Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As we fast approach the general election, I would like to appeal for a restoration of honesty and integrity in our public life upon seven principles:
selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
After years of moral drift and decline, our society is in desperate need of renewal, fresh leadership and new ideas. Trust in government and democratic institutions has collapsed. Opinion polls show many people believe parliament has become a rubber stamp. Voters cannot hold representatives responsible because of the party list system, in which MPs are accountable to party leaders rather than constituencies.
In short, public confidence seems to be at an all time low. The American President Theodore Roosevelt famously said that "unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity".
There are a number of important steps which must be taken to promote honesty and ethical standards in our public life. One, we must promote greater integrity through our watchdog bodies and vigorously protect our independent institutions.
Over the last few years, we have seen multiple examples of the baleful effects of bribery, corruption and relative morality in public life. Parliament has woefully failed to exercise a meaningful oversight role over the executive's incursions into the
One of the most alarming developments over the last two years has been the ceding of the control of individual courts in executive hands, contrary to the constitution's clear stipulation on separation of powers. Although not perfect, the judiciary - especially at the highest level, the Constitutional Court - has done more than any other institution to set ethical standards for public life.
Never before, I believe, has this role been as important as it is in today's frenzied political climate in which everything seems to be in flux.
Integrity in political leadership, we must rediscover, means more than speaking out and being persuasive. It means getting results and taking responsibility for the results. Simply put, as one writer put it, there are three aspects: carefully considering what is right, acting on what we believe to be right even at personal cost and inconvenience, and making a public stand.
Finally, promoting integrity also requires humility – a precious commodity conspicuously absent from our public life. This means grasping that any one individual is not as important as the greater good and that truth is more important than one's reputation and ambitions.
This brings me directly to the importance of choosing the right political representatives for the next parliament session. The new President and government will inherit a political landscape blighted by sectional divisions and a nation fatigued by scandal and corruption. SA requires steely political will to take on the challenge posed to our people by poverty, social exclusion, job creation and HIV/Aids and related opportunistic infections.
The next parliament, I believe, is likely to be the most challenging and treacherous yet as the composition of this new intake is likely to reflect the reality of these divisions. I predict that the ruling party will lose its iron grip on its increasing restive members and the parliamentary discourse will, as a consequence, be more vibrant and open. This is a good thing as it will promote proper policy debate and enhanced accountability.
The times ahead are likely to be bleak and hard as South Africa steers a course in the shadow of the global recession and the pressing challenges at home. The South African people are at least entitled to expect, from those elected to represent us, the highest levels of honesty, integrity and candour.
On the matter of the member's work ethic (a concern which is often expressed), I must add that people should not be overly concerned when they see few members sitting in the House. MPs serve on around 50 parliamentary committees. One must also remember that the Legislative Assembly has a constituency role and MPs spend (or should be spending) a good deal of time caring for the needs of their constituents.
I have always been fascinated by how prime ministers in parliamentary democracies have to develop a thorough understanding of issues that are important to members. They could be asked about a hospital, factory or school in any given constituency by an exertive MP. And that is what I hope to see in the new parliament.
I would also like to mention again a few suggestions of how Parliament could strengthen its representation role to bridge the democratic deficit between members and constituents in the new parliament.
i. Establish an electronic MP locator;
ii. Teach MP's how to write crisp parliamentary questions and present petitions on behalf of constituents;
iii. Compel Ministers to answer the questions within ten days;
iv. Compel MP's to hold weekly 'surgeries' in their demarked constituency. This surgery should be in a conveniently located place where local people can bring their problems;
v. A full and transparent annual publication by each political party of how they spend their constituency allocation from the IEC;
vi. Every party represented at Parliament should have a staffer at Parliament and in every constituency to book constituent appointments. The non-political nature of this role must be inculcated amongst MP's and constituents alike;
vii. Members of Parliament telephone numbers should be listed in telephone directories; and,
viii. Ensure that the Parliamentary Ombudsmen tackles cases of Member's maladministration.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 555 7144