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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Presentation to the National Council of the Provinces National Conference by Oupa Bodibe Researcher, COSATU Parliamentary Office on Legislatures and Public Participation

8 May 1998, Cape Town


  1. Introduction
  2. The experience of the COSATU Parliamentary Office

    1. Historical Overview
    2. Problems faced by the Parliamentary Office

  3. Relationship with the National Council of Provinces and the Provincial Legislatures
  4. Conclusion

    1. Introduction

    • COSATU extends its heartfelt gratitude to the organisers for inviting us to this important gathering. We would like to share with you our experience with regard to public participation over the past years.
    • The Freedom Charter declared that the "the people shall govern". This vision of the Freedom Charter underpins the Reconstruction and Development Programme and the Constitution. For, instance the Reconstruction and Development Programme contends that "democracy requires that all South Africans have access to power and the right to exercise their power. This will ensure that all people will be able to participate in the process of restructuring our country." At the core of our Constitution is a commitment to an open and democratic society. This will be given further meaning through the Open Democracy Bill once it becomes law.
    • At the core of this vision is the notion that people should participate in shaping their destiny, rather than participate episodically once in every five years when they vote. The last four years of democratic rule have seen the concrete expression to the notion of public or peopleís participation in the legislative and policy-making processes. Therefore the installation of the first democratic government, and legislatures have opened the space to those who were historically blocked from the decision-making structures of our society. Public participation should be seen as deepening democracy rather than overburdening it.
    • The experience of the COSATU Parliamentary office represents an example of the relationship between organs of civil society and legislatures. This experience highlights the critical challenge facing organs of civil society in their engagement with the legislatures and structures of governance. As a starting point, it is essential to recount this experience, for it offers a window through which we can see the relationship between legislatures.
    1. The experience of the COSATU Parliamentary Office

      1. Historical Overview

        • From 1994 - 95, our responses to government processes were largely based on crisis management. We reacted to the most urgent requests for COSATU input on an ad-hoc basis. By the end of 1994 the COSATU Executive recognised the need to set up a dedicated parliamentary office in Cape Town. This would enhance our ability to develop a proactive, ongoing capacity to deal with the challenges arising in parliament, and in respect of governance more generally.
        • In October 1995 we established a parliamentary office to meet these objectives. Its main responsibility is to prepare well-researched submissions on policy and legislation on behalf of COSATU. The strategic thrust of our interventions is to ensure worker-friendly laws and policies as well as to advance our transformation agenda. We made a substantive input in the Constitution-making process, and since then we have made numerous interventions around legislation and policy. Our submissions present concrete proposals and where necessary offer alternatives. In our operation, we have come to the realisation that making submissions is not adequate: it has to be supplemented by personal interaction with MPs and with government in general.
      1. Problems faced by the Parliamentary Office

        • We have faced several problems in our operation - which underline the challenges faced by organs of civil society - and would like to share a few with you today.
        • One of the critical problems which has been identified is the fact that the formulation of policies has often been driven by unelected technocrats, consultants and those from the old bureaucracy. This technocrat-driven process meant that a number of policies have been determined without the input from mass organisations. In addition to having to attempt to reverse some of this, we confronted the entrenched presence of numerous business operations, both around parliament and in Ministries.
        • Therefore, we found ourselves pitted against powerful vested interests, especially those linked to business, who have access to huge resources, operate behind the scenes, and, as such, are not open to public scrutiny. In order to make public participation meaningful, it is imperative that this skewed access to resources does not perpetuate the inequalities and hinder the participation of other stakeholders. This is a critical challenge facing legislatures throughout the country. The last four years is replete with examples of the innovative strategies employed by various committees to reach out to those who lack the necessary resources to travel to Cape Town. An example is the provincial hearings organised by the Portfolio Committee on Welfare in 1997 around the Child Maintenance Grant. The National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures can play a significant role in bringing government closer to the people.
        • Given our limited capacity, we are not able always to be proactive and participate in the earliest stages of policy formulation. In a number of instances, the result of engaging at the tail-end of the policy process has been that we find ourselves supported by parliamentary committees (driven by ANC MPs), in proposing a different policy direction from that of the Department. While this can lead to a shift in government approach, in others it leads to a stalemate, with parliamentary committee supporting one approach, and the government or the Department sticking to their. This further raises the question of the capacity of the committees themselves to interrogate policy and legislation and offer alternatives. The research capacity of Committees is very limited and this hampers their ability to develop alternatives, and they therefore fall back on Departments. This further strengthens technocrat-driven processes.
        • Further, there is the problem of the accessibility of the legislatures. Access is a broad term and includes among other elements access to accurate and timeous information around legislation, policy, the programmes of the legislature and access to records of meetings, access to the buildings of the legislature and so on. We rely heavily on the consistent and predictable flow of information. Receiving information late puts us under enormous pressure to produce submissions, and often we have taken the decision not to participate. Due to limited personnel capacity, we are unable to monitor meetings of the all the committees and of the national assembly, and thus we rely on records of meetings. Committee meetings are largely not recorded and this presents us with difficulties of tracking what has been resolved or discussed in committees. Committees are the heart of parliament and it is imperative that records of their proceedings are kept. It is therefore essential that Committee Chairperson taking proactive steps to inform organisations on time as well as provide them with the programme of the Committee.
        • Despite these problems, we were able to combine a strategy of organisational mobilisation together with direct engagement in processes of governance. We are beginning to be more proactive, in engaging in the early part of the policy formulation phase, rather than reacting when it is too late. This is a function, partly of the increased levels of organisation of our parliamentary operation and the fact that we are better placed to react more quickly, as well as the preparedness of some Ministries and Committees to involve us more actively in processes. Our wide ranging criticisms, for example on the Green Paper on Public Works, has resulted is our being requested to sit on the task team, in order to incorporate our comments into the White Paper, We were similarly requested to second someone onto the task team drafting the Green Paper on Migration.
        • The key question facing us is to ensure that our participation is meaningful, that we harness our capacity to engage effectively. We do not want to see a situation where our participation merely legitimises processes where the Federation has not been properly represented.

    1. Relationship with the National Council of Provinces and the Provincial Legislatures
      • The creation of the National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures created new challenges to the Federation. Hitherto, our regions have had limited interaction with the provincial legislatures, although this is beginning to change. COSATU regions have tended to concentrate on interaction with the Provincial Development Forums. There has also been some interaction on provincial budgets, as well as Provincial Constitutions in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Western Cape. Interaction with the National Council of Provinces process has been minimal. It is essential that we participate in the provincial legislatures and the National Council of Provinces process to consolidate the gains we make at national level as well as ensure that provincial programmes, legislation and policy are worker friendly.
      • Towards the end of 1997 we embarked on a programme to train our nine regions around the structures of governance, the law-making and policy-making process. In these workshops we grappled with the question of how COSATU participates in the policy making process and relate to the structures of governance. We looked more specifically at the challenges thrown up by the creation of the National Council of Provinces.
      • It is important to briefly, share with you what emerged from these workshops.
      • Notwithstanding the fact that the participants in these workshops were people who are relatively advanced, there was limited awareness as to how the machinery of governance works. People had a vague sense of what we consider as the policy chain i e the relationship between Green Papers, White Papers and how laws emerge from this process.
      • There was limited understanding of the National Council of Provinces and its relationship with provinces, the national assembly and the government more broadly.
      • Furthermore, there was limited understanding of how provincial legislatures work. In some of the regions a concern was raised that provincial legislatures do not provide sufficient information on their programmes. The limited legislation passed by these legislatures was also underlined as a factor that contributes to the lack of dynamism in the provincial legislatures. This is a challenge that provincial legislatures and the National Council of Provinces will have to address.
      • Emerging from the discussion in these workshops were positive and negative perceptions on the role of the National Council of Provinces. On the positive side it was realised that the National Council of Provinces can play an important role in deepening democracy and ensuring the national integrity of our country. It provides a vehicle through which civil society and provinces can engage with national legislation and policy, and to ensure that national policy is sensitised to regional/provincial dynamics. For COSATU it can provide a mechanism to consolidate the gains made at the National Assembly level as well as challenge policy and legislation that is not in favour of workers.
      • On the negative side the National Council of Provinces was viewed in many of our regions as a complex and unnecessary structure. It was seen to be prolonging the legislative process and thus holding ransom the delivery of basic services. At a practical level it was believed that participating in the National Council of Provinces has pitfalls, including the danger of fragmenting national policy and promoting regionalism. Due to the perception that it has cumbersome legislative cycle there was also a fear that the National Council of Provinces process can run down the capacity of the organisation.
      • Against this background a number of ideas emerged as to how we should engage with the National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures.
        • First, it was proposed that COSATU would need to establish provincial organisational structures to engage with the legislative process.
        • Secondly, COSATU regions would have to identify people who will attend committee meetings to monitor their proceedings.
        • Thirdly, Regional Office Bearers will have to peruse the information and programmes of provincial legislatures to identify areas where COSATU should make input.
        • Fourthly, regions should get Bills and Policies once these are tabled in the National Assembly so as to have a sense of what will come to provinces via the National Council of Provinces. Therefore information flow will be critical to empowering our regions to participate in the National Council of Provinces process and in the provincial legislatures.
      • It was also proposed that we should organise a workers parliament along the lines of the youth parliaments that were organised in the last year. The purpose of such an event would be to give workers hand-on practical experience in how the National Assembly functions, the role of the National Council of Provinces and how provincial legislatures function. At a provincial level this will be complemented by provincial focus days where our members will attend provincial legislatures to gain the experience on how these structures work as well as establish contact with committees and the speakerís office in the province.
      • There are ongoing discussions within the Federation as to how best to respond to challenges arising from the National Council of Provinces and the provincial legislatures. In a nutshell, COSATUís relationship with the National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures is an evolving one and we will use the lessons gained in our interaction with the National Assembly to craft strategies for engagement.
      • We are looking at setting up a national database, together with other NGOs to assist us in tracking legislative processes in National Council of Provinces and various provinces. We believe that this us something the National Council of Provinces itself should seriously consider taking in to enable civil society to participate effectively

    1. Conclusion

    • In conclusion, momentous challenges lie ahead in our endeavour to deepen democracy and creating an enabling environment for public participation.
    • First, the accessibility of legislatures has to be addressed. Key in this is the need for accurate and prompt information, which is essential to ensure public participation. It is therefore crucial that the tagging mechanism for Bills be effective to expedite the flow of information around legislation.
    • Secondly, there is a need to deepen consciousness on the structures of governance, how they relate to each other; how policy and legislation is formulated and how the public can participate in influencing policy and legislation. Thirdly, we need creative and innovate mechanisms to overcome the skewed distribution of resources with its resultant disparities in the participation of various stakeholders.
    • Finally, the capacity of Committees in the National Assembly, National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures should be enhanced to empower them to offer alternatives as well as interrogate policy and legislation.