Now that the 6th democratic Parliament of the Republic has been constituted, the newly inducted Honourable Members of Parliament would do well to take stock of the failures of the 5th democratic Parliament. It is not controversial to say the latter made many mistakes, either through omission or by commission. A review of the last term of this august institution will assist the new honourables to better discharge their constitutional obligations and fulfil the mandate conferred by voters on 08 May 2019. Principally, they must make sensible laws and hold public office bearers accountable.
The failure by Parliament to hold the Executive to account in the past has cost the country in a big way. Because of the glaring failures of this arm of the state to conduct its constitutional oversight role, it had become necessary for the Judiciary to step in to facilitate accountability and act as a first line of defence against policy over-reach and disdain for accountability. Loyalty to party factions created an untenable situation where Members of Parliament bit their tongues on ruinous policy proposals and contemptible behaviour towards the institution of Parliament by members of the Executive to safeguard their political survival at the expense of the public. We all remember instances where former Ministers Bathabile Dlamini and Faith Muthambi failed to appear before Parliamentary Committees and no consequence befell them.
Recently, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo stated that he is to appoint a task team to investigate Parliament for its failure to execute its oversight role to prevent the looting of taxpayers’ money. This follows testimony by various individuals regarding the repeated disregard for information sent to Parliament on cases of corruption and maladministration that occurred within various state institutions.
The visa regulations and Mining Charter debacles are an example of the destructive power of ill-considered policies that a properly functioning Parliament should be able to push back against. In both cases, South Africa lost out on much needed revenue and potential investments. The reputational damage incurred is going to take a very long time to undo, especially in a world in which the country’s competitiveness is fast eroding because of the emergence of strong competition for scarce investment across the developing world. President Ramaphosa is making an earnest effort to recast the narrative about the country. His drive to attract US$100 billion in investment into the economy is a good start. However, it needs to be underpinned by strong institutions, of which Parliament is one of the most important.
Even though it is the Executive through the respective government departments that is largely responsible for policy initiatives, it is Parliament’s role to make laws and hold the Government to account for its policies, actions, and spending. Therefore, Parliament cannot simply accept whatever is proposed by the executive and pass it without the necessary scrutiny and sense-checking processes. Perhaps to show the level of disdain the Executive has for Parliament, the former Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was bold enough to warn MPs against being captured in then pending introduction of the amendment bill for the Tobacco Products Control Act. In essence, the Minister was expressing an expectation that Parliamnet would simply rubberstamp the thinking of his Department without taking a critical stance on its proposals. That Parliament has a role to ensure that laws make sense was completely lost on the Minister, as, with time, it has come to be expected that Parliament will support Executive proposals even when doing so defies logic.
In the last months of the 5th parliament, there was a great hurry to pass legislation and one wonders if parliament thoroughly considered those bills before passing them to the President. Prevailing unhappiness about the Copyright Amendment Bill awaiting the President’s signature perhaps indicates that old habits may have outflanked common sense once more. What the President makes of the mess he has been dealt is a matter of serious interest.
Members of the 6th democratic Parliament should at all times remember that beyond their respective political parties, they are the voices of the millions of South Africans and they should strive to act in their interest at all times. Now more than ever, their role becomes that much important in ensuring that clean up operations in government are supported and any law proposals are to the benefit of the majority and not of sabotage to our ailing economy.