to sell about 150,000 RDP houses for R15,000 each. At the same hearing, a civil society organisation told us that, at the current rate of delivery, it would take the state 20 years to wipe out the existing housing backlog. There were also proposed solutions to curtail corrupt practices and critiques of specific laws. Similar accounts and proposed solutions to problems are likely to be presented to the panel at our next provincial hearing on Thursday in the Free State at the Bloemfontein City Hall.

The attendance of people at the public hearings has been inspiring and attests to our enduring belief in our ability to come together to solve our problems, however insurmountable they may seem.

Motlanthe chairs the 17-member High Level Panel on Assessment of Key Legislation and Acceleration of Fundamental Change that was appointed by the Speakers’ Forum, a structure of Parliament and the provincial legislatures. Its task is to assess the consequences of the laws of our democracy. The panel’s consultations countrywide will inform its final report and recommendations, for handover to the Speakers’ Forum in August 2017

MEMBERS OF THE PANEL: Kgalema Motlanthe, former president of SA (chair); Tito Mboweni, former governor of the South African Reserve Bank; Brigitte Mabandla, former cabinet minister; Judge Navi Pillay, former UN human rights commissioner; Haroon Bhorat, professor of economics and director of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) development policy research unit; Olive Shisana, president and CEO of Evidence Based Solutions; Malcolm Damon, CEO of the Southern African Network on Inequality and founder member of the Economic Justice Network; Eddy Maloka, CEO of the African Peer Review Mechanism; Terence Nombembe, former auditor-general; Mthandeki Nhlapo, former SA Municipal Workers’ Union secretary-general; Vivienne Taylor, professor of social policy and development at UCT; Alan Hirsch, professor in UCT’s department of economics; Paul Harris, co-founder of FirstRand; Yvonne Muthien, nonexecutive director and chairperson of companies; Relebohile Moletsane, professor in the department of education and development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Aninka Claassens, land reform specialist at UCT; and Thulani Tshefuta, member of the South African Youth Council

Source: Business Day Live


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