Let's Talk

2016 has been a tumultuous year politically and economically. Our democracy has definitely grown and developed with so many conversations taking place in so many forums. In the run up to the State of the Nation Address (SoNA), there have been several networking functions. One of which, I was personally involved, namely: Deputy President, HE Cyril Ramaphosa Engages Business and Professionals hosted by the Progressive Professional Forum Western Cape (PPF WC).  

The PPF WC invited His Excellency, Deputy President (DP) Cyril Ramaphosa and professionals to engage on issues South Africa faces. The aim of this engagement was to create a platform for professionals and business to engage senior politicians with the view to influence the direction of policy.  The DP emphasised that he was looking forward to gaining wisdom from the engagement. This is an important political statement from a very senior politician in the ruling party. It indicates that government wants to be engaged on issues affecting the country.  

My take on the engagement was that radical economic transformation is a topic that government is coming to grips with. This was reiterated in the State of Nation Address (SoNA) by His Excellency, President, Jacob Zuma. He defined it as a fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female, as defined by the governing party, which makes policy for the democratic government”.

The DP further highlighted that the International Monetary Fund observed that South Africa’s economy is held in the hands of a few which is not sustainable. Once the economy is freed and there is shared prosperity, there will be more competition, innovation, and lower cost of goods, etc. This is a mammoth task. I doubt that the stakeholders dominating the economy will easily give up market share. In fact, they may fight to maintain their domination. Simultaneously, government needs these businesses to continue to invest in South Africa, which becomes a very tricky balancing act.

So how do we as citizens participate in developing and ensuring implementation of policies and programmes geared towards radical socio-economic transformation so that all of us can benefit and participate in our economy?

Policies are developed by government in consultation with the public. At the initial stage, policies are published for public comment before Cabinet approval is possible. Approved polices are then implemented through legislation and departmental programmes. If it is legislation, then it will be referred to Parliament to process. Furthermore, Parliament exercises oversight over the Executive. This means that Parliament will oversee the relevant departmental programmes.

Parliament is made up of two houses, namely: the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The Constitution provides for guidelines as to how a bill is tagged. Tagging is a process of deciding how a bill will be dealt with in Parliament.  The NA deals with issues affecting the national sphere of Government. Such a bill will be a section 75 bill and the NA has the final say on the bill.

The NCOP focuses on issues affecting the provinces. Such a bill is tagged a section 76 bill. For example, if a bill is referred to Parliament and deals with a trade issue, the bill will be tagged a section 76. This means that provinces have a direct input into the bill. If a bill affects an issue such as trade, then both the NA and NCOP has competence to amend that bill.

What does this mean for the ordinary citizen? I can participate in the process by sending my comments to the NA committee and engaging the Members of Parliament (MPs) to influence the outcome of the bill.

If the bill affects the provinces (section 76), then consultation also takes place in the 9 provinces and at various municipalities. This is a broader process and there is more room to engage key stakeholders. Provinces invite municipalities to participate in the public hearings. This is a necessary requirement in the legislative process. The local sphere of government is comprised of municipalities. This is how the three spheres of Government interact with each other in the legislative process.

However, municipalities draft by-laws as well. These by-laws must be subject to national and provincial legislation. Public participation is implemented through Ward Councillors, Ward Committees, Community Development Officers, the Mayor and many other stakeholder Forums. I can envisage that it must be daunting for a Ward Councillor to face a hall full of angry community members. These methods are useful in informing and reporting to communities.

Another initiative launched by Government is GovChat. A social media platform hosted by the Department of Government Communication and Information (GCIS). GovChat provides a forum whereby I can directly communicate with my Ward Councillor and raise issues I have a concern with. I can receive information directly from my Ward Councillor. My concerns could be issues I have in my community or for example a bill that the Province is holding hearings on. I could be a vendor selling sweets and this bill could impose restraints on me. I can ask my Ward Councillor to assist me with raising my concerns.  

These are but a few of the various forums wherein we can engage with government officials and politicians. It is not even the tip of the iceberg or a snapshot of the legislative process. I believe that it is no longer appropriate to sit on the side lines and point fingers or groan but rather become involved in the issues impacting our lives. The National Development Plan encourages active citizenry and as our Deputy President emphasised Find your role or corner and add value to moving South Africa forward”.