Parliament’s failure to implement state capture recommendations undermines democracy

The International Day of Parliamentarism on 30 June should be a celebration of accountability and transparency in governance but instead it reminds us of our Parliament’s failures

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30/06/2023 06:58:36

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Parliament’s failure to implement state capture recommendations undermines democracy

WATCH our short video (1 min 26 sec) on Parliament and accountability here

In a vibrant democracy, the role of Parliament is crucial in ensuring transparency, accountability, and effective governance. However, South Africa's Parliament continues to fail to live up to these ideals.

On the International Day of Parliamentarism OUTA calls on Parliament to prioritise implementing the parliamentary reforms urgently needed to block state capture.

The International Day of Parliamentarism was established in 2018 through a United Nations General Assembly Resolution, A/RES/72/278. This day is observed on 30 June annually. Parliaments play a pivotal role in upholding democracy, and the absence of a well-functioning and transparent parliamentary system can lead to governmental failures. 

The State Capture Commission’s final report detailed how parliamentarians fell short in their duty to hold the Executive accountable and resist the grip of state capture. Despite public criticism and the damning final report of the State Capture Commission, most parliamentarians have neglected their responsibilities, prioritising party interests over the public interest. Now we watch as the majority of parliamentarians fall short again, by failing to implement the commission’s recommendations or even acknowledging the importance of these in strengthening our democracy.

The majority of our parliamentarians do not seem to grasp that they are a crucial line of defence against organised criminal gangs.

A week ago – on 22 June 2023 – at a conference to mark the year since the commission’s last reports were handed over to the Presidency, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said that if there was another attempt at state capture, Parliament would fail to prevent it. He was also emphatic that state capture had placed South Africa’s democracy at risk.

Parliament’s presiding officers subsequently met the Chief Justice, apparently to object to his comments, and then – finally – they updated the public on the progress of their implementation plan. We note that the presiding officers publicly stated that “Parliament remains fully committed to implementing the State Capture Commission’s recommendations”. However, we believe there is still insufficient progress and we are concerned at Parliament’s apparently inability to understand the need for urgent and substantive action against bad governance.

OUTA has closely monitored Parliament's activities and we believe that the institution’s lack of interest in blocking state capture and entrenched corruption continues to pose a significant threat to our democracy. In our annual Parliamentary Oversight Reports, OUTA has repeatedly identified alarming deficiencies in portfolio committees, exposing a lack of constituency work, ministerial absences from committee meetings, and a tendency to rubber-stamp Executive decisions. The cumulative effect of these shortcomings erodes public trust and undermines the integrity of Parliament as an institution.

Parliament did not itself initiate any action following the commission’s reports, but waited until President Ramaphosa submitted his response to the commission’s report to Parliament in October 2022. Unfortunately, President Ramaphosa's response to the report fell short of expectations, leaving OUTA disappointed in his lack of decisive action.

While the National Assembly’s Rules Committee is apparently leading the work on the commission’s recommendations, this appears to have resulted in repeated and not particularly insightful discussions on the same issues at the expense of action. In November 2022, this committee finally presented its 31-page implementation plan, acknowledging the commission's recommendations and outlining steps to address them. This plan aims to reinforce oversight mechanisms within Parliament and address the critical interface between the Executive and Parliament. While this is a step in the right direction, the true measure of Parliament's commitment to change lies in its execution and effectiveness. More than six months since the presentation of the implementation plan, it is still unclear what actions Parliament has taken.

At the same time, we see a deluge of information running through Parliament which repeatedly underlines state failures, which is read and rubber-stamped but rarely used to improve governance.

Parliament must address the commission's recommendations on reinforcing Parliament's oversight and accountability mandate. But Parliament has resisted implementing oversight over the President and, while complaining there isn’t enough money to fund oversight, is happy to hand over extra funds to political parties. Parliament must also ensure that other recommendations requiring rewritten or new legislation and new oversight bodies are processed through Parliament. Some of these matters are urgent, for example, the need for better protection for whistleblowers and for improved oversight over the appointment of state-owned entity boards, CEOs and CFOs. Again, talk but no action while SOEs implode.

MPs must uphold high ethical standards, act with integrity, and prioritise the public interest over party politics. The manner in which Parliament deals with these recommendations will reflect its commitment to these principles. The people of South Africa expect Parliament to take substantive actions, not just superficial gestures.

OUTA will monitor Parliament’s performance in fulfilling its oversight duties and ensuring the implementation of the commission’s recommendations.

Parliament holds the key to strengthening democracy and restoring public trust in South Africa. The Zondo Commission’s recommendations must not be ignored or superficially addressed. Parliament’s true commitment to the public interest will be revealed through tangible actions and a resolute stance against state capture. 

Public should always come before Party, and this will be evidenced by the manner in which Parliament deals with the Zondo recommendations. Parliamentarians can decide, will they do so superficially, or will they do so substantially? The verdict is out.

More information
A soundclip with comment by OUTA's Parliamentary Engagement and Research Manager, Rachel Fischer, is here
The UN General Assembly Resolution to observe the International Day of Parliamentarism is here.

To read more on OUTA's Parliamentary Oversight Reports, visit here.
To read OUTA's "Combatting Corruption and Maladministration in the South African Public Sector: Tips for Members of Parliament", visit here.

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