Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Over the last few weeks I've had the fantastic opportunity of working in Parliament for an NGO (part time) and, having sat in on a handful of meetings, I must express that I am surprised at the acuity, insight and commitment shown by our indirectly elected officials. This is something that I feel needs to be said. On a typical day in suburbia you get so used to the administration-bashing that you expect, at best, that there's a secret bordello lurking behind the black gates of Parliament *dum dum dum*...
While the MPs do wear pressed suits and drive silver Mercs, their attitudes could not be more humbled, for the most part they both do their work and kid around. Not kid around in the vein of Office manager David Brent (bi' of an obscure reference wot?). What I mean is: they take their work seriously but not themselves and that's novel for people wielding that much influence. I managed to approach several MPs and extract documents/information from them. Most met me with a smile and an unfunny, but well-intentioned, quip.
The meetings themselves are conducted in an ordered fashion, this I wasn't surprised at. I've seen some of the Parliament TV (speaker! speaker!) and there is not much tolerance for speaking out of turn. Contrary to what we are sometimes led to believe, ANC MPs do not toe-the-line while opposition parties rant and rave. Some time ago I read Andrew Feinstein's "After the Party" where he noted how there was a tendency among party MPs to not object to the government policy - he found it strange and now I see why. I saw none of that particular acquiescence in my sittings. The ANC members are as vigorously critical of policy as the opposition, sometimes more so. Most importantly, all parties place first the concerns of the everyman into question. The specifics would bore you to death but I was concerned with budget issues of late and, for example, the question of business and corporate concession was foremost in the concerns raised by the members. They would not see benefits granted without details on how this benefit trickled down to the workforce. Bravo I say.
And they are sharp as tacks to boot. I was overwhelmed taking on the challenge of trying to prepare critical questions of my own while paying attention to the presentations. They had more time to prepare than I had but still... I'd wager I haven't met an MP as dumb as I felt sitting in those meetings.
To be fair, it isn't all rosy, of course it isn't. There's an air of rhetoric to many of the processes “must investigate...” “will take further...” “should implement...” and the like. You also get the feeling that the business of government is very slow with all the delayed actions and interdepartmental references. I've arrived to find meetings cancelled quite abruptly. I've gone to presentations where departments have not pitched up. I've been to a presentation where the department was not properly prepared. In that instance though it was pleasant to have the chairperson dole out what-for on the unprepared party... or person rather, party is ambiguous in this context. People will let you down, occasionally but its far from the incompetent we're sometimes let to believe by the talk round the water cooler.
And again, I just thought I'd share that.