Motlanthe’s panel calls for electoral reform

2017-12-03 06:00
Kgalema Motlanthe, former president and member of the ANC's John Nkadimeng branch in Houghton. Picture: Dudu Zitha

Kgalema Motlanthe, former president and member of the ANC's John Nkadimeng branch in Houghton. Picture: Dudu Zitha

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A high-level panel headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe has called for electoral reforms to strengthen Parliament’s accountability to the public.

The panel, which has been assessing the effect of laws passed by Parliament, found that financial resources were not the main constraint to realising positive outcomes by the state, but it was rather a lack of political will. This raised questions on the effectiveness of Parliament’s oversight role, which the panel found was narrowly interpreted by the institution and called for direct accountability to the public.

“The accountability of Parliament to the public should be strengthened by more direct linkages between MPs and their constituencies. The feedback loop from communities to legislation depends in part on the electoral system in place,” the panel found.

In a report published last week, the panel recommended electoral reform.

“The panel recommends that Parliament amends the Electoral Act to provide for an electoral system that makes MPs accountable to defined constituencies in a proportional representation and constituency system for national elections,” the report read.

It found that, while a substantial body of new laws had emerged from all levels of government to fulfil the mandate presented by the Constitution since 1994, more needed to be done to ensure development was more inclusive.

The High-Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change was appointed by the Speakers’ Forum of SA in January last year to assess the effect of laws passed by post-apartheid Parliament.

"The ills of the past are being reproduced"

The panel handed its final report to the Speakers’ Forum on November 21.

“The evidence presented shows that the ills of the past are being reproduced in post-apartheid society, despite extensive legislative reform,” the report reads.

However, it does note some improvements as a result of the legislative output of post-apartheid South Africa.

For instance, the panel noted that the mortality rate of children under five has declined and access to education improved. But it also observed that many positive changes had not dented the deep inequities in the quality of services received by many South Africans.

A huge chunk of the panel’s report focused on land reform – which is provided for in the Constitution – with the panel noting that the record on the progressive realisation of land reform rights was a cause for concern.

The panel’s research included submissions from the public and expert reports.

“The pace of land reform has been slow. The development of policy and law has drifted away from its initial pro-poor stance and lacks a vision for inclusive agrarian reform,” it said.

“There are also significant gaps, such as on tenure security, where legislation has not been passed, putting the lives and livelihoods of many rural dwellers in peril.”

The panel also took issue with government’s interpretation of customary law, saying it was centred on traditional leadership and away from living custom, which added to insecurity.

The panel’s recommendations include new legislation to provide a coherent framework for the various components of land reform, with a focus on pro-poor redistribution.

“Evidence presented to the panel shows how land reform policy has drifted from its initial pro-poor focus to one marked by signs of elite capture,” it said.

Testimony from members of the public as well as experts showed evidence of weaknesses on the part of government to execute policy and legislation, the panel said.

“The consensus appears to be that financial resources are not the main binding constraint to the realisation of positive outcomes.

“Instead, there are instances where weak outcomes reflect a lack of political will to pursue stated policy objectives.”

According to the panel, this brings into focus the effectiveness of governance and accountability mechanisms, including the oversight role of Parliament.

The panel noted that a recurrent theme emerging from its research was that, while good laws have been made, failed implementation has resulted in poor outcomes.

“This raises the question of how the executive is able to, simply put, get away with poor implementation,” it said.

The panel partly blamed this on “the narrow interpretation by Parliament of its powers of oversight” instead of there being a more active Parliament that ensured the strict enforcement of penalties for lack of performance by the executive.

Read more on:    kgalema motlanthe  |  parliament

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