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The South African Legislative Sector’s (Sals’) Legacy Summit currently under way at Parliament explored the road that the sector has travelled, the challenges it has encountered and its future as one of the equal arms of the state. Not the one that plays an auxiliary role to the judiciary and the executive. This was underlined by both discussants of the “Reflections on Governance in Legislative Sector Environments” topic, the Head of Cooperation, European Union (EU) Delegation to South Africa, Mr Bernard Rey and the Speaker of the Eastern Cape Legislature, Ms Noxolo Kiviet.

In his address, Mr Rey underscored the fact that the South African Legislative Sector is one of their most formidable partners as EU Parliament. “Of the 200 million Euros funding they disbursed to their partners, most of them went to South African Legislative Sector.”

This because the sector abides by EU’s interests in promoting accountable and transparent institutions, including Parliaments, and foster participatory decision-making and public access to information, which the sector epitomises.

He hailed the sector as unique for coming with unique models. "The existence of a legislative sector provides a clear focus on the importance of the legislative institutions as anchors of the democratic state, and on the need for the sector to develop consistently rather than on a legislature by legislature basis."

According to him, it has set an example that is an envy to other legislatures. And we are “proud of its innovative approach in instilling participatory democracy model that is envied world-wide. Its approach to this concept is regarded as unique in the world. It, therefore, can be proud of what it has achieved ever since its inception”.

However, the main challenge it is still faced with, he pointed out, is to maximize its openness, to enact policies that are timely, effective and coherent to ensure that they have a capability to demand accountability from the executive and state institutions over which they exercise oversight.

“This is even more significant if one takes into account that South Africa is still faced with its contemporary challenges and of the legacy of apartheid.”

EU partnership with the South African Legislative Sector will yield a new agreement on the inception of the programme that will enable the sector to leverage technology when conducting its work. According to him, “the EU centre for innovation p a catalyst to this initiative. Its aim is to promote the efficiency of Members of Parliament and the secretaries of committees.”

The second discussant, the Speaker off the Eastern Cape Legislature, Ms Noxolo Kiviet, was quick to commend the EU for its relentless support to the sector. In the same breath, she was emphatic in stating that the need for the sector to apply both a horizontal and vertical forms of oversight is most desirable. Especially if one considers the centrality of Parliament’s role in advancing democracy. “As such, we are key to the meaningful change in the lives of our people.”

She said more importantly, the national Parliament is a key “structure that links society with the other arms of the state”.

But in her view, this sector has experienced pressure due to the multi-party nature of our democracy, the civil society culture that demands that our Parliament must represent diverse interests while promoting accountability.

Despite that, the sector has not relented on its responsibility to conduct its horizontal oversight responsibility to conduct accountability to ensure that the judicial obligations, service delivery imperatives are by the executive are met, the state-owned enterprises are run effectively and efficiently. As such, she pondered, “our Parliament enjoins the three arms of the state. And Parliament’s role is to ensure that they all contribute to the vision of a non-racial, non-sexist democratic Parliament”.

According to her, one of the achievements of the sector in the last four years is its introduction of the South African Legislative Sector Bill. This is aimed at coordinating its “financial management in line with the King’s Report on Cooperative Governance – to ensure that this is done in line with the principles of good governance”.

She underlined the centrality of Parliament in their country’s electoral system. “It is Parliament that determines the size and seats of various political parties, which in turn determine their relationship with their respective societies.”    

But most importantly, Parliament’s character is the reflection of our society. “If we have a corrupt society, we will have a corrupt Parliament.”

Narrating the sector’s achievements, she further cited the sector’s inception of the High Level Panel, its involvement in regional, continental and international forums to exact their discourses.

But in all its dealings, the sector seeks to promote the ideals of the National Development Plan and the African Agenda as pillars of its strategic focus in its multilateral involvement. “Through our work we have given meaning to the existence of these institutions.”     

In her view, a need exists to revisit the notion of a developmental state and the delineation of Parliament’s role in this regard. “We should determine as legislatures whether are we embracing the attributes of a developmental state or not.”

The principal role that the executive plays in appropriating the national budget to other arms of the state is now coming under scrutiny from the sector, she declared. “The overseer cannot be told by the one he or she is overseeing how much money it needs to spend to oversee him or her. What we demand is the mutual respect of the sector as one of the arms of the state. What we have declared to the National Treasury is that we need space to determine our needs and to be allocated adequate resources to conduct our oversight mandate with due diligence accordingly.”

If this is not addressed, Parliament runs a risk of losing its legitimacy. “We can least afford a situation in which people would start losing confidence in our ability to represent them effectively and efficiently.”         

By Abel Mputing

28 November 2018