Our legislature deserves praise for the speedy manner in which we adapted to the COVID crisis by moving over to a virtual platform to continue the work of this House.
I believe that we were the first legislature to have virtual committee meetings and virtual sittings. It is good for our legislature to be able to lead the way in this regard. Similarly, there was public access to our sittings through our social media channels, and the strides we are making in this area is commended.
Unfortunately, what this pandemic has also exposed is what we already knew but has made the situation a lot worse, and that is our legislature IT infrastructure. This is in urgent need of a total overhaul. All members have experienced problems when the server goes down, and we do not receive legislature emails. In this day and age, it cannot be that members must resort to using private email addresses to receive communication from this House.
Coupled with server problems is the file size of emails. The file size of emails can only be around 4MB in order to be circulated through the legislature emails. It makes it virtually impossible, excuse the pun, for extensive reports to be circulated. The upload speed is about 2MB, and the download speed about 4MB per second. This is archaic.
In many homes throughout the province, a download speed of 20mb/s is standard. We urgently need to move away from SITA and find a service provider that can bring us full speed into the ambit of the fourth industrial revolution. The situation was so bad last week that payments could not be made. Imagine the catastrophe if it was payday!
We need to face facts, the system is broken and needs a total overhaul if we are to have a capable Legislature.
We are also facing massive budget constraints this year, and these constraints have resulted in a decline in the legislature’s budget. When one compares the previous financial year to the current one, the budget went from R608 million to R553 million, a decline of R55 170 000.
This decline has vast implications on how we do our business. It cannot be business as usual, and it also cannot be that we cut back on MPL tools of trade and resources to meet our COE budget.
I have been warning for many years that we are on track to end up being an employment agency with very little money being left over for the core business of this House. The current financial crisis in South Africa has now exacerbated this trend.
We need a total relook at the number of people employed in this legislature and the tasks they are performing. We need to have a plan in place that we can restructure the organization in a more cost-effective manner as people leave. There can’t be any holy cows when we do this. We need to fix this spiraling COE cost as a percentage of the legislature budget so that core business is not marginalized completely.
The next point I would like to look at is the issue of the district oversight model. When this was introduced, it was to comply with the strict COVID regulations when you were basically confined to your district boundary. The recent oversight being conducted by the economic cluster has exposed the total flaws in this model.
The way it is being implemented now makes absolutely no sense and reminds me of Soviet-style central planning gone wrong. For example, it makes no sense for members of the economic affairs committee to have to do public works oversight in Graaff-Reinet, when the economic affairs committee is busy looking at issues at other parts of the province.
Members who are not members of these portfolio committees cannot add the same amount of value and expertise as those who have been a part of these portfolio committees for many years.
How are you supposed to participate in the House Debates or the reports drawn up in the committee if you haven’t gone on that oversight? The quality of our work will suffer and committee chairs are being compromised.
I believe that this model at the height of COVID had some logic to it, but going forward, we need to return to the ordinary way in which we have done oversight, which was always done by the members of the relevant portfolio committee. It would make no sense for me to go on a Health Oversight visit in the Sarah Baartman district when other members are going on safety and security oversight in Alfred Nzo.
What happens if there aren’t members available of that portfolio committee in that particular district? I, therefore, believe that this manner in which the district oversight model is currently operating needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and the relevant members of the portfolio committee go on the appropriate oversight.
What I suspect is that this legislature oversight model is not just a response to the COVID but actually a response to the proposed district development model of the ANC which is being piloted in the OR Tambo district municipality. One cannot use the pandemic to smuggle in a new way of operating which has no constitutional standing. MPLs were not elected to represent districts, but the whole province.
Our oversight work cannot be marginalized in this way. The way in which this oversight model is operating in practice is illogical and irrational in the current circumstances. It is like trying to force a square block into a round hole, it will never work.
Another issue that needs to be addresses is the security of the legislature, particularly the back entrance. When I first came to this House in 1999, you were given a card that opened doors.
The legislature needs to return to its usual way of operating, and the rollout of the vaccine process needs to be expedited so that this House can get back to its normal functioning. We have a constitutional duty to conduct vigorous oversight to bring about change in the Eastern Cape to create hope for a better future for all its residents.
The DA is committed to getting things done.