The Gauteng Provincial Legislature Standing Committee on Petitions convened a provincial Petitions Week from 19th – 23rd March. With a significant number of petitions unresolved, Petitions Week was aimed at gaining traction on the backlog and addressing various service delivery issues in Gauteng.
As organisations that promote improved engagements between citizens and the Legislatures through the ‘Action 24’ project, we applaud this initiative by the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. Action 24 seeks to foster more bottom-up, participatory decision-making processes on environmental issues by giving citizens the capacity to seek effective representation from the legislative institutions, and use them to improve service delivery by the government. The initiative is co-funded by the European Union as part of an effort to enhance public participation in legislative oversight.
Public participation in law-making and oversight is a key constitutional provision of our democracy, and essential to improving service delivery, and ensuring accountability from the authorities. Petitioning is an important avenue through which citizens can raise specific concerns or requests to the Legislature. In fact, any person, group or association can submit a petition, in any of the 11 official South African languages. The intention of the Standing Committee on Petitions to push for the resolution of 24 outstanding petitions over the space of three days is commendable. It demonstrates the Provincial Legislature’s commitment to see to it that the issues brought to its attention are addressed. This is an important signal to encourage greater public involvement in the work of the institution.
The Standing Committee on Petitions acknowledged that “non-compliance by relevant authorities, junior staff members being sent to hearings that they have no jurisdiction over, and authorities not always adhering to the recommendations of the Committee and committed timeframes” were among the factors preventing the timely resolution of the petitions.
The Provincial Legislature announced that this initiative allowed for the resolution of six petitions, which is a welcome result. Sadly though, some of the factors impeding the conclusion of petitions seem to have been at play again during Petition Week, and not all of the petitions were addressed. The size of the backlog made it difficult to tackle within three days. It also happens that key officials failed to attend, particularly the MEC for Human Settlements, Uhuru Moiloa, and the Head of Department, Matilda Gasela. As a result, a number of petitions regarding service delivery, housing waiting lists, title deeds and access to dignified living environments have been left unresolved – and the petitioners have had to go without constructive discussion and tangible feedback.
We therefore encourage the Provincial Legislature to make sure that the relevant structures of the Gauteng Government adhere to and implement the recommendations stemming from public participation processes.
Moreover, while this action contributed to draw attention to the platform provided to the citizens to confront various service delivery issues affecting them or their community, we regret that the Provincial Legislature did not take this opportunity to communicate more broadly and in a timely manner about the ways in which the public can engage in its work.
Through Action 24, we are committed to engaging with the Gauteng Provincial Legislature to enhance meaningful public involvement – particularly in environmental issues – and following Petitions Week we are hopeful that other provincial legislatures will take similar action. Improved communication on the work of the Legislature and on opportunities for the public to participate will go a long way towards ensuring that the concerns and interests of the public are duly considered by the Gauteng Provincial Government and municipalities.
Find out more about Action 24
Find out more about petitions
Action 24 is a project taking place in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Western Cape from 2018 to 2020. It is being implemented by the African Climate Reality Project, Food & Trees for Africa, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, the South African Institute of International Affairs, and the Ekurhuleni Environmental Organisation, and is co-funded by the European Union.