Johannesburg, South Africa – On 14 and 15 April 2016, twelve Members of Parliament representing eight of South Africa’s nine provincial parliaments set out to tackle the thorny issue of public participation and consultation, in a Seminar organised by AWEPA.
A range of topical issues currently on the global and domestic agenda were the focus of the one and a half day discussions. These included tax justice and governance, especially as it relates to the extractives industry, beneficiation and community participation, as well as a rights-based approach to public accountability.
Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) Director, Mr. John Makamure, lauded South Africa’s groundbreaking Public Participation Framework and highlighted other public accountability structures in the southern African region, including the South African, Zimbabwean and Zambian Constitutions and the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures. “But”, he pointed out, “having structures in place does not necessarily guarantee public accountability”.
A variety of reasons for failure to account to the electorate emerged, including a ‘business as usual’ approach to public participation and a tendency towards reactivity rather than proactivity. This reactive way of dealing with issues is adopted because MPs are often not informed of new developments and may fall victim to the ‘DAD’ approach (Decide, Announce and Defend) as described by International Association for Public Participation in Southern Africa (IAP2) resource persons, Erika du Plessis and Kenneth Smith.
Participants’ eyes were opened to the legal but highly questionable tax avoidance methods used by foreign investors, particularly in the extractive industries, to negotiate tax breaks and minimise spending on their social and labour plans for communities living adjacent to the mining areas. A shocking revelation was the loss of over one trillion dollars in illicit financial outflows from the African continent compared to an external debt of $120 billion, showing that Africa is a net creditor.
The question of the role of civil society in public consultation was a major talking point as was whether the electoral system is suited for public participation (South Africa has a quota based electoral system).
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)-funded seminar was held in two parts, with an earlier session held for research staff from all the provincial parliaments. It was facilitated by Dr. Margaret Nasha, former Speaker of the Botswana National Assembly and that country’s first woman Speaker.