Speaker and honourable members. I would like to start off by quoting the words of the former President of India Pratiba Patil “Parliament of the country is the repository of the sovereign will of the people, and its successful functioning is a joint responsibility of both the government and the Opposition.” These words must set our pace and ring true throughout this 6th parliament. As we strive to be more responsive to the ever-changing demands of this great nation.
Parliaments output requires a larger budget
The people of South Africa must look up to parliament as an apex institution and gain respect for it through the quality of work that passes through it and its ability to fulfil its mandate. Parliament, as an institution, must be seen as a singular arm of state that must encompass a plethora of views, whilst working together with other arms of state, to ensure the fulfilment of its mandate and ultimately that of the State. Therefore, the current budget of parliament must be directed in a manner that seeks to achieve responsiveness, information and accountability for both government and members of parliament.
In order to achieve this, parliament must be fully capacitated in all aspects. This requires a larger budget that is more focused in achieving the goals of accountability, oversight and enacting legislation.
Security of Public Sittings
Firstly, we must look at security of parliament as a public institution, during committees or plenaries sittings. Last week we saw an incident where the budget vote on public enterprises descended into chaos. The chaos ensued when honourable members tried to intimidate another member of this house and a minister of this country. Honourable speaker, I do not wish to debate the merits of the action at this point, but rather highlight the issue that the chairperson had to sound numerous calls for security before they entered. If indeed the situation escalated quickly leading to a physical attack, the situation could have been much worse with members of public, members of parliament and the honourable Minister being subjected to physical and violent attack. We highlight the slow response time before parliament security became visible on scene and therefore, propose the presence of at least one parliament security officer in each committee or plenary that sits. They must have access to request assistance through use of wireless technology such as radios.
Greater Sanction for Members demonstrating lack of respect
On the point of unparliamentary behaviour, we need to develop through the rules committee, a formula that ensures the punishment fits the crime. In other words, incidents like that which occurred during the Public Enterprises budget vote debate must be investigated fully and be followed with harsher consequences. To this end, the IFP welcomes the action taken by the Honourable speaker in this regard.
Accountability of the Executive
Secondly, but keeping with the idea of accountability, Parliament must not fail in its principle duty of holding the executive to account. We find courts pronouncing on matters decided in parliament, sometimes citing the unconstitutionality of laws we have passed. The 6th parliament must focus on this, its principle duty, and exercise extreme vigilance. Parliament must be able to find resolutions to issues before they reach the courts and exercise its powers to hold the executive to account. NGO’s have also been successful in taking up matters with the courts forcing parliament to take corrective action. We value the role of Civil Society in this regard.
Furthermore, Portfolio Committees should be holding executive to account, they have broad powers to summon any person/s to appear before them. The failure in fulfilling this responsibility lens itself to the establishment of ad hoc committees and commissions. Portfolio committees have every right and power to interrogate departments to the nth degree. A 3hr meeting of a portfolio committee to interrogate an issue is not meaningful participation in order to achieve resolutions and actions. More time needs to be allocated for committee meetings.
Infrastructure upgrades (IT, Video Conferencing and Squash Courts)
Honourable speaker we are awaiting your update on the moving of parliaments location and request a final answer soon. We need an answer in order to determine whether more investment is needed on the current location or whether we need to plan investment elsewhere. If we are to stay in the current location, we need to focus on several issues that need attention. We recognise that this is a period of exercising tight controls and tightening our belts with budget allocations. We believe that all must be done to ensure that budgets are stretched, and the money is invested wisely. However, some of parliament’s infrastructure is seriously compromised lacking in maintenance, development and reform. We need to look to the long-term future of parliament
The IT infrastructure in insufficient for current usage volumes. This is a simple tool of trade that all Members and support staff must be able to access for greater efficiency and outputs. Often MPs are provided with tools of trades and are left in the dark without knowing how to effectively use them in order to assist the migration to a paperless or more paper friendly environment. Recently, the IFP upgraded its parliamentary IT systems and we were told that parliament’s infrastructure could not cope and is behind by an estimated three years. This is not the fault of the staff but rather rests with compromised infrastructure. We request an urgent investigation into the infrastructure needed to ensure that parliament is a player in the 4th industrial revolution.
Finally, speaker, as president of Parliament’s Squash Club, I plead for the maintenance and upgrade of the squash courts. We host visiting teams that play against us here and there is a need to maintain our standards. The same can be said for the Ablution Facilities and a properly equipped clinic.
Points for further discussion
Staff Morale – Human Resources issues
Finalisation of Matter of Secretary to Parliament
Interpretation services- Challenges in Mini- Plenaries
The IFP support this budget but calls for greater investment on the abovementioned areas.
Mr N. Singh,
IFP MP and Chief Whip