Parliament, Friday 15 May 2020 – Today Parliament of the Republic of South Africa marked its 100th virtual meeting of its oversight committees, a significant milestone which demonstrates the resilience, tenacity and agility of the Legislature’s systems to fulfil its Constitutional obligations even under difficult conditions.
The global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent declaration of the state of national disaster, necessitated that Parliament overhauls its programme as well as its oversight, law-making and public involvement systems to ensure its functionality is not compromised. Necessary information and communication technologies were put in place, enabling parliamentarians to connect to the virtual meetings of oversight committees and other parliamentary structures from their homes spread across the country.
Since the resumption of the parliamentary business on Good Friday, when the institution held its first virtual meeting by the health portfolio committee, individual and joint committee meetings of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces have progressively intensified their oversight programme, using online video platforms to hold the Executive to account, particularly on various Covid-19 service delivery related issues.
During this time, Members of Parliament used these committee meetings to ask pointed questions to Ministers and representatives of departments and their entities on issues that include:
- Working conditions and the provision of personal protection equipment to workers,
- Provision of food and shelter and the allegations of corruption and mismanagement,
- Government’s stimulus package for the economy and relief grants for municipalities, including related matters relating to state-owned enterprises, the Solidarity Fund, the cost to the country of the Cuban medical team,
- Gender-based violence,
- Transportation of essential goods,
- Reports on alleged SAPS and SANDF heavy-handedness towards members of the public
The use of technology ensured that Parliament’s constitutional obligations towards the public, of openness, transparency and public involvement – though changed drastically – remained uncompromised during this period of a national lockdown. Parliament facilitated opportunities for members of the public to be “involved” in its business through, amongst others, submissions obtained from civil society organisations and concerns from communities. These were addressed with the Members of the Executive during committee meetings.
All virtual meetings continue to be open to the media and public and are broadcast on a wide range of platforms which includes the Parliament TV Channel, regional TV stations, streaming on YouTube channels and social media, community radio stations and the audio platform Iono.fm. We are thankful to the media, including the national broadcasters, for carrying a significant number of these meetings live to millions of South Africans.
The virtual meetings have not been without challenges, which included poor connectivity, suitable use of online video platforms and recently, the disruption of one meeting. All these challenges are not dissimilar to those parliaments throughout the world are grappling with, and are thus not unique to the South African Parliament. Challenges faced have been addressed and the two Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, are now geared to host their first virtual House sittings on 27 May and 2 June respectively.
Amended rules to cater for virtual meetings, procedures for the management of virtual meetings and guidelines for use of video conferencing platforms were created in preparation for the phasing in of the new communications technology-based means of conducting the business of Parliament.
As we mark the 100th virtual meeting today, we are pleased that public representatives have continued to intensify oversight and accountability through these virtual platforms.
ISSUED BY THE PARLIAMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
Enquiries: Moloto Mothapo 082 370 6930