At its 1995 National Conference, the SACC adopted a resolution calling on the General Secretary
“to establish a mechanism to monitor the proceedings in Parliament and the Constitutional Assembly and to convey to the relevant Portfolio Committees, Ministries and Theme Committees the concerns and opinions of the Churches on those issues which have relevance to our ministry and on which the members of the Council have a common mind.
“Such a mechanism should also convey to the members of the Council information about the way in which these issues have been dealt with by the elected representatives in the national parliament and alert the members when urgent combined action is required.”
As a result, a Public Policy Liaison Office was established within the General Secretariat in 1996 as a witness to the South African Council of Churches' commitment to strengthening the voices of poor and marginalised groups in the public policy process. In May 2002, the office was renamed the Parliamentary Office.
The decision to establish a parliamentary office was informed by the ethical concerns of the churches and the principle of "critical solidarity". This meant that the SACC would support South Africa's democratically elected government in the work of reconciliation, nation building, and reconstruction and development, but reserved the right to criticise the government if it violated principles of justice and democracy or if it contravened the bill of rights. At the 2001 National Conference, SACC members adjusted the principle underlying the SACC’s interaction with government from “critical solidarity” to “critical engagement”.
The Parliamentary Office:
- monitors the development of legislation and government policy
- engages in advocacy around issues of concern to the church
- informs church bodies about current policy debates
- conducts advocacy training workshops
- offers pastoral support to members of parliament.
Staff keep in touch with current policy issues by attending parliamentary committee meetings; participating in briefings, workshops and strategic planning meetings conducted with other civil society organisations, and reviewing government reports and documents.
The office engages in direct advocacy through submissions to parliament and government departments. It also facilitates advocacy by church bodies and people of faith by providing timely reports on the status of national legislation and government regulations.
The office’s advocacy efforts focus on four themes identified at a national workshop of SACC members and staff in November 1999:
More recently, the office has also begun to focus on Creating an Enabling Environment for Churches by analysing legislation, such as tax laws, that affect the survival and capacity of religious institutions.
- Building Democratic Institutions - Putting in place basic structures and processes required by South Africa's new constitution;
- Securing Justice for the Poor - Focusing on land rights, labour issues, and national budget priorities;
- Protecting Children and Nurturing Families - Including child care laws, health and welfare issues, domestic violence;
- Strengthening Peace and Security - By promoting reconciliation and disarmament, both domestically and internationally.
Parliamentary Office Public Policy Updates analyse legislation under consideration and summarise parliamentary actions at the end of each session. The office also alerts SACC members to consultations on public policy matters undertaken by government agencies or non-governmental bodies. These publications are available free of charge via e-mail or fax. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the office (021 423 4261) to ask to be added to the fax list. Updates are also archived on our web site.
The Office conducts advocacy training workshops for provincial Councils of Churches to encourage people of faith to be actively involved in public policy debates and to participate fully in the democratic process. In co-operation with other organisations, the Unit also sponsors a annual events to examine the government's spending priorities.
Together with the SA Catholic Bishops' Conference Parliamentary Liaison Office and Cape Town area congregations, the Office organises an ecumenical prayer service for members and staff of Parliament at the beginning of each parliamentary year. In addition, the Office often hosts representatives from the SACC's partner churches overseas, arranging meetings with public officials and assisting with logistical arrangements.
The Office currently has one staff member, its Director, the Rev. Keith Vermeulen.
last updated 5 May 2006