Submission to the Panel for the Independent Assessment of Parliament
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the AIDS Law Project (ALP) welcome this opportunity to make a submission to the Panel for the Independent Assessment of Parliament. The TAC and ALP are civil society organizations dedicated to upholding the rights of people to have access to health care services, to ensuring that the state discharges its positive constitutional obligations in respect of that right, and to ensuring a comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS both domestically and internationally. As civil society organizations, we take our responsibility of commenting on and debating the implications of relevant draft legislation and regulations seriously. Since 2002 in particular, TAC and the ALP have made 15 submissions to parliamentary committees, as is shown in Annexure A below. In addition, both organizations have taken the opportunity regularly to make formal submissions to relevant government departments on draft bills and regulations.
Our goal in this submission is to inform the Panel of what we have observed in our experience of interacting with Parliament over the years. While we have had positive experiences with a number of parliamentary committees, we are particularly concerned about the Portfolio Committee on Health’s often negative reception to our constructive criticism of health bills, the Department of Health (DoH) and the Ministry of Health. Specifically, our submission is relevant to the following three aspects of the Panel’s mandate, as expressed in the call for submissions:
- that Parliament scrutinizes and oversees Executive action and provides a national forum for public consideration of issues.
- that Members of the Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.
- the extent to which there is cooperation with other organs of state and also to which Parliament assists in maintaining and guarding the independence of the legislature.
The TAC and ALP are in agreement with these ideals. Parliamentary oversight of the Executive is essential to proper administration of the government. Our experience and observations, however, have shown that Parliament, particularly in the Portfolio Committee on Health (Health Committee) has failed to actively oversee the activities of the DoH and permitted the concentration of authority and national health policy in the position of the Minister of Health, rather than in Parliament or independent statutory councils.
We do note up front that our submission focuses primarily on the Health Committee and other portfolio committees only when they have addressed issues relevant to our work in health policy. Our submission will first address the constitutional obligations of Parliament prior to addressing the following themes which have emerged from our submissions and which are relevant to the inquiry of this Panel:
- Insufficient oversight and guidance of the Executive
- Lack of critical investigations of actions of the Executive
- Failure to adequately link relevant legislation and national policies in a cohesive manner.