Hon Deputy Chairperson
Hon Permanent and Special Delegates
Hon Councillors representing organised local government
Distinguished guests and fellow South Africans
Today’s debate offers us an opportunity to reflect on the 15 years of the National Council of Provinces. Importantly, we are asking the important question about what this journey of 15 years has meant for South Africans.
The NCOP, which is one of the two Houses of the Parliament of South Africa, came into effect on 6 February 1997. This followed the adoption of South Africa’s new Constitution in May and its signing by then President Nelson Mandela on the 10th of December the same year.
During the constitution-making process, it took some time to reach a final agreement on the nature and character of the second House of Parliament.
It was until April 1996, a few weeks before the May deadline for the adoption of the Constitution, that some consensus was reached on the nature and mandate of the second House of Parliament. Initially, there were different opinions, including on whether the second House should be part of Parliament or should be a unifying structure outside parliamentary politics.
The breakthrough was achieved after a visit by a panel of experts that was advising the Constitutional Assembly, accompanied by some Members of Parliament, to Germany and Britain, to explore other constitutional models and structures, including the Bundesrat, Germany’s second House. It is after this exercise that the chapter on Parliament was significantly improved.
Towards the adoption of the new Constitution, it became clear that the NCOP would have a central role to play in promoting co-operative government and intergovernmental relations.
Through the new Constitution, the NCOP was mandated to represent the provinces to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government. It had to do this mainly by participating in the national legislative process and by providing a national forum for public consideration of issues affecting the provinces. In addition, the House had to provide for the representation of the different categories of municipalities by organised local government.
Consequently, in exercising its legislative power, it was agreed that the NCOP:
1. May consider, pass, amend, propose amendments to or reject any legislation before it, in accordance with Chapter 4 of the Constitution;
2. May initiate or prepare legislation falling within a functional area listed in Schedule 4 of the Constitution or other legislation referred to in section 76 (3), but may not initiate or prepare money Bills.
Giving expression to the NCOP’s mandate, President Mandela noted when he addressed the House in 1998:
``The NCOP is uniquely placed to reflect the diversity of our society and to synthesise the experience of those spheres of government which are charged with the great bulk of the task of implementing our national programme of fundamental change’’.
He added that among the tasks the NCOP faced, the consensus-building work remained the most vital.
As expected, the first five years of the NCOP were formative in nature given that the House was the first of its kind. The period provided Delegates with an opportunity to grapple with and consolidate their understanding of the mandate of the House and how it should be expressed meaningfully.
After the first five years of existence, Delegates to the NCOP had to give concrete expression to the mandate of the House. It is during this period that certain visible initiatives, such as the launch in 2002 of the institution’s flagship programme Taking Parliament to the People, were made.
However in the course of the first 10 years, the NCOP was still not well understood. This was in the main as a result of the fact that many people, including some parliamentarians, did not quite understand the role of this House. Being a consensus builder in the political sphere is difficult, especially when the norm nationally and globally is that of confrontational politics. Delegates to the NCOP are expected to tone down party politics and amplify provincial interests.
By the end of the first 10 years, the NCOP had registered notable achievements. Among them are the following:
1. It had improved its role in public participation;
2. It had considered many interventions into municipalities, not afraid to disagree where it felt that it was necessary to disagree (e.g. the 2004 intervention in Leekwa-Teemane Local Municipality by the North West government in respect of “administration and governance issues’”);
3. Delegates had begun to sharpen their understanding of matters that were central to their provinces (for example, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape delegates were the sharpest when it came to proposed legislation on public transport because of their experiences).
The discussion during the time of the 10th anniversary of the NCOP, in 2007, highlighted some of the challenges that still faced the institution. These included:
1. Improving follow-up mechanisms with regard to oversight work;
2. Ensuring that the NCOP’s public participation activities had the desired impact;
3. Understanding the impact of the laws that we pass; and,
4. The need to focus on areas of concurrent functions, such as education, health, social and rural development.
Overall, the view was that the NCOP needed to focus its work in order to make the necessary impact. It also needed to continue to innovate. Focusing the work of the NCOP may still require critical decisions. For instance, in future we may need to review the number of our committees. With 54 Delegates and 13 select committees, the Member-to-Committee ratio is 4. In the National Assembly, with about 400 Members and 35 portfolio committees, the Member-to-Committee ratio is 11. Certainly there are far fewer Delegates to a Committee in the NCOP despite the fact that most select committees deal with a range of portfolios.
The Report of the Independent Panel Assessment of Parliament, published in the third Parliament, delineates the scope of our oversight. It states that through its oversight role, the NCOP should be directed by the goal to contribute to effective government by ensuring that provincial and local concerns are recognised in national policy making. And that provincial, local and national governments work effectively together.
After the 10th anniversary, and leading up to the 15th anniversary, the NCOP has sought to introduce further improvements to ensure that it delivers effectively and efficiently on its mandate. Some of the notable interventions included the following:
1. A study on the impact of the Taking Parliament to the People programme which led to the remodelling of the programme to provide for intensive planning, implementation and follow-up set of activities: This has seen an increase in government commitments and follow-up measures (the 2011 KwaZulu-Natal programme was the most beneficiary of this new model with the President committing his government to a number of implementation targets).
2. The development of key focal areas to guide the work of the NCOP during the period of the fourth Parliament: The August 2009 strategic planning session saw the NCOP moving closer and closer to focusing its work. The need to strengthen oversight at local government level, which has continued to draw the attention of government in general, was raised during this session.
3. The ability to assess public interest and to respond accordingly: Over and above the interests of pressure groups which have easy access to Parliament and are adequately resourced to lobby parliamentary committees, the NCOP derives public interest from listening to the ordinary citizens who continue to remind us that poverty, inequality and unemployment remain the most serious challenges.
4. Engagements between the NCOP and the South African Local Government Association in order to increase the voice of local government: This culminated in the recent Local Government Week which placed on the table a number of issues that must be pursued by the NCOP during this term.
Honourable Delegates, in the context of these achievements and challenges, how do we respond to the question about what the existence of the NCOP has meant for South Africans? I am happy to contribute to this debate by stating without equivocation that the NCOP:
1. Has created a bridge between Parliament and the people, ensuring that government engages directly with the people.
2. It has promoted accountability. We have held sessions where openness was practised, with ordinary South Africans being able to publicly demand accountability from their public representatives. Through this exercise the NCOP has ensured that transparency and tolerance remained some of the building blocks of our democracy and its expression.
3. It has ensured thoroughness when it matters. The Speaker of the National Assembly noted in this year’s debate on Parliament’s Budget Vote that “… more and more legislation is returned to the National Assembly for correction – either section 75 legislation which the NCOP has recommended that the Assembly amends to make it constitutional or legislation that was found to be unconstitutional by the courts.” However, while noting the recognition of the work being done by the NCOP in improving legislation, we still need more and more scrutiny of draft legislation in order to improve the quality of outcomes.
Fellow Delegates, in my view there are three most important things that the NCOP still needs to do to contribute further to building our democracy. They are:
1. We need to focus, focus and focus on our mandate so that we get South Africa to focus on issues that matter (for example, education, health, social and rural development).
2. We need to enhance our expertise in the area of oversight so that we get smarter and smarter as a democracy. For example, given the fact that we now have a national vision for 2030, in the form of the National Development Plan, we need to start now to gear our oversight towards achieving the vision 18 years from now.
3. We need to continue to minimise the gap between those who are governing and those who are governed. Following a world-wide opinion poll, the Secretary General of the Interparliamentary Union (IPU) noted in 2009 that “Parliaments … must be concerned about the gulf that separates public aspirations for democratic governance and vigorous public debate, and the widely-held perception of political life as a closed space where there is little room for dissent and real consideration of alternative policy options.” Interestingly, the NCOP’s Taking Parliament to the People programme is one initiative that the IPU itself, the African Peer Review Mechanism and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association have publicly noted as a great concept for enhancing democratic practice.
Nonetheless, the NCOP needs to continuously reengineer itself to ensure that we remain relevant to the needs of South Africans. The possible reduction of the number of our provinces, which is being debated by the ruling party, may require this House to become more and more focused. We need to prepare ourselves for the critical role of acting as a synthesiser of service delivery needs, and how best the government can meet them. To do that we need to adopt an holistic approach to oversight and consideration of legislation.
I would like to thank the current and previous Delegates to this House for ensuring that the NCOP fulfilled its mandate. This would not have been possible without the sterling leadership of its previous chairpersons: Mosiuoa Lekota, Naledi Pandor and Joyce Kgoali. We need to continue to build on their work.
With these words I would like to invite South Africans to deepen the debate about this institution and what it has meant for them over the past 15 years and what it must still do.
As part of marking the 15th anniversary we have held the seminar on Child Rights earlier this year, as well as the Local Government Week. We are currently working with the University of the Western Cape to initiate a lecture series and engagement programme which we hope to extend to other tertiary institutions in future.
Our target is to initiate programmes that must sustain the work of the NCOP and improve the manner in which we serve the electorate.