Western Cape legislature faces ‘collapse’
(This article was published on page one of the Weekend Argus, a regional newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on 22 August 2015.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
The Western Cape legislature faces collapse if it does not fix a list of crises, including overburdened staff, a shortage of security cameras and outdated technology.
A review report by Hamida Fakira, who serves as the legislature’s secretary, yesterday highlighted these and other concerns to an internal oversight committee.
Weekend Argus obtained a copy of this report, which looks at the “impact of austerity measures” on the legislature’s staff and services.
It unpacks the crisis at the provincial government’s Wale Street headquarters, pointing to weaknesses with its finances, information and communication technology, security and management facilities as well as human resources.
The legislature’s committees face the gravest risk as understaffing and increased work demands have led to “fatigue and burn-out expressed by team members”.
Committees are considered the “engine-rooms” of the legislature as they ensure all laws face vigourous debate before being passed.
Fakira’s report warns that committee staff output was faltering as additional committee coordinators were needed.
“There are currently 16 committees, that are serviced by 9 committee coordinators, indicating that more than 56% of these staff support more than one committee and/or multiple portfolios of departments per committee,” states the report.
This has led to a “decline in the quality of work and ability to meet standard timelines for outputs”.
The report recommends a budget allocation to employ more staff to strengthen committees.
“The (report’s) concerns of the impact of the austerity measures on the committee section are not fully exhaustive,” it states.
“Austerity should not mean that a system should be allowed to collapse. The cost of rebuilding it will be much more.”
Committee support staff also need to be beefed up, recommends the report.
“There is no dispute that the nerve centre of any functional parliament (legislature) is its committee system, because that is where most of the work that eventually find conclusion at plenary level is done,” it states.
“The related support services is equally critical. At present, the committee support service is on the brink of collapse if much needed interventions do not materialise sooner.
“Austerity measures have meant that the much needed growth of the committee support service will not materialise sooner.
“Not only has the parliament (legislature) increased the number of committees to be serviced, but it has also developed a programme structure that requires servicing outside of the normal working hours for which most of the staff were contracted for.”
It adds: “This has been at great risk to their (staff) well-being, and without any additional compensation.
“There are real signs that the service is no longer able to absorb all the pressure extended on it, and more importantly on the individuals who comprise it.”
A “sufficient budget (should be made) available for overtime compensation” and the “psychological effects on staff because of austerity measures” should be addressed.
At an operational level, the legislature’s information and communication technology (ICT) system was also on the edge of disaster, according to the report.
“The WCPP (legislature) cannot implement disaster recovery which places the institution at risk in the event of failure or loss of ICT infrastructure equipment. Even though we take back-ups of all the data, we do not have an alternate site for restoring the data and systems… resulting in corporate and parliamentary services coming to a standstill.
“The ICT infrastructure (servers, network switches, cabling) were acquired in 2009. This equipment is overdue for replacement as they have reached their end of life.
“Additionally, whilst the amount of information and systems have grown, no new significant ICT equipment have been purchased to cater for this growth.
“This places the institution at risk that we will be running out of ICT resources (servers, disk storage) shortly.”
Security was also at risk at the Wale Street building, with its sliding glass doors and easy accessibility from street level.
The report states to “improve security and surveillance in the building more cameras must be installed”.
The legislature’s work with the public is meanwhile also curtailed due to budget constraints.
“There is increased demand on the public education and outreach unit to reach more communities in the Western Cape,” states the report.
Public education programmes were needed, with funding to be directed to the “production of existing and new education material”.
In response to the report, chairperson of the legislature’s oversight committee Mark Wiley yesterday said he was “not in a position to answer immediately”.
Wiley is chief whip for the Democratic Alliance in the provincial legislature.
“It is an important document and it needs thorough investigation. I can only get back to you early next week,” he said.
Pierre Uys, the ANC’s chief whip in the provincial legislature, said the Western Cape government needed to “come to the table”. He is part of the oversight committee.
“The legislature has been under-budgeted but there is millions of Rands available,” said Uys.
“It’s close to collapse and the crisis is deepening. When you read the report you ask how could it happen.
“It’s like people just haven’t been caring about what’s happening.”
Uys said he went to work daily and saw “staff here are overworked”.
“Representatives of the people of the Western Cape can’t function properly. People that must exercise oversight, if they are not properly resourced, it undermines democracy,” said Uys.