A successful democracy requires a parliament that works
Note to editors: The following statement and accompanying document was presented today in Parliament by DA Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko MP, DA Federal Chairperson, Dr Wilmot James MP, DA Chief Whip, Watty Watson MP and DA Deputy Chief Whip, Sandy Kalyan MP. Please find the full Parliamentary Audit Report here.
Today the Democratic Alliance (DA) presents its annual 2011 Parliamentary Performance Review. This report emphasises the importance which the DA places on ensuring that Parliament is an effective institution, which rigorously debates issues of national importance, and which develops policies to address the challenges facing the people of South Africa.
As the Official Opposition, the DA has during the course of 2011 made enthusiastic use of every mechanism available to it in the national legislature. We have done so because we know that a Parliament which addresses the issues of the day and works for the people it represents is the backbone of a successful democracy. For South Africa to succeed, Parliament, like the executive and judiciary, must work, and work well.
To this end the DA has built on its record in 2010 as the most effective political party in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces:
In 2011 the DA asked 2487 questions in the National Assembly. This represents 67% of the 3683 questions submitted by MPs. On average, each DA member submitted 37 questions in comparison to the average of 4 questions per member for all other political parties combined. In the National Council of Provinces, our 10 members asked 265 questions during the course of 2011, averaging 27 per member. This is noticeably higher than 9 questions per member that all other political parties combined asked during the same period.
The DA submitted 212 oral questions during 2011, 44% of the total of 478 oral questions published. The DA thus submitted more oral questions than any other political party in parliament, and submitted the most questions in the social services, governance and economics clusters. Similarly in the NCOP, the DA improved its performance increasing the number of questions asked to 34 in 2011. In light of the specific rules of prioritisation which exist in the NCOP, this is noteworthy.
The DA proposed 99 notices of motion out of the 262 motions submitted by all political parties. Through the work of Sandy Kalyan, our representative on the Chief Whips Forum and National Assembly Programming Committee, we were able to have debates on 4 motions in total, proposed by each of the major political parties in Parliament.
The DA read out 63 member statements, utilising its full quota of opportunities over the 22 parliamentary days on which members' statements could be read out. 37 different DA MPs read out members' statements in the National Assembly.
DA MPs submitted a total of 8 private members bills in 2011. Through the efforts of DA MP, Piet Pretorius, the rules relating to Private Members Bills were changed in 2011. Rather than deliberating on the merits of a particular proposal, members of Committee on Private Members Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions must now act as a clearing house only; judging proposed bills on the basis of set criteria. Should a legislative proposal meet these requirements, it will then be passed onto the relevant portfolio committee for detailed deliberation. This development has the potential to make private members bills a significant legislative development mechanism in Parliament.
These efforts have enabled the DA and other parties represented in Parliament to have a discernable impact on policy and legislation.
The work of our members on the Ad Hoc Committee on the Protection of State Information Bill is a case in point. Together with the other opposition parties, we were able to ensure that the scope of the bill and its application was drastically narrowed, reducing the definition of national security and scrapping mandatory sentences. With the bill still lacking a public interest defence clause, the DA has a valuable role to play in pushing for amendments in the NCOP, and if need be, having the bill referred to the Constitutional Court through section 80 of the Constitution.
Other important parliamentary contributions include:
- The continued efforts and pressure exercised by the DA on the Portfolio Committee on Communications, which ultimately led to the withdrawal of the Public Service Broadcasting Bill, to subject the Bill to further public participation.
- The DA has put pressure on the Department of Health to conduct assessments of the qualifications of Hospital CEOs, which has led to a review of how CEOs are employed by the state.
- The DA has driven the campaign to have mud schools in the Eastern Cape eradicated. Our efforts in this regard have led to increased infrastructure funding to these schools.
- The DA's strong opposition to attempts by the National Treasury to "suspend" section 45 of the Income Tax Act contributed to a more appropriate outcome for compliant taxpayers and DA inputs to the Tax Administration Bill were largely implemented, -especially its longstanding proposal for the introduction of a Tax Ombudsman.
Through such contributions, the DA has successfully demonstrated that MPs can directly impact on policy developments in South Africa, whether from the government or the opposition benches.
To further this end, we have produced a number of key policy and discussion documents such as the DA's alternative budget; a policy on expanding the rights of domestic workers; an alternative plan to the NHI; our response to the National Development Plan and our response to the draft green paper on land reform. These policy documents not only demonstrate a commitment to finding innovative solutions to some of the pressing challenges South Africa faces today, but are also evidence of the positioning of the DA in Parliament as an alternative government-in-waiting with clear alternative solutions.
A successful parliament requires not only an effective opposition with clear alternative proposals, but also an opposition which can hold the executive to account.
One of the main mechanisms with which MPs can achieve this is through written and oral questions. But in 2011 members of the executive have continuously shied away from their responsibilities in this regard, either by failing to answer questions completely or not answering them at all. Despite an undertaking by Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, in response to an oral question from DA Chief Whip, Watty Watson, that all questions would be answered before they lapsed on the 13 December 2011, the statistics speak for themselves:
As of close of day, 13 December 2011, 267 written questions asked by members of the National Assembly remain unanswered. 169 of these questions were posed by DA MPs. In the NCOP, a total of 128 questions remain unanswered, including 58 questions asked by the DA.
The worst performers in terms of answering questions (both NA and NCOP combined) are:
- Correctional Services - 54 unanswered questions
- Social Development - 44 unanswered questions
- Cooperative Governance - 42 unanswered questions
- Public Service and Administration - 35 unanswered questions
- Communications - 27 unanswered questions
- Sport and Recreational Development - 27 unanswered questions
- Rural Development and Land Reform - 23 unanswered questions
- Home Affairs - 19 unanswered questions
The DA intends taking the following steps to ensure that all parliamentary questions are adequately answered in 2012:
- I have requested a meeting with the Deputy President, as the Leader of Government Business, to discuss the continued problem of unanswered questions in Parliament.
- The Chief Whip of the Official Opposition, Watty Watson, has requested a meeting with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu to discuss the role that his office must play in ensuring that all MPs' questions are answered completely and punctually.
This emphasis on accountability, oversight and effectiveness forms the basis of the Independent Panel Assessment Report on Parliament. This report, which is currently gathering dust in the Speaker's office, makes a number of key recommendations which, if implemented, would reinvigorate parliament. These include proposals for a mixed electoral system, oversight over the implementation of legislation, and the filling of capacity gaps to ensure that Parliament is better able to initiate its own legislation. The report further calls for the proper assessment of the impact and implementation of legislation which parliament produces, as well as more timeous debates on issues of national importance.
The Speaker, who sat on the panel which drafted and tabled this report in 2009, is responsible for ensuring that each of these recommendations is acted upon. The DA will take all necessary steps during the course of 2012 to ensure that he does just this.
A successful democracy requires an effective, accountable and vibrant parliament, with a strong opposition, and a regular change of power from one political party to the other. If we are to strengthen our young democracy, and the constitutional principles which underpin it, we must work tirelessly to ensure that parliament is a forum for rigorous debate and activity which also continues to hold the executive to account. This is the kind of parliament which the DA, through our work and continued use of the mechanisms available to us, is committed to building.
Statement issued by Lindiwe Mazibuko MP, DA Parliamentary Leader, December 14 2011
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