Parliament is a failed institution
Parliamentarians have been metaphorically burning down the institution of Parliament for years, threatening South Africa’s democracy.
Today OUTA releases its annual Parliamentary Oversight Report, looking at 2021, which again finds that Parliament fails to hold the executive to account.
MPs dragging their feet: OUTA’s 2021 Report on Parliamentary Oversight in South Africa, is an assessment of how well MPs did their jobs in defending democracy during 2021. It was compiled by Liz McDaid, OUTA’s Parliamentary and Energy Advisor.
“OUTA believes that Parliament is a burnt-out shell in more ways than just physically,” says McDaid, explaining that Parliament’s failures allowed state capture and corruption to become entrenched, that it relies on the very departments it oversees for information on which to base that oversight, and that public participation in some parliamentary committees is woefully inadequate.
An example of failed public participation is the annual Budget: year after year, Parliament holds public hearings for input on the Budget, but every year the Budget is passed unchanged with no reference to that input.
“We really want a Parliament that acts much more deliberately to ensure that the public have an opportunity to provide information into Parliament, but more than that, that Parliament listens,” says McDaid.
The report outlines the problems.
“A crucial part of Parliament’s job is to exercise oversight over the executive. It has failed in this, allowing state capture and corruption to become entrenched, and continues to fail, including by protecting and promoting those deeply implicated in wrongdoing. This report looks at how Parliament is failing and the implications of that failure,” says the report.
The report says there is significant space for Parliament to improve to protect democracy.
“The improvement we are looking for is a responsive Parliament, that holds the executive accountable, whose operations take place in a transparent manner and which shows a welcoming and proactive stance towards public participation. It is difficult to escape from the perception that Parliament has been hollowed out and filled with unethical people and, until that is addressed, we cannot expect any real accountability,” says the report.
The report findings include that Parliament has failed in its duty of constitutional oversight, some MPs have failed to uphold their constitutional oath of office, the public participation processes are still inadequate, even some MPs are not heard by Parliament, there is no sign of the party constituency offices funded by Parliament, and there is a strong need for structural reform.
“We want a Parliament that holds the executive to account and welcomes public participation,” says McDaid.
OUTA’s previous reports on oversight of Parliament
This is the third annual report in OUTA’s series of reports on oversight of Parliament.
The first report was published in May 2019 and the second in November 2020.
An additional report was submitted to the State Capture Commission November 2020, detailing how Parliament repeatedly failed to take action to stop state capture.
“Each of our previous reports was strongly critical of the failure by parliamentarians to hold the executive to account. Despite government’s claimed opposition to the erosion of state institutions due to state capture, this report finds no significant improvement in accountability by Parliament,” says McDaid.
In October 2021, OUTA published an additional report on Parliament and provincial legislatures, which looked at public funding they authorised for political parties in addition to the constitutionally authorised Represented Political Party Fund Act.
A soundclip with comment by Liz McDaid is here.
OUTA’s new report: OUTA’s 2021 Report on Parliamentary Oversight in South Africa is here.