.Image: OUTAParliament is still a failed institution, finds OUTA report
Today OUTA releases our fifth annual report on parliamentary oversight. For the fifth year in a row, our report finds that parliament fails to deliver on its duty to effectively scrutinise and oversee executive action. Where attempts are made to hold the executive and government departments to account, remedial efforts are usually drowned out by the majority rule, muffling the voices of opposition parties. From the dawn of our democracy in 1994, parliament held much promise, but nearly 30 years later, that promise has been destroyed by the cruel reality of poor governance, dismal service delivery and a parliament removed from and unresponsive to the pressing needs of the citizenry.
OUTA’s comprehensive report, Parliament: The fairytale that became a nightmare, was compiled by OUTA’s Parliamentary Engagement Office and covers the period July 2022 to June 2023. This is the fifth report in OUTA’s annual series of reports on parliamentary oversight. Each year, OUTA has attempted to provide a review of some of the detailed workings of parliament, focusing on those aspects which would demonstrate an accountable and robust parliamentary institution.
Each of our previous reports was strongly critical of the failure by parliamentarians to hold the executive to account.
In 2019, our report asked why non-performing MPs continue to appear on political party lists for election.
In 2020, we noted that the current political system appears to reward unethical behaviour, with former ministers heavily implicated in state capture losing ministerial positions but being promoted by fellow MPs to powerful positions as committee chairs.
In 2021, we said it was difficult to escape the perception that parliament has been hollowed out and filled with unethical people and, until that is addressed, we cannot expect any real accountability.
In 2022, we identified a parliament struggling with the aftermath of state capture, insufficiently holding the executive accountable, and routinely approving budgets despite financial mismanagement. We also found that public participation is often superficial.
Our report focuses on the National Assembly side of Parliament, and the portfolio committees operated by our MPs which are responsible for oversight of the executive and government. We assessed the work of 11 of these committees.
This year, we deliver a stern warning: South Africa’s parliament is failing to fulfil its democratic role. It has deviated from its promise of safeguarding democracy and has evolved into a dysfunctional institution. This transformation is characterised as a departure from the ideal, akin to a burnt-out shell where parliamentarians’ commitment to democratic values and the Constitution has waned. Without substantial institutional reforms, parliament will remain ineffective and unable to fulfil its democratic function.
The report underscores the challenges awaiting new parliamentarians in 2024, who will contend with an institution seemingly designed to obstruct transparent and accountable governance, rather than truly representing the people’s interests.
OUTA sees this report as part of strengthening our parliamentary democracy, to fulfil the rights enshrined in the Constitution, and we look forward to engaging further with parliament. Parliament is an essential cornerstone of our democracy, and it is only through constructive engagement that civil society can urge and demand accountability from our government.
A soundclip with comment by OUTA's Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager, Rachel Fischer, is here.
OUTA's report on parliamentary oversight, Parliament: The fairytale that became a nightmare, is here.
More on OUTA's work on parliamentary oversight is here.
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