Address by Minister in the Presidency: Planning Commission Manuel Trevor Manuel at the Legislative Sector 2011 Consultative Seminar, Parliament, Cape Town
16 Mar 2011The Role of Legislatures in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals - Overview of South Africa’s Progress
Mr Speaker and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
Visiting Speakers and Members of Parliament
It is a distinct privilege for me to have been invited to address this august gathering on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These MDGs, agreed to by the Heads of State and Government of 189 countries at the Millennium Summit in 2000, speak to a commitment to a sense of global community. As the United Nations Secretary-General (UN SG) reminded delegates to the High Level Plenary meeting in September last year, “Between now and 2015, we must make sure that promises made become promises kept. The consequences of doing otherwise are profound: death, illness and despair, needless suffering, lost opportunities for millions upon millions of people. We must hold each other accountable.”
It is against the backdrop of these words by the UN SG, that we must applaud the initiative of the Legislative Sector to convene this important seminar. This seminar constructs the basis for accountability of us as Africans, to each other, and with our development partners present here.
South Africa’s internal systems of accountability on the MDGs receives an applause from the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Analytical Study of Parliamentary Mechanisms for MDGs. Our Country Report (the third progress report) was well received when it was tabled at the UN last year. Yet we need to be sanguine about our abilities. In the foreword to that report, I wrote:
“While South Africa has a sophisticated infrastructure, a well-developed private sector and a stable macro-economy, it suffers inequality in education, specifically as regards access to quality education and access to quality healthcare. The latter especially, combined with the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, explains why South Africa has not achieved some targets for those MDGs as related to outcomes such as employment and income levels (these are impacted on directly by education), as well as life expectancy which is impacted by health conditions.”
Raising these issues remains exceedingly important because in acknowledging the importance of the MDG’s, as adopted in 2000, South Africans need to remain conscious of the fact that our Constitution in its Bill of Rights goes much, much further than the MDG’s. As legislators we are mindful of the fact that our struggle for democracy was never merely focused on the ballot box, but recognised that the quality of democracy should be measured in our successes in uprooting poverty, in our continued commitment to reduce inequality, in the way in which opportunities are broadened and the measure of the restoration of justice for all. So the attainment of the MDG’s should be but a necessary step along the way to the kind of South Africa foretold in the Freedom Charter of 1955 and now embodied in our Constitution. And, it is a tremendous asset to be accountable to all of the global community for our achievements, or lack thereof.
As we pursue the path to greater equity, we need to continually remind ourselves that all of the Goals are interlinked and all of them speak to what we do to overcome the ravages of poverty and underdevelopment. As we tackle this, we will have to be conscious of the fact that poverty is far more than the lack or deficiency in income. Our Bill of Rights provides for the right to dignity, to equality, shelter, healthcare, sufficient food and water, and to education that takes into account equity and the need to redress past injustices. At the very core of this is the importance of education, human development and dignity.
Amartya Sen describes this multidimensional understanding of poverty in the following way:
The classic view that poverty is just a shortage of income may be well established in our minds, but ultimately we have to see poverty as unfreedoms of various sorts: the lack of freedom to achieve even minimally satisfactory living conditions. Low income can certainly contribute to that, but so can a number of other influences such as the lack of schools, absence of health facilities, unavailability of medicines, the subjugation of women, hazardous environmental features, and lack of jobs (something that affects more than the earning of incomes).
The principles that inspire the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals are the same principles that are the basis of the priorities of this government since before 1994 when we crafted the Reconstruction and Development Programme. It is, therefore, important to see how attaining the targets of the MDGs are simply the same as meeting our own priorities.
Having stated the importance of the Millennium Development Goals for improving the lives of our people today and for building a sustainable future, it is important that we begin to examine the role of Parliament in ensuring that we meet these goals. As a member of the Executive, I am part of a collective that is responsible for ensuring that the targets set out in the MDGs are met and that they are met on time. The collective responsibility for outcomes specified in the Constitution goes hand in hand with collective accountability to the legislature. We are accountable to Parliament in the first instance, and in the case of the MDGs, we are further accountable to the international community at the level of the United Nations General Assembly. It therefore becomes essential that we begin to ask what information is available to the legislatures so that they are able to hold us to account.
Last year, South Africa scored the highest in the Open Budget Index out of 94 countries having come second in 2008 after the United Kingdom. This index is based on the open budget survey run by the Independent Budget Partnership and is the only independent, comparative, regular measure of budget transparency and accountability around the world. The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act came into effect in April 2009 and in addition to outlining a procedure for Parliament to process money Bills, the Act puts in place several mechanisms through which the legislature is able to communicate areas of concern and recommend changes. These tools should serve to empower members of the legislatures and provide a good basis for being able to interrogate priorities as well as outcomes of government spending.
All of this is contingent on the clear understanding that oversight is based on actual outcomes and not simply money spent. In this regard we must accept that despite the adequate allocation of funding, we fail to deliver quality services to especially the poor. We need to ask ourselves a few basic questions repeatedly. What do we measure in regard to the MDGs? Does what we measure provide us with the basis of understanding improvements in the lives of the poor. We also need to know what instruments we use to measure this. For example, it is fundamentally important that government has its finances independently audited by the Auditor-General or equivalent. However, all that the Auditor-General’s report indicates is whether the money was appropriated as planned or indeed whether there has been misappropriation. So if our instrument of measurement is the Auditor-General’s report and in celebration therefore a party is thrown to mark a clean audit, we know nothing about the quality of service or the impact of these resources on the lives of the poor. We cannot sufficiently emphasise the need for associations such as these to engage with information and its utilisation as central tools for oversight
If we look at our progress with the MDGs indicators, then in many instances we are not only meeting targets, but have exceeded them. For example, in terms of MDG 2 we have met the target for enrolment ratios for primary education of 99.4% but this does not measure the quality of the education being received, the number of days that teachers are in the classrooms, or the number of children that will still be in the system after five years. Let’s look at some of the outcomes of the education system where despite spending about 6% of our GDP, we form part of the bottom quartile of performers on the African continent. We are at 137th place out of 150 countries on a global scale in terms of Maths and literacy. In fact, we perform poorly simply in terms of our own standards.
This reinforces the deeper understanding of poverty described by Sen - as a result of simply being poor, children are subjected to a quality of education that limits their ability to have choices and opportunities. We must begin to ask whether being guided by the MDGs is enough or should Parliament be engaging differently with these issues. We should be asking why despite increases in per capita spending on the poorest learners we are still not getting improved results. Why despite the increased access, the involvement of parents through School Governing Bodies are the results in the poorer areas still low. Why despite teacher training programmes and support do we find that in many cases subject knowledge is poor and motivation is low. An example of this can be seen in the Soweto schools where the matric pass rate in just this area was only 63% compared to the provincial average of 72%, where they have by far the highest number of underperforming schools. The MEC of Education, Barbara Creecy, having identified the impact of some of these issues on results in Soweto schools compared to other schools in the province has called a summit to begin to address the instability and underperformance of the schools by involving all the stakeholders in the community and at the schools.
In terms of form, we seem to be succeeding by meeting some targets, such as MDG 3 where we are likely to achieve gender equality at the primary education level and we have achieved it at secondary and tertiary level. In terms of employment, the female share of wage employment has increased steadily to 45% of the working population by 2010, excluding the agricultural sector. In terms of substance however, these targets need to be unpacked – what percentage of those women enrolled actually complete their studies; if they do, how many girls children are encouraged to study maths and science, what does this picture look like when looking at schools in poor areas? If we look at the employment figures, how true a reflection is this of actual empowerment – what are the percentages of females in senior positions, or even in middle management positions, what is being done to ensure that there is continuous growth and that the numbers at these level are equal?
Similarly, when we look at health issues such as infant mortality and maternal health and mortality, we must begin to wonder why despite substantial investment in healthcare resources and the prioritisation of primary health, we still have a high incidence of child and maternal mortality. Newspapers just this past weekend reported on extensive infant deaths in a few hospitals in the Eastern Cape province. The report suggests that there were 29 deaths of neonates in the paediatric intensive care unit of the Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London. Another newspaper reported that there were 40.3 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in the OR Tambo region of the Eastern Cape. We need an investigation into what the precise causes of this terrible tragedy are. Similarly, when we look at the causes of the incredibly high maternal mortality ratio of 625 per 100 000 live births (I need to insert a warning here – this number, 625/100 000 is the indicator used in the country’s MDG report. This indicator is now being disputed by the Health Ministry and a number of other agencies. It is an indicator derived from the 2007 Community Survey. I request that should this number be used, the caveats are included until the inter-departmental and interagency process has been concluded) that currently exists, we find that the overwhelming reason relates to non-pregnancy related infections mainly Aids. Yet we have one of the best ARV rollout and HIV education programmes in the world. We also have to begin to ask questions about the quality of our health care when we take into account that by 2009, 94.1% of these births were taking place in health care facilities. What kind of prenatal care was provided to the mothers, were they given information about the gestation period, the birth process and antenatal care or were they simply left to fend for themselves? We have read and heard too many horror stories about mothers left on their own, not knowing what to do, often with disastrous consequences. Except for instances where there are complications, caring for these mothers does not require special resources. What it does require is that the health workers provide basic care. It requires a change in the attitude with which the service is dispensed. Equally when dealing with the outbreaks of infections affecting babies as noted in the East London earlier this month and in Johannesburg and Nelspruit last year, a change in approach by the health workers could possibly have prevented or minimised the effects.
I highlight these issues because the key question is to ask is do we know what we are measuring? Further, our situation is complicated by the constitutional reality that the MDG’s that relate to education, health and social welfare are all delivered at sub-national level.
Do we know how to measure, what tools are available? Is this an exercise in dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s? Or do we understand the MDGs in the context of what it means for the future of our country? More importantly, do we understand that attainment of the MDGs represent a part of the solution to heal our past? I say a part because the MDGs cannot be enough to address the deep-seated effects of the injustices that are our history and our legacy. While the significance of the MDGs as a global initiative cannot be denied, it is important that as South Africans, we understand that it cannot be the only standard by which we measure our progress. In fact, the MDGs must be seen as a catalyst to ensure that we meet our constitutional obligations of improving the quality of life of all citizens and freeing the potential of each person.
To understand many of these issues, it is important that we move beyond simply accepting reports and briefings to challenging government to do more and to understanding the realities faced everyday by the poor of our country. As members of Parliament and the legislatures, you are all responsible for a constituency somewhere. These offices should serve as a barometer to measure change in the lives of the constituents. Visit the clinics, schools, libraries in the area, speak to the teachers, learners, health workers, the parents, the youth, community organisations, religious organisations and hear firsthand what the concerns and issues are (not only at election time). Where you get information and the number of sources of information is vitally important if as members of legislatures you are to be effective in performing oversight over delivery.
These issues are not reflected in strategic plans, budgets, section 32 reports or annual reports but they reflect the impact of poverty on the lives of the poor. How does Parliament then perform oversight? What does Parliament look for when dealing with issues of management and delivery? How do we begin to ensure that the services that are delivered makes a difference in the lives of the people and that it is not a simply a matter of providing the bare minimum? The objective of legislative oversight, anywhere in the world, is to raise the level of accountability. It is up to members of legislatures to define in our context what accountability means. How does parliament or the legislatures hold the executive to account? How do they hold officials to account? The standard procedure is for a manager to come to the legislature and blame poor performance on their predecessor or on someone else and then present a half-baked plan to fix the problem. A year later, the process is repeated, with a new manager coming to present yet another set of excuses. Other than strong words, what measures of censure does parliament have? Who is responsible and how can they be made to account. How do they exercise their oversight role? Will the officials be expected to account or will Ministers be held responsible for the outcomes on the performance agreements?
The tool is not simply how much funds has been allocated but rather what it bought and more importantly, whether in spending the funds, we have actually addressed the unfreedoms that come with poverty. Have we invested correctly to ensure not only that children have access to school but that the quality of that education changes that their lives and bring with it opportunities and the freedom of choice? Have we invested correctly to ensure that going to a state health facility does not become a gamble with one’s life but rather what is was meant to be, the basic right to health. Have we dealt with the obstacles faced by girl children sufficiently to ensure that they are treated as equal citizens? These issues cannot be seen as separate but as part of a whole designed to restore the dignity and security that poverty erodes. There is no dignity in having an education but being not only unemployed but unemployable and continuing the cycle of poverty. A poor education not only results in illiteracy and innumeracy but has greater impacts relating to the ability to find employment; understanding and fighting for legal rights and political rights causing the poor to be vulnerable to be taken advantage of; and in the case of females, impacting on their ability to be economically independent. It is widely known that many victims of domestic and spousal abuse are unable to break out of these relationships due to financial dependence on the abuser. Maternal mortality rates among educated females are much lower than among poorer women.
These are key questions about progressive development and the understanding that progress cannot be measured in instances at particular times. True progress and change must be seen as a continuum where we grow our country by growing our people, all of them. It is important to be clear about what is being measured and the question is whether Parliament has the tools to deal with the real issues. When we examine the MDGs we must understand it in the context of the history of our country and the principles that formed the basis of our struggle. While I can quote the entire Freedom Charter to make this point, I think it would be prudent to remind ourselves about the following principle in the preamble:
[That] our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;
We need to develop radically new approaches to how legislatures are involved in the measurement of progress – the instruments available are important, but woefully inadequate. Governments everywhere appear better at reporting historically, where information is available – this leaves no room for in-year intervention. In most instances, such information that is available tends to relate to whether money was spent as appropriated and not the changes effected with the resource. In most countries, budgets – the mere intent to appropriate financial resources is widely applauded, whilst the outcomes remain hidden from scrutiny. All of this must change – not because the UN has set this down as a requirement, or our donors desire it, but because it is the very least that legislators must do to deal with the ravages and the scourge of underdevelopment.
Bearing this in mind, I want to challenge members of Parliament and of the legislatures to actively engage with these issues and end with this quote from the Secretary-General to the United Nations, Ban ki-Moon, at the closing of the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals held on 20 to 22 September 2010:
Between now and 2015, we must make sure that promises made become promises kept. The consequences of doing otherwise are profound: death, illness and despair, needless suffering, lost opportunities for millions upon millions of people. We must hold each other accountable.
Source: The Presidency
Issued by: The Presidency
16 Mar 2011
[ Top ]