Policy, Law, Economics and Politics - Deepening Democracy through Access to Information
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20 September 2014
   
 
 
 
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This week in the Constitutional Court a judgement was made that has
changed the landscape of South African politics irrevocably. I am proud that
this judgment was the product of a long and principled fight by one man, who
inspired a team to work, not for money, but for the principle of expanding
democratic participation.

That man is Dr Mario GR Oriani-Ambrosini, a Member of Parliament in the IFP,
who previously served as my ministerial advisor for the ten years I served
as Minister of Home Affairs. My position in Cabinet entitled me to appoint
two advisors, but I appointed only Dr Ambrosini, for his work ethic, stamina
and productivity could not be matched by a team of advisors, while his skill
- which struck fear into the heart of our opponents - was comprehensive.

Thus, when Dr Ambrosini joined our team in the National Assembly as a
national representative of the people, I knew he would make his signature
mark on South Africa's Parliament. I was not wrong. During his very first
sitting in the National Assembly, Dr Ambrosini raised a Point of Order
questioning the Rules of Parliament.

Being a constitutional lawyer, and one of the crafters of South Africa's
Constitution, his technical mind engaged the rules that would govern his
work as an MP and questioned whether they were good enough, and working well
enough, to ensure that individual MPs can fulfil their full constitutional
mandate.

What he discovered was that the constitutional right of MPs to introduce
draft legislation in the National Assembly was being obstructed by the Rules
of Parliament, which forced MPs to first seek permission to do so from a
Committee on Private Members' Legislative Proposals. The Committee,
dominated by ANC MPs, could bury any legislative proposal at will,
effectively preventing it from seeing the light of day, or being presented
in Parliament for discussion, consideration and debate.

For years, the Committee has been seen as the graveyard of bills brought by
individual MPs from the opposition, and even from the ruling party's own
back benches. My own legislative proposal, to split the powers of the
executive into a President as the ceremonial Head of State and a Prime
Minister as the Head of Government, got no further than this Committee. Thus
it never received broad public debate.

You, the citizens of South Africa, were never afforded the opportunity to
consider whether having a President that bows to party political dictates
and gets embroiled in and tainted by political infighting is the best
international representative of our country. Wouldn't it be better if South
Africa's President was above politics? Is a stadium of ANC cadres at
Mangaung best suited to decide for fifty million South Africans who should
be our Head of State? These questions should have been for you to decide.

Knowing his unique talents, the IFP appointed Dr Ambrosini to the Committee
on Private Members' Legislative Proposals in the hope that he could petition
for many more valuable proposals to see the light of day. Instead, Dr
Ambrosini sought to change the system.

With my full support and admiration, he approached the Speaker of the
National Assembly, pointing out that the Rules of Parliament were
interfering with the constitutional right and obligation of Members of
Parliament. The Speaker disagreed and a long process of petition and
discussion ensued during which Dr Ambrosini would not relent. He understood
that a democratic principle was at stake.

When no other option but the legal option remained, he managed to inspire a
team of lawyers to work pro bono and the matter went all the way to the High
Court. Regrettably, the High Court ruled against the application, and the
subsequent appeal was dismissed with costs. Against advice born of defeat
and concern, Dr Ambrosini appealed to the Constitutional Court.

On Tuesday this week, with very little notice, a panel of Constitutional
Court Judges presided over by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke handed
down judgement in the Constitutional Court declaring the Rules of Parliament
unconstitutional insofar as they prevent individual MPs from introducing
draft bills in the National Assembly without advance majority permission.
Permission to introduce draft legislation is already granted by the
Constitution. No Committee has a right to refuse it.

In a press conference immediately after the ruling, Dr Ambrosini said, "This
judgement is a game-changer in our parliamentary democracy and takes South
African democracy onto a new and higher level of engagement, which is
finally on par with all established democracies of the world. This judgement
enables all MPs to be all that which the Constitution and the electorate
expects them to be and for them to do the job for which they are empowered
by the Constitution, trusted by the voters and paid by the taxpayers."

That, really, is the crux of the matter. Citizens of this country should be
able to engage their public representatives on issues of importance to them
and petition their public representatives to influence favourable change
through legislative proposals. Constitutionally, your MP has the right and
the duty to table draft bills in Parliament. Through your engagement and
lobbying, those bills should reflect your interests.

Up until this ground-breaking judgement, only Cabinet Ministers and Deputy
Ministers have been able to conceive, develop, draft and introduce laws in
the National Assembly. If you wanted your interests protected or promoted
through legislation, you would have to petition a Minister who, first, is
compelled to toe their party line, and, second, is inundated with the
responsibilities of their line function. How often have your letters to a
Minister gone unanswered? My own have. How often have you even written to a
Minister?

Now, because an IFP MP had the courage and tenacity to pursue litigation all
the way to the Constitutional Court based on a principle, you can petition
your own representative, in whatever political party, to develop legislation
in your own interests. If they act on your behalf, support them. If they
ignore you, move on and take your vote with you.

For the first time in South Africa's democracy, the electorate will be able
to judge the performance of their individual MPs and choose which party to
support based on the degree to which their public representatives actually
represent their voice and serve their interests. It is no longer about
voting for a party that broadly supports your personal views and then hoping
that for the next five years they will do and say what you would have done
and said, had you been in a position of power.

Now, it is about coming on board with a party that seems to align with your
own views and beginning to engage them, petition them and lobby them to say
and do what you would say and do in their position, because they are your
voice. We, your public representatives, are the voice of the people. It is
not for us to decide what that voice is saying. It is for you to tell us.

This is a serious deviation from the ANC's philosophy of shaping the will of
the people to suit the will of the ANC leadership. It is a triumph for the
IFP's philosophy of governance from the ground up, where citizens direct
their leaders through constant engagement, mutual respect, and the full
recognition of the fact that we are here at your behest, on your payroll,
for your interests. We are the servants of the people.

To celebrate this era of enhanced democratic engagement between Members of
Parliament and you, the people we serve, the IFP is launching a separate
parliamentary website which will help you identify the right IFP MP to carry
your particular cause, and give you all the contact details you need to get
in touch with them one on one. I encourage you to join the IFP's mailing
list by clicking here so that you'll be the first to know when our site goes
live. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The IFP is immensely proud of the victory for democracy achieved this week.
This is indeed a game-changer.

Yours in the service of our nation,

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
 
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