Falling Asleep in Parliament

Day two of the seminar started on time at 9h00 with a wonderfully concise and accurate account of the proceedings of day one, the key points raised and the ways to meet the challenges. But before I get to the summary of the day, I want to reflect briefly on the presentations of the afternoon from civil society which got me thinking again about what can only be described as a level of mediocrity that has seeped into the nature and content of civil society engagements. It would appear that civil society leaders and representatives are trapped in the outdated modality of only being able to state their narrow position based views. They seem to lack that essential quality of NGOs and civil society of being able to engage with ideas and in short, even just listen!

Maybe, during the Apartheid era, it was an absolute necessity to have and hold on to a very clear position as the system was at fault and thus we had to fight it. This practice has however remained with us as we moved into being part of a free society and this dogmatic and outmoded way of working now reflects on civil society as mediocrity and just plain dullness. This dullness was in stark contrast to some of the vibrant and engaging presentations from government officials and made me feel rather sad to be on the civil society delegation.

Maybe it is time for a new school of learning for civil society leaders and representatives to learn how to think, to listen, to engage with ideas and focus themselves on building a great country instead of retreating to the dark and dank spaces of being in opposition to government, being unable to engage with ideas and being just plain boring! Remember when NGOs and civil society in general was a space buzzing with the energy of ideas and action to build a better society and world?

Well, please can we have offers to help us with working with and among our leaders and representatives to take us back there or to an even more amazing new space where we can be inspired and energised to learn, grow and contribute to building this country? Where are our NGOs and their leadership? Based on what I saw and heard over two days, I can confirm that (as a sector), we need help us to get back to this space of being thought leaders action heroes of delivery of the Freedom Charter!

Who will volunteer to lead this process and dialogue?

Now that I have made some people happy and others happier, let me list for you some of the key outcomes of the first day of the seminar. It reads like an amazing outcome for a single day of work and bear in mind all this largely without the direct influence of NGOs…

The key points noted on day one of the seminar:

There was consensus and understanding that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are about human dignity at their core and in South Africa, they reflect the values of our Constitution and Freedom Charter. Giving life to the MDGs is as Minister Manuel said, is an expression of democracy.

It was re-iterated that there is a clear commitment to the minimum standards of the MDGs and their achievement.

There was a commitment to the necessity of a coordinated approach of activities from all three spheres of government to make sure the MDGs are met.

That the process to institutionalise the MDGs at all levels of government work with an emphasis on the quality of the services provided will be promoted.

There was also a clear acknowledgement on the need for emphasis on improved oversight of Parliament at provincial and national level. In addition, it was noted that monitoring and evaluation must be stepped up and tied to a larger role for the research and development aspects of delivery of the MDGs.

That any lag in the delivery of the MDGs must be picked up via the oversight process and addressed. This oversight process must use the existing oversight tools to ensure that MDGs are met and implemented for all.

That the MDGs will only be achieved through partnerships across all sectors of society and the questions, process, and implementation of partnerships with academic institutions and civil society must be addressed to ensure that all South Africans own the deliveries of MDGs.

It was also good to hear and see Parliament being very aware of the post 2015 agenda and taking some steps of its own to ensure that the post MDG landscape in SA is informed by local conditions and imperatives first and foremost and that any international instruments are secondary to what out lofty and noble ideals are.

The words of Minister Manuel that the MDGs are “important but not sufficient” must remain a focus for our thoughts about the post MDG era.

That the focus on the rights enshrined in the Constitution must form the basis of any post 2015 agenda in SA with a clear focus on not just delivery numbers but quality of services.

In terms of the role of Parliament, it was noted that:

Effective delivery of the MDGs is tied to the effective oversight of such delivery in the four years remaining.

That the legislature will use all available tools for such oversight and that such oversight will form part and parcel of annual institutional activities of the provincial and national legislature. This will be brought to life through improved coordination between houses of parliament and committees and cluster committees and in particular through using the Multi Party Women’s Caucus as a key driver of the process of ensuring realisation of gender rights.

That this improved oversight will be supported by requests for increased financial and research support for Parliament.

It was also noted that a holistic policy and legislative framework for development and social services, which was fit for, purpose was developed and promoted. That any such process was tied to the development of the role of civil society.

- Rajesh Latchman is Coordinator at the National Welfare Forum and serves as a volunteer Convenor of GCAP-SA.


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