Cape Town - South Africa has failed to deliver quality services to the poor, despite adequate funding, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel said on Wednesday.
"We must accept that despite the adequate allocation of funding, we fail to deliver quality services, especially to the poor," he said.
Manuel was addressing members of the European Union and South African legislative sector at the 2010 International Consultative Seminar in Cape Town. It focused on the role of legislatures in achieving the UN's millennium development goals (MDG).
While South Africa had a "sophisticated" infrastructure, a well-developed private sector and a stable macroeconomy, there was unequal access to quality education and healthcare.
The latter, combined with a high prevalence of HIV and Aids, explained why South Africa has not achieved some MDG targets.
He said legislators needed to recognise that the quality of democracy should be measured in a country's success in uprooting poverty, reducing inequality and broadening opportunities.
"As we tackle this we have to be conscious of the fact that poverty is far more than the lack of or deficiency in income." While progress, according to MDG indicators, showed that South Africa was exceeding MDG targets, in many instances it did not measure the quality of the services provided.
The country had met the target for enrolment ratios for primary education of 99.4%, and showed higher enrolment of girls than boys. This figure however did not measure education quality, how much time teachers spent teaching or the dropout rate.
The country also recorded "very high" functional literacy levels.
South Africa was placed at 137 out of 150 countries on a scale that measured proficiency in maths and literacy. On the African continent, South Africa was part of the bottom of the list.
"In fact we perform poorly, even by our own standards," said Manuel.
While these numbers were likely to be less prevalent in the leafy suburbs, they represented the reality of life for the majority of South Africans.
Soweto was an indication of the severity of the education crisis.
"If a large complex like Soweto still underperforms the rest of the Gauteng province on virtually every indicator... then there is of course (it's) a huge problem, because if we don't fix schools in the industrial heartland of South Africa, then the future for many of us is going to be very severely impaired."
He said parliaments needed to ensure tools for oversight and analysis were properly utilised. Relying on official statistics was not enough, and governments should not have to wait for protests to "know what is happening in the lives of the people".
He said several questions needed to be asked, such as "who is responsible and how can they be made to account? Will the MPs and legislators be bold enough to speak their minds and to deal with the complexity of these issues?"
Ministers should be held responsible for the outcomes on their performance agreements.
"I want to challenge members of parliaments and legislatures... we must hold each other accountable," he said.