Address by Minister Trevor A Manuel to consultative seminar on the role of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures in attaining the MDGS, Parliament, Cape Town
05 September 2011
Hon Speaker and Hon NCOP Chair
Honourable Members from this and other legislatures
Ladies and Gentlemen
Permit me to thank the organising committee most sincerely for both the initiative to convene this conference and also for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you.
I want to start with a refrain that I hope that you will hear frequently over the two days of this seminar – that the Millennium Development Goals are exceedingly important, but that their attainment would be insufficient to create the kind of democracy that we strive for in South Africa. With this understanding goes the need to appreciate, that unlike many other developing countries, the attainment of the MDGs is not dependent on the goodwill of external donor nations towards us – South Africa’s fiscus is large enough to fund development way beyond the attainment of the MDGs. In our case, the commitments to development are therefore less about the pledges made by successive Presidents to the United Nations on our behalf, but the commitment that we, as legislators, have made to our people.
Raising these issues remains exceedingly important because in acknowledging the importance of the MDGs, as adopted in 2000, South Africans need to remain conscious of the fact that our Constitution in its Bill of Rights goes much, much further than the MDGs. As legislators we are mindful of the fact that our struggle for democracy was never merely focused on the ballot box, but recognised that the quality of democracy should be measured in our successes in uprooting poverty, in our continued commitment to reduce inequality, in the way in which opportunities are broadened and the measure of the restoration of justice for all. So the attainment of the MDGs should be but a necessary step along the way to the kind of South Africa foretold in the Freedom Charter of 1955 and now embodied in our Constitution. And, it is a tremendous asset to be accountable to all of the global community for our achievements, or lack thereof.
As we pursue the path to greater equity, we need to continually remind ourselves that all of the Goals are interlinked and all of them speak to what we have to do to overcome the ravages of poverty and underdevelopment. As we tackle this, we will have to be conscious of the fact that poverty is far more than the lack or deficiency in income. Our Bill of Rights provides for the right to dignity, to equality, shelter, healthcare, sufficient food and water, and to education that takes into account equity and the need to redress past injustices. At the very core of this is the importance of education, human development and dignity.
Amartya Sen describes this multidimensional understanding of poverty in the following way:
The classic view that poverty is just a shortage of income may be well established in our minds, but ultimately we have to see poverty as unfreedoms of various sorts: the lack of freedom to achieve even minimally satisfactory living conditions. Low income can certainly contribute to that, but so can a number of other influences such as the lack of schools, absence of health facilities, unavailability of medicines, the subjugation of women, hazardous environmental features, and lack of jobs (something that affects more than the earning of incomes).
The principles that inspire the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals are the same principles that are the basis of the priorities of this government and ruling party since before 1994 when we crafted the Reconstruction and Development Programme. It is, therefore, important to see how attaining the targets of the MDGs are simply the same as meeting our own priorities.
It is fundamentally important that we are able to draw the connections from one report to the next. South Africa’s MDG Report to the UN General Assembly in September 2010 raised a number of issues, good and bad, that some National Assembly Portfolio Committees have responded to. The report of our accountability to the rest of Africa, entitled the African Peer Review Mechanism Report, that was prepared in the course of last year, is part of the measurement of development progress. In June this year, the National Planning Commission released a Diagnostic Report that spoke to the same issues. In the course of the next few weeks, Statistics South Africa will release the results of a very detailed survey called the Living Conditions Survey - again particular aspects of the quality of life of South Africans, broken down by race, gender, income and province will be explained. And even the detailed work undertaken in Census 2011 will provide basic information to advise the nation of progress towards the attainment of a series of development objectives. These reports may have different titles, but they all revert to the same issues – are we making progress towards our objectives? Is the progress sufficient? And, what more should we be doing?
I would be remiss if I did not get in two commercials here:
· Firstly, it is very important that we encourage all legislators, regardless of the party that you represent, to actively encourage all constituents to actively and voluntarily participate in the Census next month. The information obtained from that census will be vital to you in your everyday work as a lawmaker.
· Secondly, the National Planning Commission has invited all South Africans to give feedback on the Elements of a Vision Statement and the Diagnostic Report that we released on 09 June. The feedback of legislators and Constituents is vital – are we on the right track? And are the observations we have made supported?
Having stated the importance of the Millennium Development Goals for improving the lives of our people today and for building a sustainable future, it is important that we begin to examine the role of Parliament in ensuring that we meet these goals. As a member of the Executive, I am part of a collective that is responsible for ensuring that the targets set out in the MDGs are met and that they are met on time. The collective responsibility for outcomes specified in the Constitution goes hand in hand with collective accountability to the legislature. We are accountable to Parliament in the first instance, and in the case of the MDGs, we are further accountable to the international community at the level of the United Nations. It therefore becomes essential that we begin to ask what information is available to the legislatures so that they are able to hold us to account.
Last year, South Africa scored the highest in the Open Budget Index out of 94 countries having come second in 2008 after the United Kingdom. This index is based on the open budget survey run by the Independent Budget Partnership and is the only independent, comparative, regular measure of budget transparency and accountability around the world. The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act came into effect in April 2009 and in addition to outlining a procedure for Parliament to process money Bills, the Act puts in place several mechanisms through which the legislature is able to communicate areas of concern and recommend changes. These tools should serve to empower members of the legislatures and provide a good basis for being able to interrogate priorities as well as outcomes of government spending.
I want to repeat
what I said at the Legislative Sector Consultative Seminar earlier this year: All
of this is contingent on the clear understanding that oversight is based on
actual outcomes and not simply money spent. In this regard we must accept that despite the adequate
allocation of funding, we fail to deliver quality service to especially the
poor. We need to ask ourselves a
few basic questions repeatedly. What do we measure in regard to the MDGs? Does
what we measure provide us with the basis of understanding improvements in the
lives of the poor. We also need to know what instruments we use to measure
this. For example, it is fundamentally important that government has its
finances independently audited by the Auditor-General or equivalent. However,
all that the Auditor-General’s report indicates is whether the money was
appropriated as planned or indeed there has been misappropriation. So if our
instrument of measurement is the Auditor-General’s report and in celebration
therefore a party to mark a clean audit, we know nothing about the quality of
service or the impact of these resources on the lives of the poor. We cannot
sufficiently emphasise the need for associations such as these to engage with
information and its utilisation as central tools for oversight
If we look at our progress with the MDGs indicators, then in many instances we are not only meeting targets, but have exceeded them. For example, in terms of MDG 2 we have met the target for enrolment ratios for primary education of 99.4% but this does not measure the quality of the education being received, the number of days that teachers are in the classrooms, or the number of children that will still be in the system after five years. Let’s look at some of the outcomes of the education system where despite spending about 6% of our GDP, we form part of the bottom quartile of performers on our continent. We are at 137th place out of 150 countries on a global scale in terms of Maths and literacy. In fact, we perform poorly simply in terms of our own standards.
This reinforces the deeper understanding of poverty described by Sen - as a result of simply being poor, children are subjected to a quality of education that limits their ability to have choices and opportunities. We must begin to ask whether being guided by the MDGs is enough or should Parliament be engaging differently with these issues. We should be asking why despite increases in per capita spending on the poorest learners we are still not getting improved results. Why despite the increased access, the involvement of parents through School Governing Bodies are the results in the poorer areas still low. Why despite teacher training programmes and support do we find that in many cases subject knowledge is poor and motivation is low. An example of this can be seen in the Soweto schools where the matric pass rate in just this area was only 63% compared to the provincial average of 72%, where they have by far the highest number of underperforming schools. The MEC of Education, Barbara Creecy, having identified the impact of some of these issues on results in Soweto schools compared to other schools in the province called a summit earlier this year to begin to address the instability and underperformance of the schools by involving all the stakeholders in the community and at the schools. We hope that the community spirit that resulted in the Soweto Education Summit Declaration of 9 April 2011 makes a difference to the results that we have seen.
In terms of form, we seem to be succeeding by meeting some targets, such as MDG 3 where we are likely to achieve gender equality at the primary education level and we have achieved it at secondary and tertiary level. In terms of employment, the female share of wage employment has increased steadily to 45% of the working population by 2010, excluding the agricultural sector. In terms of substance however, these targets need to be unpacked – what percentage of those females enrolled actually complete their studies; if they do, how many females are encouraged to study maths and science; what does this picture look like when looking at schools in poor areas? If we look at the employment figures, how true a reflection is this of actual empowerment – what are the percentages of females in senior positions, or even in middle management positions, what is being done to ensure that there is continuous growth and that the numbers at these levels are equal?
I have used the education experience merely as a proxy. I have used it partly because the education experience is so well documented. But I have it also because in the analysis that went into the NPC diagnostic, we have expressed the view that transforming education is central to dealing with the remnants of apartheid that still exists in education outcomes; and that there is a fundamental belief that an educated people is an empowered people, better capable of engaging with a range of other challenges from health care, to how we are held accountable, to having the confidence to root out every vestige of corruption. So, I want to make an appeal that in the discussions here, members will engage in the detail on all the MDGs.
I highlight these issues because the key question to ask is do we know what we are measuring? Further, our situation is complicated by the constitutional reality that the MDGs that relate to education, health and social welfare are all delivered at sub-national level.
Do we know how to measure, what tools are available? Is this an exercise in dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s? Or do we understand the MDGs in the context of what it means for the future of our country? More importantly, do we understand that attainment of the MDGs represent a part of the solution to heal our past? I say a part because the MDGs cannot be enough to address the deep-seated effects of the injustices that are our history and our legacy. While the significance of the MDGs as a global initiative cannot be denied, it is important that as South Africans, we understand that it cannot be the only standard by which we measure our progress. In fact, the MDGs must be seen as a catalyst to ensure that we meet our constitutional obligations of improving the quality of life of all citizens and freeing the potential of each person.
To understand many of these issues, it is important that we move beyond simply accepting reports and briefings to challenging government to do more and to understanding the realities faced everyday by the poor of our country. As members of Parliament and the legislatures, you are all responsible for a constituency somewhere. These offices should serve as a barometer to measure change in the lives of the constituents. Visit the clinics, schools, libraries in the area, speak to the teachers, learners, health workers, the parents, the youth, community organisations, religious organisations and hear firsthand what the concerns and issues are (not only at election time). Where you get information and the number of sources of information is vitally important if as members of legislatures you are to be effective in performing oversight over delivery.
These issues are not reflected in strategic plans, budgets, section 32 reports or annual reports but they reflect the impact of poverty on the lives of the poor. How does Parliament then perform oversight? What does Parliament look for when dealing with issues of management and delivery? How do we begin to ensure that the services that are delivered makes a difference in the lives of the people and that it is not a simply a matter of providing the bare minimum? The objective of legislative oversight, anywhere in the world, is to raise the level of accountability. It is up to members of legislatures to define in our context what accountability means. How does Parliament or the legislatures hold the executive to account? How do they hold officials to account? The standard procedure is for a manager to come to the legislature and blame poor performance on their predecessor or on someone else and then present a half-baked plan to fix the problem. A year later, the process is repeated, with a new manager coming to present yet another set of excuses. Other than strong words, what measures of censure does Parliament have? How do they exercise their oversight role? Will the officials be expected to account or will Ministers be held responsible for the outcomes on the performance agreements?
The tool is not simply how much funds has been allocated but rather what it bought and more importantly, whether in spending the funds, we have actually addressed the unfreedoms that come with poverty. Have we invested correctly to ensure not only that children have access to school but that the quality of that education changes that their lives and bring with it opportunities and the freedom of choice? Have we invested correctly to ensure that going to a state health facility does not become a gamble with one’s life but rather what is was meant to be, the basic right to health. Have we dealt with the obstacles faced by girl children sufficiently to ensure that they are treated as equal citizens? These issues cannot be seen as separate but as part of a whole designed to restore the dignity and security that poverty erodes. There is no dignity in having an education but being not only unemployed but unemployable and continuing the cycle of poverty. A poor education not only results in illiteracy and innumeracy but has greater impacts relating to the ability to find employment; understanding and fighting for legal rights and political rights causing the poor to be vulnerable to be taken advantage of; and in the case of females, impacting on their ability to be economically independent. It is widely known that many victims of domestic and spousal abuse are unable to break out of these relationships due to financial dependence on the abuser. Maternal mortality rates among educated females are much lower than among poorer women.
These are key questions about progressive development and the understanding that progress cannot be measured in instances at particular times. True progress and change must be seen as a continuum where we grow our country by growing our people, all of them. It is important to be clear about what is being measured and the question is whether Parliament has the tools to deal with the real issues. When we examine the MDGs we must understand it in the context of the history of our country and the principles that formed the basis of our struggle.
This approach has found a home in our Constitution, and so binds us all whether we fought against apartheid or benefitted from it. It is to our Constitution that we pledge allegiance when we take our Oath as Members of legislatures. As a reminder, the first clause of our Constitution reads,
The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values:
(a) Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
(b) Non-racialism and non-sexism.
(c) Supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.
(d) Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.
You do not have to read any further. As a legislator, charged with oversight, you are the guarantor of the first clause of the Constitution.
We need to develop radically new approaches to how legislatures are involved in the measurement of progress – the instruments available are important, but woefully inadequate. Governments everywhere appear better at reporting historically, where information is available – this leaves no room for in-year intervention. In most instances, such information that is available tends to relate to whether money was spent as appropriated and not the changes effected with the resource. In most countries, budgets – the mere intent to appropriate financial resources is widely applauded, whilst the outcomes remain hidden from scrutiny. All of this must change – not because the UN has set this down as a requirement, or our donors desire it, but because it is the very least that legislators must do to deal with the ravages and the scourge of underdevelopment.
So, please tell us what the radically new approaches should be. Tell us whether you have adequate information. Tell us that you actually are making the correct observations in your oversight engagements. More importantly, tell us that your limited resources are so deployed so that when the challenges of Education in the Eastern Cape are examined that the observations will be the same whether the engagement is by a committee from the NA, the NCOP or the Provincial legislature. The same could be said for any other example we choose. The object of oversight should surely be to ensure that the service is properly rendered, that progress is measurable and that we can chart such progress against criteria that are set objectively, both in the MDGs and in our Constitution. Can we honestly answer that “human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms” are being attained. If we can, then we can declare that the money is being well spent and democracy is victorious.
 Amartya Sen (2008) A foreword in Duncan Green (2008) From poverty to power : how active citizens and effective states can change the world