Not Waiting for An Invitation
The reliance on the high courts to deliver accountability is, however, an option limited to those with access to resources. In addition, this reliance has contributed to parliament’s marginalisation, as well as to the courts’ politicisation and growing government animosity towards the judiciary. The controversial appointment of the Chief Justice in 2011, as well as the review of the judicial system initiated by government in early 2012, are seen by many as the first steps in a project to neuter the independence of the courts.
In this context, it is necessary to build and strengthen parliament as a key pillar of democracy. Stronger parliaments require more robust citizen engagement and an increasing willingness by civil society and the wider public to ‘own’ these vital institutions.
The professionalisation and growth of a civil society sector and the coming of age of legislation which civil society has helped to shape have, fortunately, begun to nurture a growing interest in parliament’s oversight functions. However, increasing engagement with parliament has not led to collective interaction by civil society with it as an institution. Instead, non-governmental organisation (NGO) engagement has focussed on particular issues, usually legislative reform, and has been scattered across different committees. Organisations do not often come together to devise collective strategies to address the institution as a whole.
Within this context, the Community Law Centre (CLC) Parliamentary Programme, Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), hosted a meeting to facilitate engagement among organisations working with parliament. The meeting served to:
- Create a platform for information exchange, coordination and collaboration among NGOs and trade unions whose work is primarily directed at engaging with parliament;
- Develop knowledge through the exchange of strategies and approaches to working with parliament;
- Encourage collective action, where relevant, to address challenges that impact the way parliament operates as a whole; and
- Encourage collective capacity-building. To this end, a number of presentations from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) provided an overview of the challenges and successes of their parliamentary advocacy.
In order to share knowledge and build capacity, the meeting invited five organisations to present experiences from their efforts during 2011. These covered different approaches and interventions, and focused on the successes and challenges with regards to access to parliament and the ability to influence decision making.
This report presents an interpretation of both the presentations and the roundtable proceedings. It contextualises and extracts key messages rather than faithfully documents.
We owe credit to the roundtable presenters: Allison Tilley of the Open Democracy Advice Centre; Dmitri Holtzman of the Equal Education Law Centre; Kulthoum Omari of the Heinrich Böll Foundation; Samantha Waterhouse of the Community Law Centre (UWC) and Lisa Vetten of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre – who outlined their interventions with parliament through case studies. Responsibility for interpretation rests solely with the two authors.
A ‘people’s parliament’ requires an institution that prioritises and seeks active engagement with citizens and civil society, and that is receptive and responsive to critical voices. A strong parliament, however, also requires a civil society that is informed, organised, self critical, responsive and most importantly, tenacious in its efforts to engage with it as an institution.
We hope that the roundtable and this small publication contribute to this project.
- Download the complete publication (pdf, 36 pages, 881 KB)