Don’t let ‘We serve the People’ just be rhetoric

Activists and scholars this week reminded the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP), during a roundtable discussion on oversight and public participation, that they will turn up the heat so that legislatures can strengthen its oversight muscle. Too often it is National Parliament that comes under scrutiny whilst provincial legislatures escape the public eye.

The roundtable discussion was hosted in Cape Town by the Putting People in the People’s Parliament (PPIPP) collective. Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, Masizole Mnqasela, delivered the keynote address.

According to PPiPP-coordinator, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu, provincial legislatures are key in implementing national policy for critical programmes like health and education with multi-billion rand budgets. “Yet these legislatures are allowed to fly under the radar and become black holes where public participation and information become guessing games and often meaningless. This must change because when provincial legislatures are not scrutinising their government departments properly, it hits much closer to home for many communities,” said Mentor-Lalu. A big part of the discussions was the woeful performance of all provincial legislatures in fulfilling their role to give direction to and provide oversight over the way that public money is budgeted and spent.

The PPiPP-project trains organisations to monitor the provincial legislatures of the Western and Eastern Cape. Mentor-Lalu said the aim is to help strengthen provincial legislatures’ ability to better hold the executive to account. “And a big part of this is about involving the public and civil society organisations.”

Representatives of the organisations present at the roundtable were encouraged that the Speaker shared their concern that the WCPP is not accessible to people in the province who do not live in urban areas. He acknowledged that even people living in and around Cape Town cannot access the legislature. For those living in rural towns, lack of information, high transport costs and long travelling times, make it almost impossible to get to the legislatures. The Speaker committed to advance multi-party democracy in the WCPP.

In response to the Speaker’s address, Khaya Xintolo from the Right to Know Campaign, said: “I have heard these promises before from politicians who say the right things but the implementation never happens.”

Some civil society stakeholders who attended the event deal with many critical issues facing the people of the Western Cape. Jenny Nkala, an activist from the Women on Farms Project said that the WCPP is far removed from the rural people of the province. “It is difficult for us to get to the legislature and politicians don’t make the effort to understand our difficulties.”

Zoleka Ntuli from Black Sash - an organisation that protects the rights of social grant beneficiaries - said: “We need to get feedback from committees (in legislatures) after we have made submissions to them so that we can take matters forward. We would like to know that our voices are being heard and that the lived realities of social grant beneficiaries are considered.” 

Representatives of the organisations voiced their disappointment that only one MPL attended the event despite numerous efforts to invite all MPLs in the WCPP. Some felt this implied that politicians making statements like ‘we serve the people’ are no more than rhetoric.

Mentor-Lalu said: “We expect more from our elected representatives.” She, however acknowledged the Speaker’s effort to participate in the roundtable. She said it goes some way to help us get through the obstacles and work together to improve oversight and accountability that will ensure better service delivery to the people of the Western Cape.” END

 

For interviews contact:

Vivienne Mentor-Lalu – 082 494 0788

Nomacebo Mbayo – 078 049 3438

PPIPP partner organisations include: Women and Democracy Initiative, Dullah Omar Institute; Equal Education Law Centre; Parliamentary Monitoring Group; Public and Environment Economic Research Centre; Public Service Accountability Monitor; Right to Know Campaign; Social Change Assistance Trust; Social Justice Coalition; Witzenberg Rural Development Centre; Women on Farms Project

The Putting People in People’s Parliament (PPIPP) is made possible with funding from the European Union and the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The views expressed in this press release are not necessarily those of the funding organisations.

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