Northern Cape Provincial Legislature takes extraordinary steps to strengthen public participation

Introduction

The need for oversight and accountability over service delivery failures in our communities has only been increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Northern Cape Provincial Legislature has taken some extraordinary steps to strengthen public participation and to develop partnerships with civil society organisations to address some of the pressing needs faced in the province.

After signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature late last year, Democracy Works Foundation and Westminster Foundation for Democracy have been engaged in training and knowledge co-creation events with MPLs of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature. These events are aimed at understanding the lived reality of being an MPL and understanding what support they need to perform their functions optimally.

In these conversations the need for greater partnership with civil society organisations (CSOs) – who often provide many of the services required by communities – became increasingly clear. To bridge the existing gaps between communities and the provincial parliaments, the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature invited selected CSO partners to a discussion on how greater collaboration can be achieved.

Northern Cape Provincial Legislature partners with DWF

Covid-19 is ravaging through our communities and in the effort to remain as safe as possible, everyday life has been severely interrupted through government-issued lock down regulations. It also drastically affected the ability of Legislatures to conduct site visits limiting their ability to oversee implementation of laws and policies including those affecting every day service delivery While going virtual has many advantages it also poses the risk that the most vulnerable amongst us will be left out due to technological and data limitations and restrictions.

In order to bridge this gap, the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature has partnered with DWF and the WFD to strengthen particularly the public participation, oversight and accountability functions of this important institution. The Civil Society Participation in Provincial Legislature Project is co-funded by the European Union and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and implemented in Limpopo, the North West and the Northern Cape.

In addition to the engagements with Legislatures the project also partners with Civil Society Organisations in engaging with Provincial Legislatures to drive community driven oversight and accountability through ongoing capacity building initiatives.

In the Northern Cape the Provincial Legislature invited three CSO partners to a consultative meeting with MPLs and Legislature Staff to outline their areas of work and brainstorm ideas on how these two stakeholders can develop effective partnerships.

Celeste, from the Optimystic Bikers Against Abuse shared their strategy in supporting victims of abuse and holding their hands while they navigate through government departments on the difficult path of healing. Being made up mostly by survivors, and with minimal funding Optimystic Bikers expressed their desire to partner with the Provincial Legislature in addressing the non-responsiveness of certain departments and sharing with their constituencies how Legislatures work and why they are important.

Sophia from KSD represents the only development organisation in Daniëlskuil where they run home based care programmes, an advice office, child and youth care services and a centre, and various other programmes. She requested assistance with the very urgent need for additional ambulances in the area they serve. Currently there is one ambulance which serves over 25k people. During Covid-19, there has been a massive increase for demand, and KSD is receiving those requests. Their attempts to engage the relevant departments having been unfruitful.

Celeste also raised request for oversight with regards to the backlog of cases they cannot get feedback on. Some of the cases on their database are up to 5 years old and reports to the bodies designed to hear such complaints do provide any

Mm Speaker: Mrs Klaaste acknowledged the good work these organisations are doing and reiterated that the Legislature requires this kind of information from the ground.

Mc Donald from Ethembeni Care Centre shared their initiative of addressing GBV with a focus is on men in communities and in prisons. Their partners include Faith-Based Organisations, the Department of Justice, Traditional Leaders and initiation schools as transition to manhood, and issues around service delivery. They proposed an educational programme to educate people on the role, responsibilities and functions of Provincial Legislatures.

“This should include the Regional Officers and a discussion on how we can make them more visible to communities and create linkages with communities in their districts. I suggest that we have a Consultative Forum where all CSOs and NGOs can meet under one roof even if it is virtual. This platform could be used for feedback for ID and resolution of issues.”

Both organisations are already actively involved in inadvertently supporting Provincial Legislatures by sharing their knowledge about this institution and the proper channels and steps for engaging it. Sophia shared how they building a network for other organisations and are helping upcoming grassroot organisations to develop themselves.

“As part of the DWF network we have already started passing that on to other organisations helping them to write petitions building relationship”: Celeste

Mm Speaker: Klaasen emphasized that the Provincial Legislature is here to understand what issues communities are dealing with how they can assist.  Communities however also need to understand the relevant Portfolio Committees. The notion to open this platform up to more organisations through our Regional Officers was taken up positively and discussions on how to develop this in practice are already underway.

Honourable Ditshaba: Chair of the Constitutional Committee expressed excitement about these new ways of conducting public participation, a key challenge of which was to create a platform like this where CSOs and civil society can share their challenges, successes and innovations. He also shared other initiatives like the Women’s Parliament, which was linked with radio stations and included live participation and presentations by CSPPL and other CSO partners.

The issue of non-response was recognised as critical and alerted to the Northern Cape Petitions Act which makes provision for society to approach the Legislature who can hear requests through the Office of the Speaker, if they do not find joy in approaching the relevant departments. This, so the Chair reiterated, provided the Legislature with the relevant authority to request the government departments to respond.

Conclusion

These initial engagements present a springboard from which we partnership that result in real change for communities can be activated. For example, Honourable Steenkamp requested a follow up with Celeste around a proposal to integrate substance abuse issues with other biker organisations. Mdm Speaker Klaasen actively requested feedback on some of the programmes that Ethembeni ran the evening of the discussion and asked for feedback on how this platform can be opened up to more organisations through our Regional Officers.

One of the main planned Actions following these engagements is the creation of a virtual Civil Society Organisations Parliament day, which like the women’s parliament will be shared via the network of local radio stations. The aim of this day will to provide a platform where the Regional Officers, MPLs and CSOs can start to actively grow these initial partnerships in order to optimise the function of our legislatures, to ultimately provide an avenue through which citizens can participate in their democracy and actively address some of the serious challenges faced by our communities.

Mira Dutschke has a master’s degree in Human Rights law and 12 years of international research, advocacy, and teaching experience. The focus of her work is on supporting democratic participation and inclusive decision-making processes. She has also been active as a multi-media producer in Southern Africa and America. Her work has been published in books, in peer-reviewed journals media outlets like the UK Guardian, The Mail and Guardian, LinkTV and numerous other media outlets.

Comments are closed.