Ms Michele Clarke (DA)

I say to South Africans, don't leave. We can fix this country. There are certain things we can do to turn the economy around.

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

Prior to 2000, I worked for Local Government for 15 years as an Official. I then got involved with the Democratic Alliance, which was then the Democratic Party (DP) in 1997 before the amalgamation between the National Party and the Democratic Party, which then became the current DA. I was the Chairperson for the Bedfordview Branch in Gauteng from 1997 until 2000. I was then elected as a Councillor for three terms to the Bedfordview Ward. During that period I served in many senior positions in my Caucus. I was a Whip, a Deputy Chief Whip, and I was also the spokesperson of the Shadow Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Safety at the time. I did very well as a Councillor. I really managed to connect with my residence, bearing in mind that I was a Bedfordview Councillor prior to that. This gave me a very nice grounding in my life to do what I needed to do because I really knew the community quite well in the area.

Helen Zille, when she was our Leader, would always say, “As a Councillor you should be a household name in your community. If you are not, you are not doing your job”. I absolutely achieved that. In 2014, I was elected as an MPL to the Gauteng Legislature, where I served as the spokesperson for Community Safety on the Committee of Community Safety for Gauteng. During that period, for three years of the five-year term, I was elected as the Deputy Provincial Chairperson for Gauteng for the Democratic Alliance. I worked with the top executive structure of the party during that period, and I also helped to develop a Performance Management System for the Democratic Alliance and manage the Performance Management System for Gauteng. This helped to keep our public representatives accountable because they are not there to be elected on the public purse and not make a difference. All our public representatives have certain outcomes that they need to reach, and if they did not reach those we discussed why were they not reaching them, and then if they need training, we definitely provide means to upskill our members.

We believe in this party (DA) that one is here to serve the community, and not to sit around on the public purse. I then decided to stand as an MP for the following term because I think in my career, it is very necessary, and that's my personal opinion, that one should serve in Local Government first for a period of time, then the provincial structure and eventually make ones move to Parliament because it gives one a broader context in terms of experience. So I became an MP in this election for the next five years and I'm hoping to stand for another five years and then retire.

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

There are two factors to being an MP. The one is your legislative work that you do in the House, and in your Committees. The second is your work in your constituency. For me, as an MP in the opposition party, it is to keep checks and balances on the ruling party and ensure Parliament does not become dysfunctional. It happens often and that is why we report on this because we feel we are not getting that from Parliament in certain aspects. So it's keeping checks and balances and ensuring that you participate in legislation that is coming to your Committee and ensuring that the legislation actually has an outcome that impacts South African citizens and improve their lives. Legislation is always about improving people's lives. You have to fight that point because any law we write in Parliament must have a positive effect on one’s life and the next person's life.

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

What we hope to achieve is to ensure the South African economy improves because we are on a fiscal cliff at the moment. So it is really important that our President ensures fiscal reform and financial reform in this country. If we do not do that urgently, we are already in a strait in terms of the economy in this country. Our party's biggest drive is to ensure the economy is improved so that we have sound investments in South Africa. Then one can start creating jobs for the 11 million people in our country that don't have jobs and start improving people's lives. That is really what we as a party in the Sixth Parliament want to focus on. We will put pressure on the ruling party to ensure there is sound reform in this country. That we address the expiry dates of the State-Owned Entities (SOEs) that are crippling our country at the moment and by turning the economy around. If one does not have a job in this country, one has no dignity as a human being because one cannot provide for oneself or family. For us, it's critical that we address that matter.

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

I don't think that, in terms of the ruling party, there's a clear consensus within Parliament. Everything is always aligned to the ANC outcome and that needs to change. Also, people should be elected into positions based on merit. You don't have to put people in because you owe them a favour. We need to get to a point in this country where we elect politicians that represent South Africa that have the skill set and drive to do that. It is important to have a multi-party system in all Committees, where opposition-party Chairpersons can hold the Executive accountable, not where an ANC Chairperson is expected to hold an ANC Minister accountable. We have done that in the Western Cape, in particular with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and this is critical.

Which Constituency Office have you been assigned to? Can you give examples of constituency work you engaged in?

I've just been assigned to a new constituency. For the past five years, I managed the Benoni constituency in the East Rand in Gauteng, which was a mixed constituency, comprising traditional areas of suburbs and areas within the township. My new constituency is Germiston, which is very similar in dynamics to Benoni. The geographical spur of the two constituencies are very similar. When I became a MPL, the experience really gave me the opportunity to work with every group of people as a Constituency Head. Sincerely, I just love that part of my job. In actual fact that is my strength. I love working with people on the ground and ensuring that what you do at the end of the day benefits people's lives. No matter how small that is. What is important to a politician is caring about people's needs and therefore my strength is groundwork. In the Benoni Constituency, I won the best performing Constituency and within the East Rand and Gauteng elections. So we did really well in that constituency. One thing that is very prevalent to me is how one drives issues in one’s constituencies. When one drives issues in one’s Constituency, one utilizes one’s Legislature to do that, and that is what we must be doing. So we must be asking really critical questions around issues, making Members’ statements and ensure government is aware of the plight of the people where we work.

Wattville Hostel is memorable to me. The living conditions were absolutely appalling. No human being should be living in those kinds of conditions and I really drove that issue. I got the Premier of Gauteng and other role-players on site. I brought people from national government onsite to come and see what was happening because the Mayor in Ekurhuleni was just not allocating any budget in terms of upgrading facilities for basic service delivery, water, electricity, sanitation and cleanings. We eventually achieved to get budgets to start fixing that hostel. Though the situation is not perfect yet, it is better than before. We had a by-election two weeks ago in that ward, because the Councillor that came from that ward is in Parliament as well. We won that community from the ANC. We had 57% of the vote. That is a clear example of driving issues with one’s legislative capabilities and government to get outcomes to the people one serves. We would never have gotten that outcome in that election if we were not on the ground all day long, working tirelessly to ensure the living conditions for the people in Wattville Hostel improve - that is my passion. That is what I love doing, making sure that people's lives improve, even if it's small, and relentlessly putting pressure on government to ensure that that happens. I don't care what party one supports, but if ones living conditions are appalling, I will fight for you.

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

No. I don't think the Parliament is doing a good job at all. I mentioned that in one of the questions previously, I think it is very important to have a multi-party system within the Committees. In particular, the Speaker should not be from the ruling party. Nowhere in the world does the Speaker come from the ruling party. This is necessary to run a Parliament that is totally unbiased. It is important to have MPs from the opposition as Chairpersons of Committees. Real accountability starts with a multi-party system.

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

We really need to look at some electoral reform because that is how people vote for the people they want to serve them and they know that person.

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?

I think that, in terms of public participation, it very often becomes a tick-box system. Real public participation is needed. I think it needs to be coordinated properly and people need to be informed what the subject matter is in terms of public participation well in advance and educated on that subject even before people are then invited to participate. So I think public participation is a critical element in order to inform normal citizens what is going on in Parliament, and I really feel it is not necessarily done proactively. If they are running a new law that is going to affect my life and I'm a normal layman and I don't really understand legal jargon, I must be brought to a level, as a normal layman to understand what government is going to do that will affect my life positively. That education needs to take place. I don't think government does enough of that and I don't think they do it properly. So I think the whole process needs to be overhauled completely.

What are you passionate about? This applies both in political/ professional arena as well as personally?

I've been in this game for a long time and my passion is improving South Africans' lives. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving this country. That's why I'm here, that's why I get up every day to try to fight because we have a wonderful and diverse country. This country has wonderful and positive elements. As politicians, we must really strive in order to improve the country to make people's lives better and South Africa great. I get up every morning with that mindset.

What is your message to South Africa?

I say to South Africans, don't leave. We can fix this country. There are certain things we can do to turn the economy around. We need real policy reform from government and we can do that because this is a wonderful country. I don't think any other country has to offer what South Africa has to offer - wonderful weather and diverse country. There are 11 official languages - an interesting country from that diversity perspective. That really makes this country vibrant and please don't leave, stay so that we can work together, all of us to improve this country and make this country great.

To learn more about this Member, visit her profile.

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