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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Artikels | Features

The Puppet Public Representative and the lack of accountability

Cobus Fourie - 2010-09-23

This morning I read an interesting piece on Politicsweb titled “[a] call for electoral reform”. The article had seemingly been waiting in my inbox as if it was sent just for me. And it could not have come at a better time. You see, as a generally placid person I have the odd axe to grind and it just so happens to be our shoddy and haughty public representatives with whom I have developed a gripe.

Christina Engela had written a lot on the detrimental effects of the lack of citizen participation, notably in her article “Blah, Blah, Click, Click”, in which she laments the laziness of the average denizen:

[T]he people who have the final say – the voters – expect other people to do everything for them without their having to make the effort to lift a finger to get involved, or to be bothered with the details – and as the old saying goes, "The devil is in the details."

She goes further and blames the mess that the country is in on the apathetic and complacent electorate who assumed the most enticing fatalist attitude. The ANC is on record that it will supposedly rule until Jesus comes again, so one can assume your average voting citizen does not intend on messing with that kind of brashness and resolve.

Since the shockingly insolent statement it now also seems Pastor Ray McCauley might have furnished the apparatchiks with a nice direct line to the Rhema Communications Centre. And who knows what else is possible. It was the “late” Hayibo.com that said, “We want to remind people that there is no problem this country can throw at you that you can’t solve with electric fencing and a pedicure.”

Enough Sandtonista mantra for now ... Back to my gripe.

Engela also writes in a piece titled “Puppet electorate” that South Africans are not taught the principles of democracy and constitutionalism at school and this invariably leads to ignorance, apathy and disenfranchisement.

Engela further considers the gist of the apathy problem and states it very eloquently and concisely:

Politics is left to those few who feel a calling to defend human rights, or those opportunists who recognise the opportunity to make lots of money or dictate to others and to force others to see things their way. As a result, there are few impressive figures in South African politics today. And, unfortunately, the political arena that is Government today seems to resemble far more a "revolutionary house" than a democracy, accompanied by the discord and gross incompetence that accompanies such a house.

Yet it seems, at least as far as I am concerned, the puppet is the public representative, not me. I have been involved in politics for some time, but I am becoming more frustrated by the day. Maybe these people who are mandated to look after their constituencies are overworked, but damn, I haven’t seen such a poor work ethic in a very long time.

In the corporate world it is just the norm to reply to e-mail correspondence at least within a week (which in itself is an awfully long time). And if you are unable to completely fulfil all the obligations and demands of the e-mail it is just good manners to at the very least acknowledge receipt of an e-mail; especially if that e-mail came from a client with a very valid gripe.

But political parties are only responsive come election time and here the Politicsweb article becomes relevant again.

A central focus of the [Independent Panel of Assessment of Parliament] report is on the lack of accountability of MPs to voters, brought about by the absence of an constituency-based electoral system and the top-down effect of the party-list system. The report indicates a connection between corruption in the award of state contracts and lack of accountability of MPs to voters.

The Independent Panel of Assessment of Parliament Report further elaborates on the issue and places due emphasis on the shortfalls of the party-list system and pure proportional representation:

It has been argued that the perceived lack of accountability of Members of Parliament to the public, as well as the poor link between the public and Parliament in general, can be ascribed to South Africa’s party-list electoral system. The Panel deliberated at length on the impact of the party-list electoral system on various aspects of Parliament’s work. It was noted that the party-list system tends to promote accountability of Members of Parliament to their political parties rather than to the electorate … The Panel strongly recommends that Parliament debates the relative merits of various electoral systems and considers the impact of these systems on the institution’s ability to give expression to its Constitutional mandate. The view of the Panel is that the current electoral system should be replaced by a mixed system which attempts to capture the benefits of both the constituency-based and proportional representation electoral systems.

While proportional representation to my mind remains the most fair method of appropriating party political support, there is a clear lack of accountability, which I now have had the dubious pleasure of experiencing. Conversely, constituency representation in the crude Westminster manner effectively drowns out the voices of a minority within a constituency. It is simply undemocratic if the popular vote is not reflected in Parliament.

A federal system is also wholly undesirable, as it creates discrepancies and major human rights differences purely based on geographic boundaries. Imagine being unfortunate enough to live in a province of demagogues and thus having to suffer the tyranny of the majority.

Yet undecided on the issue of which democratic, electoral system to favour, one thing is certain, though – public representatives need to realise that they were elected by the people and are therefore servants of the people. Public representatives should never be haughty, self-righteous, aloof and cliquey creatures of some feudal philosophy. Your pretty face is not on a poster to promote your own interests but those of your community.