The role and function of the ANC Caucus - Juli Kilian
When people hear about a caucus meeting of any political party they often perceive it as a very secretive meeting. To a certain extent it is true, because of the nature of discussions within a caucus meeting.
A caucus is a meeting of public representatives of a legislative body who belong to a particular party. These meetings could be held at parliament, at provincial legislatures and also at municipal level. A joint caucus of the public representatives of the three tiers of government can also be called, but this would mostly be held on provincial level, simply because the large gathering would make it a very unproductive meeting.
All parties have caucus meetings of their public representatives to discuss political strategy and to receive background information relating to the work of the particular legislative body.
The role of the ANC Caucus in Parliament is to amongst other receive information from Cabinet about the legislative programme of a particular Minister. Caucus would then typically receive a presentation from the Minister or the Department about different Bills, which would be tabled during the course of a parliamentary term of 5 years. The purpose or principle of the proposed Bills could be debated but also the order of introduction could be discussed. Caucus could try to convince the particular Minister to reprioritise the different Bills.
Another important role for Caucus is to discuss its oversight function over the Executive and provide feedback to Ministers about service delivery failures which were observed, either when Departmental officials present their Annual Plans or Performance Plans to Parliament or during oversight visits to hospitals, schools, universities etc.
Serious lapses in accountability and financial mismanagement as discovered by the Auditor General and presented in his findings on the Financial Statements of Departments are also important documents for Caucus to discuss. Over the years the Caucus unfortunately did not devote adequate time to these matters resulting in repeat findings on financial irregularities.
The ANC Caucus also receive presentations from Luthuli House about party matters such as preparations for the national or local government elections or about the party’s elective conferences - national, provincial and branch elections.
The face of the ANC Caucus has changed quite substantially over the past three decades. After the 1994 elections, many struggle icons such as Nelson Mandela graced the benches of Parliament. Today the ANC caucus is on average a much younger one.
However, the real challenge for the ANC Parliamentary Caucus is to speak up when there are continuous service delivery failures and when there are corrupt practices.
All members of Parliament sign an oath of office to keep the Executive and the public service accountable. The ANC should encourage its public representatives to take the lead in scrutinising government performance so that the poorest of the poor can benefit from government programmes.