Covid-19 spares no organisation from the imminent need to transform and radicalise processes. Parliaments and legislatures the world over are no exception, but in review of this year, it is only the Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) that met the needs of the time head-on, and became a stand-out legislature in South Africa.
The health pandemic has highlighted the importance of provincial governments, as provinces - though sometimes, rightfully, critiqued as lacking sufficient competencies - hold a vital role in the country's health response. Provincial hospitals are often a first port of call for testing, triage, and care. And, as the legislature, it is up to public representatives to oversee the work of provincial premiers and their cabinet members (MECs).
For that reason, the WCPP initiated an unparalleled engine room in the name of robust, stringent oversight: the Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee. Meeting for the first time in April, the committee comprised of representatives of all political parties, though the ANC initially rejected its membership but later rejoined to take part in this very necessary, strategic war room.
Every government department should be kept in check
In the interest of impartiality and fairness, all parties - whether represented by just one MPL or holding nearly half the house worth of membership - were given equal voices. All had a say in the themes for oversight. All have equal opportunity to question MECs, the Premier, and officials. And all have access to in-depth analyses of provincial government's response.
However, the Western Cape must not stand alone. Just as the pandemic knows no manmade boundaries, neither should our need to keep every government department in check.
Whereas the Western Cape's parliamentary mechanism of questions to the executive continued unabated throughout lockdown, the Gauteng legislature did not entertain a single question for over five weeks of hard lockdown. And to boot, replies are late, most notably the Office of Premier Makhuru where MPLs have to wait almost two months for replies. Insult to injury, that province seemingly holds no reliable Covid-19 data.
Every government department has reported back to the Western Cape Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee, often on more than one occasion, to explain their respective responses to the plethora of socio-economic and health crises generated by the virus. This ranges from updates on hospitalisation and testing data to funding for SMMEs and lifeline support to NGOs.
The Western Cape legislature is the first- and possibly the only- in the country to have a publicly available PPE procurement report.
Residents deserve to know how their funds are used to keep services going, even more so at a time where South Africa is riddled with procurement scandals, from the presidential spokesperson to the North West, where that province forked out over a quarter-million rand to move offices - in the same building.
And in South Africa's most economically active metro, the City of Joburg still has no account for expenditure on PPE of over R600 million in six months. Its Speaker of Council has failed to hold a meeting for the 2020/2021 financial year. In the Western Cape, we promptly assembled the first open-access, virtual parliamentary sitting in South Africa on 23 April, with MPLs having full access to questions without notice to Premier Winde.
Taking the oversight mandate one step further, Premier Winde has consistently met with and engaged opposition leaders across the proverbial aisle in the spirit of multiparty cooperation in this trying time. Blatant disregard continues in KwaZulu-Natal, where the Department of Health, through a Premier's directive, did not provide statistics for Covid-19 numbers across districts and municipalities, thereby creating a blanket of silence on information which would have been critical for the management of the pandemic.
Parliament to the people
Taking parliament to the people, with real meaning, the WCPP listened to the residents - directly. We spoke to survivors of Covid, and their experiences of stigma, and their care in the healthcare system. We heard from members of the public, NGOs, and the private sector to understand their lived experiences, their frustrations, fears and hopes.
We asked members of the public to tell us what they thought of government's response. 17 000 residents responded, and these responses are captured in our report which is publicly available on the WCPP website.
But both governance and legislative oversight is best achieved with active participation of residents and feedback.
And so our appeal now is for residents to continue to work with us, once again, to stop the spread of Covid-19 and minimise its resurgence. At the same time, the provincial parliament will continue to oversee the work of government to ensure every possible step is taken to keep residents safe and the humanitarian crises we face do not worsen.
It is our collective action and shared responsibility that will determine our future, for both the province and indeed the country, as we face the test of our generation.