Legislature meetings unconstitutional if not accessible to the public

Issued by Bobby Stevenson, MPL
DA Leader in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature

Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature meetings could be deemed unconstitutional and the decisions taken therein overturned if they are not opened to the public.

I have written to the Speaker, Helen Sauls August, in relation to her press release of 5 May, where she highlighted the fact that the Legislature is conducting its business through virtual meetings and is accessible to the media and civil society organisations.

Download Letter.

The Democratic Alliance is not satisfied that this goes far enough. We believe that the Legislature needs to go one step further, as compelled by section 118 of the Constitution, which says Legislature meetings must be open to the public.

We need to comply with the Constitution. If we don’t the decisions of the Legislature can be deemed invalid.

This is also emphasised in Rule 33 of the Legislature that sets out that Legislature must conduct its business in an open, transparent manner, and must hold sittings and committees in public.

The Western Cape Parliament, which has also moved to using virtual meetings during the Covid-19 lockdown, livestreams all meetings. They are using the same platform as the Eastern Cape Legislature, namely Microsoft Teams.

An example of how this would work, would be the live streaming of a Western Cape Parliament house sitting today at 14:15, which can be followed here https://www.wcpp.gov.za/node/7955

We are entering into the budget cycle, where committees are discussing and will be passing departmental budgets. Unless we are constitutionally compliant, we run the risk of the budget being declared invalid, which would then impact on all the decisions that flow from it.

Being accessible to the media and civil society organisations, while a step in the right direction, does not translate into being accessible to all.

Although the Speaker has expressed her support of live streaming the business of the Legislature, this is still to happen.

I have constantly raised this issue in numerous legislature meetings, as I believe it will enhance participatory democracy and allow members of the public who live in diverse parts of the Eastern Cape, to be able to hear what’s happening in the Legislature.

The Democratic Alliance believes that accountability cannot come to a standstill during a time of crisis, it is vital that we adapt to the situation, and use innovation and technology to carry on with the work of the Legislature.