Ashor Nick Sarupen

June 29, 2020 (2 months, 3 weeks ago)

"There's so much that is right with South Africa. We can fix everything that's wrong with our country."

Ashor Sarupen

Question 1: What is your political background? How did you come to join your political party and become an MP?

I started politics in 2006. I joined the DA because the majority of my family is from rural KwaZulu-Natal, as we are mostly Indians. Every time we go down to visit family, you would see the impact of HIV/AIDS and the government's failure to provide those in need with antiretroviral treatment. You could see the suffering of children in these households and that caused me so much angst and concern. This prompted me to get involved with a party that ensured that people got antiretroviral treatment, which was of course the DA. The DA also aligned with my views on economics and all sorts of other things. Also, the fact of the matter is that the DA was the loudest voice in the political space, advocating for what was the right thing to do. So that was how I came to join the DA as a student back in 2006, 13 years ago. I successfully ran for the position of councilor in the Ekurhuleni Metro in 2011 and was also seconded for the position of party whip. In 2014, I was elected to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature and served as an MPL for five years. In 2019, when the opportunity came up, I decided to tell my party that it was time for me to serve in the national Parliament, after many years behind the scenes of local and provincial governments. So that's how I became an MP.

Question 2: What does your job as an MP entail? What do you enjoy about being an MP?

It involves two key things really: Oversight of government Departments- especially when you're in opposition party like me; and secondly, the big task is constituency work and facilitating public participation. These are quite important. So the work entails attending my oversight committees, going through documents with hundreds and hundreds of pages. I serve on the Standing Committee on Appropriations. It is an important portfolio at a time when our country is having serious economic and financial challenges. We're working through all of these things and holding government to account for its management and mismanagement of government finances and the economy. That's a big part of my job. But the other big part of my job is actually my constituency work, which involves hearing people's views and making sure that their views are reflected in Parliament. My party assigned me to the Springs areas, East Rand in Gauteng. I meet with people and various stakeholders and when the opportunity arises, I speak about what I've seen because government needs to hear the truth about what's actually happening on the ground.

Question 3: What are your or your party's aspirations / plans for the Sixth Parliament?

For the Sixth Parliament, personally I want to be engaged in the battle of ideas. I think that there are some very bad ideas being put out by many quarters of South African society that will fundamentally damage the fabric of our society, destroy our economy and lead to the escalation of our unemployment crisis. I think that will be my biggest contribution in the Sixth Parliament. Hopefully, I will engage in a battle of ideas so that we ultimately get the best ideas to become policy and law and we can actually get people into jobs. That's my aspiration. My party's aspiration is very similar. Of course we are the party of jobs and we want everybody to live meaningful lives where they can access opportunities such that the only thing that determines how far they get in life is their own hard work, not any structural barriers.

Question 4: What obstacles prevent Parliament from doing its work and how would you fix it?

The obstacle that prevents Parliament from doing its work is, I think, having one party ruling for so long. They'd begin to treat it like a rubber stamp. So we've had one party for 25 years, which means we have had the same policies and people for 25 years. So it's almost institutionalised like a rubber stamp. I'll give you an example: Eskom needs a R59 billion bailout and they treat Parliament with such contempt to an extent that the Ministry drafts a Bill that is just half a page and expects MPs to pass this. It's an institutional problem. This single party rule has led Parliament to be considered a sideshow. The President and the Executive do not take us seriously. The other problem of course, is that they tend not to be held to account. Last night, we had to adjourn an important sitting because only two Ministers were in attendance. All of the mechanisms to hold government to account are not working because the Executive does not want to actually be held to account. So that's one big institutional barrier here; and I think we need to just keep fighting- we need not to take it lying down. We need to reject bad legislation. I think MPs across all parties, majority party included, need to assert themselves and say “We are elected to represent the people and we will do so. We are not here to rubber stamp the Executive.” It is important that Parliament becomes effective. We must not rubber stamp the Executive. The rules of Parliament must be adhered to and bad precedents should not be created by breaching certain rules because it is convenient to do so. It is important that MPs treat every piece of legislation that comes to them meticulously. That's a strategic approach. Some MPs just rely on parliamentary researchers instead of going through each document and responding appropriately. I think too many MPs that I've seen don't actually do their own work. They don't actually read for themselves. They rely on parliamentary staff to do the work for them. That's why there are so many strategic failures in our Parliament. MPs should attend all the meetings. So far, I have a 100% attendance record. We need to do the job people pay us to do, being wide awake when legislation is tabled and responding to it is part of our mandate. MPs must use all public participation tools available. For instance, going back to the constituency and saying Eskom is about to get R59 billion of tax payers' money and that means you pay for electricity twice. They need to know that. You need to build public support using what you've learnt in the Parliament.

Question 5: Which Constituency Office have you been assigned to? Can you give examples of Constituency work you’re engaged in?

I'm assigned to Springs, Nigel & Brakpan. That's an area on the border of Mpumalanga and the East Rand, Gauteng. It is pretty urban and it's an area of stark inequality. Some of the constituency work we do is focused on Parliament and political party. For example, as part of oversight work, you go to all of the schools at the start of the school year, making sure that they all have textbooks. You will be surprised that there's shortage of textbooks. Upon visiting all municipal clinics, I remember once in my constituency, I found a few that were completely closed. Most of them did not have antiretrovirals. They were out of stock. These are the sorts of things that- if you're going to be serious about representing your voters- you need to go and see for yourself. Those are the sorts of things that I prefer to do in my constituency and then have public meetings. Making sure that people's issues are taken to Parliament and feedback is provided.

Question 6: Does Parliament do a good job of holding the Executive to account? If not, what can be done to improve this?

I think Parliament right now does a terrible job of holding the Executives to accounts. We saw former President Jacob Zuma, who got away with nine years of state capture. That tells us that there's a problem. The Parliament needs to improve its oversight of the Executive. They don't give you the information, they try their best not to answer questions and so on. That's a big problem. Parliament should exercise its powers and say that contempt of Parliament is equivalent to contempt of courts. That's the first thing that Parliament needs to do. The second thing is actually making it mandatory for the Executive to attend all sessions and so on. Parliament must be ready to use its subpoena power and say “We're going to subpoena your officials, we're going to subpoena your DGs”, and so on. If officials fail to appear before Parliament, strong legal powers should be exercised to force them to account and if they can't, there should be legal consequences. That's what Parliament actually needs to do. Parliament should not rubber stamp the Executive in any way. It should be an independent arm of government. We've got a Judiciary that is strong and independent. You've got an Executive that tends to overreach. I mean we've got a very weak Legislative sector, and this requires a mind shift on the part of the majority party. All of its MPs need to remember that they serve constituents and voters, not the leadership of their party.

Question 7: Are you happy with the proportional representation system or are you in favor of electoral reform?

I'm massively in favour of electoral reform. I think that proportional representation means that we have 400 people who are not in any way accountable to anyone except their own Party. Proportional representation was necessary during the transition when we needed every voice to be heard, no matter how small. If we only had a constituency system in 1994, we would probably have three parties like the ANC, National Party and IFP. That would have been terrible for democracy. The situation has evolved. We're now more stable as a democracy and so I think that it is time for us to seriously look into electoral reform, and the system I'm most in favour of is mixed-member proportional representation. So you take 300 seats of Parliament, you allocate them across the constituencies. You could have more than one- you could have a three-member constituency and then people vote and you know the person with the most votes gets the first seat, and second, and third. Some parties might win two, even all three seats in a constituency. That's fine. Then what you do is you take the last 100 seats in Parliament based on outcome from the constituencies. Now we need to make sure that the final results is proportional and you use that as a top-up, and that way you won't exclude those minority parties, but you'll also ensure that most of the MPs have a constituency and you will have some constituencies where you'll have two ANC MPs and one DA MP, two ANC MPs and one EFF MP. The point is that people will then know they've got this MP. It will allow diversity of opinions. MPs will become more entrenched in constituencies and communities and it will ensure accountability to the voters, not parties.

Question 8: What can be done to get citizens more interested/ involved in Parliament? Is this an area where Parliament can improve and if so, what recommendations do you have? What are you passionate about? This applies both in political/ professional arena as well as personally?

I think Parliament needs to market itself in more interesting ways. It's very boring at the moment. If you open a newspaper and look for public participation with respect to Parliament, it's very boring. People should be aware of the pieces of legislation that affect them. For instance, the National Health Insurance Bill. I think Parliament needs to move with the times. It needs to be more active on social media and try to get people to be aware of what's happening. The Executive wants Parliament to rubberstamp it. So it suits it if Parliament is boring. It doesn't want Parliament to be dynamic. Parliament has got to take its obligation to public participation seriously. Also, I don't think enough people are getting involved. Whenever I bring people to the Parliament, they do say “I'll never get another opportunity to be here”, but actually, anyone can come to the Parliament as long as they possess a valid ID and don't have weapons on them. They can sit and watch, attend committee meetings and meet with their representatives. People don't do that because they feel they are detached from Parliament. That's why a lot of people lose faith in democracy when they see their representatives as something else, not a part of them. Certainly, Parliament still has a lot of work to do. I am very passionate about improving society. I think that South Africa has all of the right ingredients in place to be a very successful country. We have got good regulations; we've got well-developed industrial sectors and so on. We just need to get the growth in. And so I'm very passionate about developing South Africa and developing it in the right way that maximizes opportunity. So, yes, I'm passionate about the people of this country and I hope that in my five years here, I can do something, even if it's just one thing to make their lives better.

Question 9: What is your message to South Africa?

I tell people not to lose hope. A lot of people are emigrating or thinking about emigrating. A lot of people have just given up looking for work. We've seen some violence in the streets these last few weeks, especially in Gauteng. However, this country has a lot to offer and it can be better. Don't give up on your country. There's so much at stake here that we can fight for. There's so much that is right with South Africa. We can fix everything that's wrong with our country.

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