'Vibrant and robust' relations between arms of state good for democracy – Mbete

Cape Town – The "more vibrant and robust" relations between the three arms of state – the executive, the judiciary and the legislature – are helping to strengthen South Africa's constitutional democracy, said Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete.

She and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, addressed a gathering in Cape Town on Tuesday morning on a mid-term report on the fifth Parliament.

In a copy of her speech to the media, Mbete said the fifth Parliament's work was built on a strong foundation laid during the first two decades of a democratic parliamentary system.

"Indeed, good progress was made in the execution of numerous pieces of legislation passed since 1994, and people's lives have improved in so many areas. However, there remains a number of goals that appear very elusive," she said.

She said Parliament's legislative programme had been streamlined to "increase the level of oversight".

"Parliament has strengthened the content advisory and research capacity of committees, to improve their capacity to scrutinise strategic and annual performance plans, budget allocations and performance reports of various departments.

Court decisions 'refining legislative framework'

"Parliament acknowledges that the relations between the three arms of the state are getting more vibrant and robust. Although at times concerns about overreach among the three distinct arms of the state are raised, these relations are strengthening the country's constitutional democracy, while refining the processes through better interpretation and execution of the Constitution."

Mbete said court decisions were helping to "refine the legislative framework" that enhanced Parliament's compliance with the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court last year found that Parliament did not fulfil its constitutional duty in dealing with the Nkandla matter in which President Jacob Zuma was found, by the Public Protector, to have benefitted unduly from upgrades to his homestead.   

"[Among] matters also progressively receiving the attention of Parliament is the promptness of replies and the quality of answers provided by the executive to the questions of members," Mbete said.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and other opposition MPs often complain that ministers are not in the National Assembly during members' statements, and several ministers, notably Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, haven't shown up at committee meetings.

However, according to Mbete, there is a growing number of "pockets of excellence" with regards to Parliament's investigative capacity. She cited the ad hoc committee that investigated the SABC board as an example of this, as well as the committees dealing with the "current allegations of state capture".

'Strategic shifts necessary in Parliament'

She said while it must be acknowledged that Parliament's abilities were still in the early stages of development, "with clear political will this will grow from strength to strength alongside the maturing of our constitutional democracy".

"The rigour with which the appointment of the Public Protector, the MDDA (Media Development and Diversity Agency) board, the NYDA (National Youth Development Agency) board and other structures was handled, helps in building citizen trust and confidence in these structures, as the country benefited from these actions of Parliament."

Modise said Parliament had made great strides in many areas, but much more needed to be done to reaffirm the role of Parliament, specifically among the various arms of the state and South Africans in general.

"Indeed, the fifth Parliament is playing a strategic and a more complex role, significantly more complex than the first Parliament," said Modise.

She said a number of strategic shifts were therefore necessary. These include the reduction of the legislative workload and better management of relations between the three arms of the state to limit accusations of overreach.

Modise also said more importance needed to be placed on Parliament's oversight function.