Constituency Offices

South Africa’s electoral system at the provincial and national levels is one of proportional representation, meaning that MPs and MPLs are not elected from geographic areas in the way that ward councillors are in local government elections[1]. This does not mean that representatives are not expected to interact with the public: Parliament makes available to each party represented in Parliament a 'Political Party Constituency Allowance' and determines certain regulations regarding constituency offices operated by parties, including that[2]:

  • the services available at a constituency office must be available equally to all members of the public
  • a party must lease office space exclusively for use as a constituency office
  • the office must be clearly marked as a constituency office

What Are Constituency Offices?

  • These are about 350 Constituency Offices around the country where members of the public can approach elected representatives and ask for help.
  • The parliamentary programme assigns every Monday during session and several weeks during the year for MPs to concentrate on constituency work.
  • During constituency periods MPs and MPLs have a duty to: Be available to the public; Help solve problems; and Report back to their constituents on what is happening in Parliament

Parliament writes in its Insession magazine (August 2013):

The Parliamentary Constituency Offices play a vital role in enabling the public to become active citizens and to take part in parliamentary activities. Services that give effect to this are direct interaction with MPs and the opportunity to lobby representatives, report-backs from MPs and advice on how to access services from both public and private sector establishments. They also offer assistance with challenges that face local communities and in participating in the processes of Parliament, such as preparing submissions or drawing up and presenting petitions. MPs also attend Committee meetings, so that they can convey information about what happens there to the public.

The parliamentary calendar sets aside regular periods for MPs to spend in their constituencies to do constituency work. During this period, Members visit their constituencies and conduct oversight over government programmes. The parliamentary constituency weeks offer MPs a chance to meet with the public, discuss issues and find solutions to problems.

  • MPs are allocated constituencies by their party.

  • Parties with very few representatives in parliament have to allocate very large areas to their MPs. If a party has only one seat, for example, this MP will have the entire country as his/ her constituency. Some constituencies, however, will have more than one representative. This is because different parties will each allocate them with representatives

In South Africa, constituency offices are funded by Parliament. While the National Assembly and the nine provincial legislatures provide the funding, the various political parties carry out the actual establishment of the Constituency Offices and recruit administrative staff to operate them. Each of the Members of Provincial Legislatures (MPLs) receive constituency allowances to establish and run Parliamentary Constituency Offices (PCOs). However, in practice, not all Members of Parliament (MPs) and MPLs run their own Constituency Offices as the funding is generally considered inadequate. This is especially the case with smaller political parties where, in most cases, the constituency allowances of the parties’ MPs and MPLs are pooled to establish as small number of PCOs.

  • It is important to note that Constituency offices are funded through public funds and, officially, they are an integral part of the provincial legislatures and the National Assembly.

Parliament's Allowances for Constituency Work 2013/2014: Total R243 million

Allocations to the 4 biggest parties for MPs: - African National Congress - R160 million - Democratic Alliance - R41 million - Congress of the People - R20 million - Inkatha Freedom Party - R10 million

Information provided by Parliament, July 2013

Difficulties in obtaining Constituency Office information

Despite policy requiring that parties provide Parliament with information regarding the location of its offices and the members assigned to each, efforts by the People’s Assembly to source this information from both Parliament and political parties has proved difficult. Where no offices are displayed for a party we have been unsuccessful in obtaining the necessary information from that party.

The DA has provided the People’s Assembly with the geographic areas it allocates to its MPs and MPLs, including contact details but no physical addresses of constituency offices. We therefore display ‘DA Constituency Areas’ based on an approximate location of that area. The IFP and COPE have provided a list of PCOs but without an specific MP assigned to each office.

[1] The exception to this is that some members of the national assembly are elected from provincial lists - meaning that they can be said to represent a particular province.

[2] Source: Parliament Policy on Political Party Allowances