Gerda Moolman, MPL
Agriculture & Land Affairs Northern Cape
Hon Speaker, Hon. Premier, Hon. Members, Guests in the Gallery
In debating the June 2012 Oversight Report, we first need to look at the legislature’s oversight role. Effectiveness and efficiency of the legislature are mainly measured by how we conduct our oversight functions, and how we hold the executives, in terms of MEC’s and mayors, accountable for the use of public funds. This means that if we conduct our oversight effectively, it will strengthen accountability, which could also promote efficient use of public resources. In this context, the most important element of oversight is to promote accountability in the use of limited public resources for effective service delivery to the public, and to restore public confidence in government.
Hon. Speaker, due to us having stumbled upon the recurring theme of service delivery protests in both the Gamagara and Joe Morolong local municipalities during our oversight visit to the John Taole Gaetsewe district, and in light of the devastating protests in this area, I feel that it is absolutely necessary to highlight the failure to diffuse these protests before they escalated out of control. History will judge the leadership harshly for failing the children of Olifantshoek and Kuruman.
Protests that prevented thousands of learners from attending school for up to four months, commenced round about the time that the legislature oversight committee embarked on a visit to the John Taole Gaetsewe district.
As stated in the oversight report, we observed that the involvement of ward committee members from the Gamagara municipality in the Olifantshoek service delivery protest was disconcerting. We also observed that the Department of COGHSTA does not provide sufficient assistance to the municipality in respect of dealing with service delivery protests. Meanwhile in our oversight of the Joe Morolong municipality, we further observed the spate of service delivery protests occurring there.
In other words, Hon. Speaker, the legislature’s very timely oversight visit to the JTG district, failed to promote accountability of the executives because since our visit in June, the protests continued for approximately another three months. In this regard, we have to ask ourselves why, when the potential threat of these specific protests was known, were interventions not taken immediately after this oversight visit to ensure that not only the mayor, but the MEC of COGHSTA and the Premier were held accountable to the communities involved.
Hon. Speaker, in a significant number of cases of service delivery protests, residents have protested after having failed to get the attention of municipalities, as well as provincial and national government departments through raising it with councillors and other public representatives and officials, and through letters, memoranda, petitions and the like. Was this not the case here?
There appears to be a marked absence of communication between councillors and residents in the JTG district. In fact, even where there may have been positive developments in the affected municipalities, these were not effectively conveyed to residents. Nor were the understandable challenges municipalities have in meeting people’s service delivery and development needs.
I dare say that if residents were better informed by councillors, officials and other government leaders, they were more likely to be understanding and less likely to embark on protests. In other words, a simple visit to the area by the Hon. Premier could possibly have diffused the JTG protests before the education of thousands of learners was compromised. Sadly, however, we only have ourselves to blame, because we have been sitting on the fence, watching it all go down, without enforcing accountability of provincial and local government leaders.
Hon. Speaker, government at all levels including national, provincial and local, has to look, in a number of practical ways, at why service delivery protests are taking place and what can be done to mitigate them. Central to this is a recognition that local councils can no longer afford to ignore the plight of informal settlements. Local councils, through ward councillors and local officials, need to develop a specific communication strategy to include communities in informal settlements in the processes of local councils. This will not only serve to include people in planning processes and alleviate the current frustration that most of these communities have expressed of being excluded, but will also deal with the current lack of communication in these areas and the spread of rumours of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement.
As a watchdog of all government structures, including local governance structures and service delivery, we need to improve ways of gathering information regarding service delivery problems and, very importantly, use the information collected, effectively. The access and use of information is a key tool in holding leaders accountable and fighting corruption. The power of knowledge and data cannot be understated. Building processes that enable communities to collect and use data can be a powerful tool in the fight against corruption and towards improved service delivery.
Hon. Speaker, none of the reports requested during our oversight visits are forthcoming from committee chairpersons and as a result, never get discussed again, on any level, after the oversight visits. In fact, to this day we have not seen one report that was requested during last year’s visit to Pixley ka Seme, let alone the reports requested during our visit to the JTG district. If we want to strengthen our oversight capability, then chairpersons must shape up and start enforcing their authority to attain such reports from various bodies. The aim, Hon. Speaker, is not to eliminate service delivery protests, but rather to reduce them. Service delivery protests are an important part of a democracy. They are significant barometers of the quality of a democracy. But for the most part, the nature and scope of the protests we are witnessing is not part of a healthy, growing democracy. We need to respond to them on every level and ensure that in future those that do take place do not infringe on the rights of others and could not simply have been prevented by improved communication and accountability measures.