This year has been an important year with regard to the celebration of a birth that took place a hundred years ago. On the 7th November 1917, well-known anti-apartheid activist, human rights activist, former Member of Parliament and founder member of the Progressive Federal Party, Helen Suzman was born. The Democratic Alliance celebrates her life, honours her legacy and remembers her immense contribution to a free democratic South Africa. She devoted her life to the fight against apartheid and was a lone voice against apartheid in the old parliament between 1961- 1974.
A person once had this to say of her in 1963,
“In moments of creeping frustration and tiredness, please pick up courage and strength in the fact that thousands of South Africans, especially amongst the oppressed section, thank God for producing Helen, for her manly stand against injustice regardless of consequence.
Forever remember you are a bright star in a dark chamber where lights of liberty of what is left are going out one by one. Not only ourselves – your contemporaries but also posterity will hold you in high esteem.”
That is an extract from a letter sent by Albert John Lutuli, which was written to Helen Suzman, on the 6th May 1963.
For those of you who know your history well, you will know that Chief Albert Lutuli, was the President of the African National Congress at the time. I mention this because often there is an attempt to airbrush the role of liberals in the struggle for democracy in South Africa out of the history books.
I knew Helen Suzman well, I worked with her and I’m proud of the international recognition and the numerous human rights awards which she received for her stand against a system of brutal injustice at the time.
There are a number of matters which the Democratic Alliance would like to emphasise that are contained in both the annual report and the mid-term financial oversight report.
In the annual report, the issue of irregular expenditure of R10 million was highlighted for the previous financial year. This was due to non-compliance with procurement requirements as reported by the auditor general. This can be linked to the vacancy rate of 38% in the supply chain management unit as well as the 48% vacancy rate in the finance unit for the previous financial year. It is imperative that these units are properly staffed if we are to avoid irregular expenditure and to ensure that due financial processes are followed in the legislature.
When one looks at the financial oversight report for the current financial year the committee noted that the financial management sub-programme still has a worryingly high vacancy rate. It seems that some of the issues from the previous financial year have yet to be fixed in this financial year. This cannot be allowed to continue.
One of the important issues that the Democratic Alliance is concerned about is the questions issue in the legislature. We welcome the fact that a person has now been appointed in Hansard from the 1 October 2017, to deal with this matter. We also express appreciation to the Speaker for the manner in which she responded to the letter from our Chief Whip, raising certain concerns in this regard and also her willingness to address the matter.
Going forward, however, we expect the management of this institution to be pro-active when it comes to the management of the questions unit. By this, we mean ensuring that unanswered questions are placed in the order paper which has not been answered within the time frame as prescribed by the rules. I do not remember this happening once this year. The rules specifically provide for this and we want to see the management of this institution ensure that the rule is enforced.
Another concern that the Democratic Alliance has regarding the questions issue is the quality of some of the answers. Officials also need to be pro-active in monitoring the quality of the answers given and to interact with the various departments when they feel that this is not the case. These questions and answers are the intellectual property of the legislature and do not simply belong to the persons or party that asked the question.
I have asked the members of my party who are unhappy with the quality of answers, to provide the evidence of such so that our chief whip can submit a letter to the speaker. The reason why I raise these issues is because we need to build an institutional culture in this legislature that will stand the test of time for decades to come, no matter what party is in government.
It is possible given the current political dynamics, that there could well be a new coalition government in this province, post-2019. We would want to ensure that it is held accountable, even if one may well be part of it.
Aligned to this is another issue, and that is relating to the state of research that is placed before the legislature. This was a matter that enjoyed the committee’s attention and we note that there is a senior manager for research as well as 18 researchers in the legislature. For some time, some members including myself have queried the content of the research. In some cases, but not all, it lacks in-depth analysis and comparative analysis. It is often not suggestive and forward-looking in nature. Initially, I felt that maybe this is possibly the fault of individual researchers, but on deeper reflection, it is rather a demonstration of the institutional culture that prevails in the legislature.
I believe that the prevailing culture is that researchers should not rock the boat and come up with any analysis or information that possibly puts the governing party in a poor light. If a culture of fear predominates in an institution then there is not going to be an atmosphere of freedom.
My party is fully committed to the value of freedom. What freedom means, is being able to express an opinion without fear. We need to encourage such an atmosphere in this legislature, particularly amongst our officials. If we expect our officials to only tell us what you want to hear then those officials are never going to give you the correct advice and direction that you might possibly need because they will be in fear of losing their jobs.
It is only the most courageous of individuals that will tell somebody what they don’t want to hear, even if it is the truth. We need to change the institutional culture in this regard.
Another issue that concerns the Democratic Alliance is the shortage of funding for core business. This institution does not have the funds going forward that it requires for all the oversight work that needs to be undertaken. I would appeal to our senior officials to ensure that going forward the budget is adjusted to ensure that this receives greater prioritisation.
Members are also deeply concerned with regard to the maintenance of their houses and also particularly when burglaries take place. Members living outside the parliamentary complex generally feel unsafe in their homes. It often takes weeks to fix broken locks and in areas where there has been forced entry. It should be the job of the institution to regularly monitor the progress of public works in this regard and should not just be simply left to the members to raise these issues on a continuous basis.