June 19, 2018

Parliament Question Time leaves more questions than answers

One of Parliament’s chief objectives is oversight, and the tool it uses for this is Question Time. Questions for oral or written reply can be put to the President, the Deputy President and Ministers, and gives Members of Parliament the opportunity to monitor the Government’s service delivery. Except that many answers leave South Africans with more questions. Here are some examples.

Is Public Protector not accountable to public?

Adv Glynis Breytenbach (DA) attempted to find out more from the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services about what our Public Protector gets up to, and how much she costs the taxpayers. A series of question were submitted:

How many official international trips has the Public Protector made since 2016; where did she travel to; for what purpose; with whom; what was the professional designation of those with whom she travelled; and what did these trips cost in total?

Reply

“I have been informed by Public Protector that a letter to the National Assembly has been sent to the Speaker advising that Members of Parliament questions should be directly sent to the Office of the Public Protector (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).”

Adv G Breytenbach (DA) also asked the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services how many of the Public Protector’s top managers and professionally qualified staff members have resigned from the Office of the Public Protector and what were their reasons.

Reply

“I have been informed by Public Protector that a letter to the National Assembly has been sent to the Speaker advising that Members of Parliament questions should be directly sent to the Office of the Public Protector (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).”

Adv G Breytenbach (DA) tried asking the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services how many reports released by the Office of the Public Protector have been taken on review in the past four financial years. She wanted to know about the details of each of these reports and how much was spent by the Office of the Public Protector on legal fees. Also, what were the outcomes of any litigation?

Reply

“I have been informed by Public Protector that a letter to the National Assembly has been sent to the Speaker advising that Members of Parliament questions should be directly sent to the Office of the Public Protector (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).”

So we don’t know much more about the work of the Public Protector and what it costs taxpayers. But what we do know is that the Public Protector apparently believes her office is not accountable to Parliament.

DEA cases of sexual harassment on the rise

Nomsa Marchesi (DA) asked the Minister of Environmental Affairs about incidents of sexual harassment and assault in the department. She wanted to know if a policy was in place, how many cases have been reported, whether allegations have been investigated and what kind of sanctions have been applied.

Reply

The good news is that yes, a policy is indeed in place. The department has designated Labour Relations Practitioners to deal with such cases, and where necessary additional support is sourced from external Labour Law experts. Sanctions range from counselling to dismissal. More (relatively) good news is that from 2014 to 2016/7 only three cases of sexual harassment and assault were lodged.

Now for the bad news. In a single year, since 1 April 2017, six incidents have been reported, four of sexual harassment and two of assault. This of course could mean that sexual harassment and assault has always been prevalent, but no one could or would report them until now – which is both good and bad news.

Now for the really bad news. Of the six cases concluded, no one has been found guilty, which suggests there is little point in coming forward to report harassment anyway.

In reply to the same question asked by T M Mbabama (DA) of the Minister of Tourism, the reply was “Only four (4) sexual harassment cases were reported to date”. One perpetrator resigned and the other three were found guilty. Two received final written warnings and the third was suspended for three months without pay.

What qualifies as sanitation when it comes to our learners’ schools?

Ian Ollis (DA) asked the Minister of Basic Education about the current backlog for schools requiring sanitation, electricity and water. He also wanted to know what plans are being made for schools built out of “inappropriate materials”.

Reply

Clearly a lot depends on how you define sanitation and what you actually mean by a water backlog. The reply, in the form of a table provided by the Department, showed that only 49 schools in South Africa don’t have water and 25 schools lack sanitation. All of these are in the Eastern Cape and the aim is to provide them with water and sanitation during the 2017/18 financial year. Are we then to deduce that pit latrines, some so poorly built that children are able to drown in them, pass muster? Does this mean the department has no plans to replace these?

There are 220 schools throughout the country that don’t have electricity. Of the 566 schools built of inappropriate material, 205 are targeted to be completed by the end of the 2017/2018 financial year. Another 57 “schools built of entirely inappropriate material are targeted to be completed in the 2018/2019 financial year, and 48 schools built of entirely inappropriate material are targeted to be completed in the 2019/2020 financial year.

“The remaining schools built with entirely inappropriate material are going to be replaced in the outer years as the backlogs are huge and not all the schools could be addressed within the current MTEF due to financial constraints.”

Does this mean that schools that are partially built using “inappropriate material” will remain as they are, or that schools made of partially but not “entirely” inappropriate materials will have to do? At least until some money is found. What is “entirely inappropriate material”?

National Education Dept doesn’t deal with provincial sexual assault cases

A question attributed to Nomsa Marchesi (DA) but in fact asked by Sonja Boshoff was first asked in December 2017 and aimed at the Minister of Basic Education. She wanted to know whether in terms of the Employment of Educators Act, 1998, the delegated authority to investigate and finalise cases of sexual and physical assault matters is vested with the Provincial Education Departments (PEDs).

Seven PEDs responded by supplying the number of sexual and physical assault cases they are currently investigating. The figures vary drastically. Only Western Cape and Gauteng stood out with 578 and 256 physical assault cases respectively being reported as under investigation. Boshoff later told Notes from the House that since this reply was submitted, the two outstanding provinces had sent in their figures, but the problem remains that the departments do not send in all their reports and this is not an accurate reflection of the extent of sexual and physical abuse in the classroom. Besides, there is little means to pursue the cases that are reported, as there are only three permanent prosecutors dedicated to this problem.

Even those convicted cannot be stopped because is no register of sex offender and schools don’t screen incoming staff. Therefore previous offenders are accepted by other schools and “get in through the back door”. She called this a “catch-22 situation”.

Who will hear the plea of deaf learners?

Ian Ollis (DA) again, this time to ask the Minister of Basic Education how many teachers are registered as fully qualified South African Sign Language educators. This was a question that goes back to August last year, but only two provinces have responded so far.

Reply

Gauteng has no registered sign language educators. Northern Cape has five – they have been at a school for deaf learners since 2014. There are otherwise no fully qualified sign language educators in the province, which means no learners with hearing disabilities requiring sign language to communicate can participate in mainstream schools. The other provinces have yet to respond.

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