Behind the scenes of public policy and law-making in South Africa (where views are expressed, they are my own and do not in any way reflect those of Juta Law or the editors of publications to which I contribute)
This article appeared in the 26 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch
The increasingly dismal state of local government finances and the worrying attitudes of many of the senior officials responsible may have prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to qualify his remarks in last week’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) about building a smart city. Responding to a debate on the contents of his speech, the President said the notion belonged more ‘in the section on a future and desired reality’ than in the ‘section on dreams’. This is noting that, even if urbanisation and population growth rates remain their present levels, within the next decade ‘an extra 10m people’ will be looking for work and somewhere to live in SA’s cities.
According to the President, each ‘successive wave of people’ arriving
in the country’s major urban areas lives further from their centres, services,
transport infrastructure and any available jobs. ‘This situation is not
sustainable and, unless we find effective solutions, it’s only going to get
worse,’ he warned, reminding his audience of the ‘significant backlogs in
housing, schools, clinics and social services’ faced by ‘almost all’ the
country’s cities. This presented a perfect opportunity for Ramaphosa to
elaborate on any plans he and his government may have for finally and decisively
addressing the myriad challenges facing SA’s local authorities, including the
culture of non-payment for services. After all, the President made it very
clear during last week’s Sona that ‘the days of boycotting payment are over’.
But alas, nothing more was said on the matter – at least in the official
version of Ramaphosa’s response.
Meanwhile, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu was busy painting a deeply depressing picture of local government in which he conceded that ‘the quality of the financial statements provided to his office for auditing’ continues to deteriorate (News24). Especially troubling is that the ‘audit environment’ is becoming ‘more hostile’ (News24), with municipal authorities often pressurising audit teams to ‘change’ any findings pointing to negative audit outcomes or irregular expenditure. ‘Threats’ and ‘intimidation’ are apparently being experienced in ‘most’ provinces.
It is not clear from media reports on yesterday’s debate and the
President’s input if any opposition party MPs asked how government intends
financing the construction of a new ‘smart city’ – and how it will be
maintained once built. Poor infrastructure maintenance has been a concern for
many years, as successive Ministers of Finance, Public Works and Cooperative
Governance have openly acknowledged. Ramaphosa would do well to confront this
issue and the shockingly high levels of financial mismanagement across local
government before saying anything more about a new smart city – which will need
smart people to run it.
This article appeared in the 13 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch
The capacity of National Assembly committees to adequately hold the executive and state institutions to account is finally being brought to the attention of ordinary South Africans in the context of the commission of inquiry into state capture. This is noting recent allegations that SA’s fifth democratic Parliament failed to ‘prevent the looting of tax payers’ money’ despite having been alerted by ‘senior’ South African Reserve Bank officials to ‘cases’ of money laundering clearly requiring ‘urgent’ prosecution (SABC News). Commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has confirmed that ‘part of his job’ is to ‘establish a task team to assess how Parliament’s oversight structures dealt with issues of state capture, and whether there were elements of … (it) within portfolio committees’ ( Fin24).
Zondo’s pronouncements on the ‘capacity problems’ possibly experienced by National Assembly committees during the country’s fifth democratic Parliament (SABC News) have drawn attention to a long-standing concern about the quality of administrative support. By way of example, it may take weeks for the minutes of a meeting to be produced and approved – leaving committee members and interested stakeholders dependent on recordings and reports made available by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. It is not uncommon for several sets of long-overdue minutes to be read and adopted during a meeting with a packed agenda involving other pressing and often far more complex matters. In such circumstances, is it reasonable to expect members to remember with any degree of accuracy what was discussed and decided weeks before? What becomes of any action items identified during a meeting is anybody’s guess.
Against that backdrop, it is frequently left to departmental officials or
parliamentary legal advisers to tactfully remind committee members of
information made available to them on which decisions have already been made.
That said, documents sent to a committee secretary well before the meeting at
which they are to be considered may only be circulated the evening before. It
has even been known for them not to be circulated at all – just as it is not
uncommon for departmental officials to table documents at the very meeting
convened explicitly to discuss them. Yet despite members’ obvious unfamiliarity
with the contents of such documents, the process continues. This is especially
worrying in the case of proposed new legislation. Combined with an apparent
lack of commitment on the part of many MPs to study documents that are made
available timeously, this level of inefficiency leaves many observers wondering
if the ‘engine rooms’ of Parliament are working. Perhaps Zondo’s task team will
uncover more ‘capacity problems’ than can be dealt with by the commission
This article appeared in the 4 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch
The ‘naming and composition’ of Parliament’s new National Assembly committees is expected to be discussed tomorrow at a meeting of the House Rules Committee, when the process of assigning MPs to these and ‘various other bodies’ could also begin. According to a media statement released yesterday, a joint meeting of the National Assembly and NCOP programme committees will follow, focusing on matters related to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address on 20 June, the ensuing debate and the President’s reply. Once the dates for debates in both Houses on other ‘key issues’ have been identified, the programme committee of each House will finalise its ‘law-making and oversight’ schedule for the remainder of the year.
an ongoing MPs’ induction programme will include ‘information and discussion
sessions’ on their constitutional mandate and responsibilities, ‘interests,
ethics and code of conduct’, and ‘participation’ in National Assembly and NCOP
plenary sittings and committee meetings. It will also deal with the
parliamentary budget office, law making and public participation, security on
the parliamentary precinct, relations with the media and MPs’ ‘facilities and
benefits’. Given the poor attendance record of most members of SA’s fifth
democratic Parliament and their apparent reluctance to familiarise themselves
with the nuts and bolts of many Bills before them, something is hopefully being
done to avoid a repeat performance.
theory, responsibility for such matters lies with party whips whom –
yesterday’s statement notes – not only ‘assist in organising party business’
but are also expected to ensure that party representatives ‘attend committee
meetings and debates in the House’. While it is not clear from the statement
what is meant by ‘parliamentary business’, party whips are required to keep MPs
suitably informed. Last year, when things fell apart in the National Assembly’s
Trade and Industry Committee as it attempted to come to grips with the
Copyright Amendment Bill, an ANC whip was brought in. Sadly, this made no
difference whatsoever to the quality of input from committee members during
ensuing deliberations. Perhaps tomorrow’s meeting of National Assembly chief
whips will mark the beginning of a new era of well-informed, robust committee