The following farewell speech was delivered in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) today.
Fellow South Africans,
It still feels like just yesterday we were all out on the campaign trail, speaking to thousands of South Africans on what issues mattered to them in this election.
Now, seven months later, we are wrapping up the first session of the 6th Parliament. Reflecting on this year really makes one note and appreciate that time really does fly by.
I say that again, time flies by.
But not all time is lost. four and half years remain of this 6th Democratic Parliament. At this moment in the term, we do not require farewell speeches. We need planning speeches – visions to outline our road map of how we as the Members of the Upper House of this bicameral Parliament, would like to be remembered come 2024.
The activities of the NCOP this year alone, reflects once again, the shortfall of recognizing the true purpose and nature of this House; The rushing of Bills in committees and plenaries, galvanizing the false sentiment that we are a rubber stamp to the National Assembly, the failure of interrogating legislation with the most optimal inclusion of provincial interests, and the lack of political will in holding the Executive to account through the various mechanisms that allow for such engagement.
I want all of us to visualize an NCOP that acts and functions like a true Upper House. I want us to imagine an NCOP that operates as a First Chamber, provides expertise to legislation like a House of Lords and has the respect like a Senate.
And just like any Upper House, the interests and needs of the provinces we represent are what should drive us to deliver the best quality of work in the national legislature. We are not the National Council of Parties, we are the National Council of Provinces. It is about time we started acting as such.
If you look at Parliaments and Congresses across the world, you would find that both the Lower and Upper Houses hold unique powers to each other.
Why then should the National Assembly have the only say when it comes to electing the President? Why can’t that power be balanced with the NCOP having the ability to confirm Cabinet members nominated by the President? Does this not speak to a truer balance of powers – after all, the NCOP is effectively the checks and balances of the National Assembly, and indirectly, the National Executive.
What happened to the days of rigorous debate? What happened to the filibuster? We are the last point of departure of often life-changing or life-damaging pieces of legislation before they arrive to the President’s desk. We owe it to the democratic project that we make the most of our role as an Upper House and really ensure the maximum processing of legislation.
There is a problem when the media labels this House as the National Council of Pointlessness or, more commonly, Shady Pines – an allusion to being a dumping ground for expired cadres. Respect is earned. Only once we as Members of this House take our role seriously and apply with a careful and correct interpretation of our functions as laid out in the Constitution, will the public follow suit.
Unlike the National Assembly – in fact, unlike any other Upper Houses across the world, we have the unique feature of combining all spheres of government – the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) is permitted to take part in House debates, Members of the nine Provincial Legislatures occupy special delegate seats with voting powers, and the national government is accountable to this House through our committees when dealing with legislation.
Time really flies by. But while we still have enough time, we can embark on a journey of truly altering this NCOP into a real, respectable, unique Upper House of Parliament.
I would like to lastly, give a word of thanks to all of those involved in this House. From the Members to the table staff, to the office staff – we are all responsible for the functioning of this Chamber.
Go forth and enjoy your festive holiday. But come back with more motivation and energy than ever before. We will need it if we truly wish to change the NCOP for the better.
I thank you.