Address at the Quarterly Roundtable of the Helen Suzman Foundation the UDM President regarding Protecting and defending our Constitution at the Rosebank Hotel, Johannesburg (03 December 2008)
Ladies and Gentlemen
We should never forget that our Constitution is not just the highest law in the land, it is also an expression of the principles that should underpin multi-party democracy.
The attacks that have been launched at our Constitution, directly and indirectly, often aim at undermining those principles.
It is to be expected that a ruling party who prefers a one-party state would come into conflict with a Constitution that specifically aims to achieve multi-party democracy.
The UDM is particularly concerned about three constitutional and democratic principles that have come under systematic threat, namely: inclusiveness, consultation and accountability.
Allow me to address each of these separately.
Inclusiveness is one of the core objectives of multi-party democracy and was a consistent theme throughout the CODESA negotiations, as well as the drafting of the Constitution. It was agreed by all stakeholders that never again can we allow a form of governance to emerge that purposefully excludes people on any basis. It was correctly decided that we should have a system of democracy that allows all viewpoints to be heard.
Unfortunately, the ruling party is fond of concepts such as 'hegemony' and 'centralisation', which run contrary to the idea of inclusiveness. It has meant that alternative viewpoints and policy suggestions are raised in Parliament by the opposition but are hardly ever considered by the ruling party. One example is infrastructure development, where Public Works projects are used to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Today that policy is commonly accepted, but it took the UDM more than four years to convince the ruling party to consider it. During that time people such as Minister Manuel would be fond of dismissing that policy suggestion as populist.
In terms of the Constitution specifically, lack of inclusiveness is reflected in the manner in which Chapter 9 institutions, the Public Broadcaster and the National Prosecuting Authority are stacked with people solely from the ANC. This lack of inclusiveness has been replicated throughout the civil service, which has become completely politicised.
This politicisation not only excludes the many talented people who are not card-carrying ANC members, but encourages a culture of institutionalised corruption. Cronyism and nepotism puts incompetent people in important positions, with the result that service delivery suffers. It also opens the way for corruption in tender processes. Of course the vast numbers of such political appointments has seriously backfired once the ANC infighting started, because now institutions that should be focussing on service delivery have become battlegrounds between the two factions.
Consultation is the second, and related, constitutional principle that the UDM believes has been under constant attack. Whereas we agreed at CODESA that we would create a constitutional democratic order that truly reflects government for the people and by the people, the reality has been something different. It was commonly accepted that we would move away from the 'big brother' style of governance where people are told what is good for them, to a style of governance where people would have a say in how their needs and aspirations are met by government.
Under the ANC the idea of consultation lasted only for a short while. In 1996 GEAR was suddenly announced without any consultation and led to widespread unhappiness. In 1998 the Arms Deal was escalated without much consultation either and in the face of serious questions regarding the more pressing social investments that could be made.
Whenever I visit a community, be it in Johannesburg or Mqanduli, I am confronted with questions about laws that people don't understand and don't agree with. People ask me how we could pass legislation such as the Property Rates Tax without asking them how it would affect them. And it isn't just legislation. People often complain about distant government officials who decide for them they need housing, when they require water, for instance. State institutions such as the Demarcations Board are completely inaccessible and untouchable, yet they can decide on a whim where people live.
Another classic example is Education, South Africans are deeply disturbed about the state of our schools and education system. They feel totally powerless in the face of an education policy that has been in flux since 1994. All they know is that nobody is asking their opinion, and every year hundreds of thousands of our children leave school without the necessary skills to find employment.
Finally, let me address the constitutional principle of accountability. At the heart of true democracy is the certainty that power resides with the people, not the politicians. For democracy to be legitimate people need to have the certainty that they can hold politicians who disappoint or fail them to account.
Yet the ANC has become increasingly distant and unaccountable. We have seen massive countrywide community protests for more than five years because people have become frustrated with this lack of accountability at local level. Legally accountability depends on equality before the law. But the ruling party has a very poor track record when it comes to respecting this principle. People facing serious allegations are kept or appointed to senior positions, whereas convicted criminals are literally carried on the shoulders and allowed to defame the judiciary and institutions of the democratic state. The constant attacks on the judiciary and the NPA culminated in the disbandment of the Scorpions. It cannot be viewed as anything other than a despicable attack on accountability and equality before the law as enshrined in the Constitution.
Politically, accountability is about the ability of voters to bring politicians to task. The ANC's track record on this is also dismal; in particular the shamefully expedient implementation of floor-crossing was designed to circumvent the express wishes of the voters. In this regard the UDM believes that to protect our Constitution and ensure that multi-party democracy pushes back the spectre of one-party dominance, it will be necessary to introduce constituency-voting in the PR system, as well as a directly-elected President for the country.
The upcoming elections present us with an opportunity to restore balance to the political playing field and begin the process of ending one-party dominance. The Constitution was always designed to foster multi-party democracy.
I thank you.
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