Parliament's role to probe departments
Johannesburg - Parliament holds government departments accountable through its oversight function and not through chapter nine institutions, ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga said on Monday.
"The complaint by the DA to the Human Rights Commission... is illustrative of an astonishing misunderstanding of the mandate of the commission and astounding lack of comprehension for the oversight role of Parliament," Motshekga said in a statement.
It was reported earlier that the Democratic Alliance had asked the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to probe the "failure" of the women, children, and people with disabilities department to protect the rights of the disabled.
Motshekga said that if the DA had reservations it could have used the department's portfolio committee.
Outsourcing the parliamentary oversight function to the SAHRC made a mockery of the commission's role and undermined Parliament's constitutional mandate.
"The DA has raised a litany of issues which they argue points to the failure of the department to take the rights of people with disabilities seriously," said Motshekga.
"A bit rich on their part seeing as they offer no more than a cursory nod to people with disabilities in their 'open opportunity society' or in their policy documents."
Motshekga said the DA's request to the SAHRC was "blatant opportunism and petty politicking".
Earlier, DA spokesperson Helen Lamoela told the media at Parliament that a formal submission would be presented to the SAHRC on Monday.
"South Africans with disabilities are a vulnerable community often facing both economic marginalisation and multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their race, gender, and specific disability," she said.
When the department was established in May 2009, activists saw it as a hopeful sign that the government was serious about supporting the efforts of vulnerable people to live lives they valued.
"When the department's mandate was backed by a budget of approximately R142m per year to co-ordinate and monitor the direct delivery of programmes to support, empower, and develop vulnerable groups, there was an expectation that tangible outcomes will be achieved."
However, "poor financial management and inappropriate spending priorities had become the department's defining characteristic".
This was evidenced by, among others, the fact that the department's only available annual report (for 2010/11) indicated 66% under-spending in its programme for the "Rights of People with Disabilities".
However, there was overspending in the administration programme, with reports to the standing committee on appropriations indicating this programme had spent 107% of its budget by the third quarter of 2011/12.
There was also "lavish spending" on overseas trips: in February 2011, the department paid about R6.8m for a two-week trip to New York for a delegation of 49 officials.
This trip cost the department more than double its actual spending in the disabilities programme, said Lamoela.
Evidence from the Third Quarter Expenditure Report for 2011/2012 showed that the department was set to overspend on salaries, despite a 21% vacancy rate.
The 2012/2013 budgets for travel and subsistence surpassed the total amount budgeted for the disabilities programme.
Lamoela said the department's budget and mandate, and specifically the money allocated to the disabilities programme, should be used to provide opportunities for people with disabilities.
"Instead, there is overspending on salaries and travel perks and under-spending on the actual work of promoting and protecting the rights of vulnerable South Africans."
Only 1.2 million people (less than a quarter) received a disability grant, 10.5% of the disabled population had no education, the majority of people with disabilities were unemployed, and 40% of deaf children could not receive life-changing cochlear ear transplants because of lack of funds.
The SAHRC had a mandate to promote the protection of human rights. The commission should therefore investigate the department's failure to take the rights of people with disabilities seriously, she said.