Time to guard the guardians

2014-09-03 13:45

Weighing in on “this independence thing” of chapter 9 institutions, an MP asserted there must be “one country, one voice”.

She was speaking in the recent meeting between State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy and parliamentary committees.

Instead of being vigorously challenged, she was supported by other MPs opposed to chapter 9 institutions criticising government.

Last week, those with political power demonstrated a similar lack of understanding and respect for the independence of chapter 9 institutions.

Among other scathing and dangerous personal attacks, the ANC’s Jesse Duarte and Gwede Mantashe labelled Public Protector Thuli Madonsela a “populist” who is targeting President Jacob Zuma as “her personal project”.

Such attacks on a chapter 9 institution cannot go unchallenged by other chapter?9 institutions as all share joint responsibility for creating a culture of human rights in our country.

When chapter?9 institutions give effect to our mandates, political leaders across the board are entrusted by the Constitution to respond with due respect and to use due process.

Section 181 of chapter?9 of the Constitution asserts that “no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions”. It recognises that our institutions are “independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law”.

In responding to and interrogating the recommendations of the Review of Chapter 9 and Associated Institutions (popularly known as the “Asmal report”), Parliament has to address the reality of political patronage.

It must scrutinise political influence in selection processes, budgets, as well as Parliament’s role and responsibility to ensure reports of institutions supporting democracy are used to exercise oversight over the executive.

If this is not done, there’s the danger of chapter 9 institutions being weakened and set up against each other rather than complementing each other to achieve our shared objective.

Following the Asmal report, the Independent Panel Assessment of Parliament was established in 2007 “to enquire into, report and make recommendations regarding the extent to which Parliament is evolving to meet the expectations outlined in the Constitution?...?specifically the extent to which Parliament ensures there is accountability, responsiveness and openness”.

The panel’s report concluded that “the effectiveness of Parliament’s oversight work is directly related to the independence of the institution and the ability of individual MPs to raise a critical voice against shortcomings identified in other organs of state, particularly the executive”.

Such analysis has to encompass our collective responsibility for not challenging the deeply ingrained culture of subservience to “the leader”, the status quo and the dominant hierarchy.

Political patronage cannot continue. Critical decisions can no longer be made on the basis of fearing those who dispense or withhold position and power.

Our country’s Constitution is praised as being pro-poor. Despite this, South Africa has high levels of poverty, inequality and violence.

Business and government corruption undermines South Africa’s ability to transform this reality.

Against this backdrop, the integrity and constitutional mandate of those entrusted with protecting human rights cannot be undermined and attacked.

» Govender was an MP from 1994 to 2002. She is deputy chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission

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