House of Cards

This week I had the unique opportunity of sitting in on a committee session for the committee on Trade and Industry for the South African Parliament, as they debated possible amendments to the Lottery Funds Act.

The South African Parliament is actually located directly down the street from where I live. This never ceases to amaze me– a two-minute walk, and I am standing in front of one of the most powerful buildings in all of South Africa. There are also many downsides. For example, after I came home early from work from illness, I was unable to sleep, until I craftily buried my head under two pillows and blankets to drown out the noise of the protest of the day, occurring a few hundred feet away, in front of Parliament. We are also greeted every morning around 7:30 with the police motorcade escort of some influential politician heading into work.

I was offered the opportunity to observe a session in this historic building because the committee on Trade and Industry was debating possible amendments to the Lottery Funds Act. SAEP has had a long, mostly miserable history with the lottery, which, as in the United States, grants a large portion of the winnings to charity. To make a long story short, after being denied about 6 times over many years, without any reason, the non-profit brought the lottery funds to court to be reconsidered. Eventually, the lottery gave the non-profit a grant, but the money was not paid for over a year, making planning difficult. After a rocky relationship, the NGO is interested in any amendments that could make this process more efficient for future charitable grants. To keep tabs on the legislative process, I was sent to observe.

After an hour and a half, on the dot, the chairwoman called for a 15-minute break for tea. I am not sure if we do this in America, but I am pretty sure that after such a short session, we do not file out of the room for hot tea, finger sandwiches, and fruit. I have very  much enjoyed the British influence on the culture here in South Africa, and am even getting used to spelling programme, labour, and maths.

The proceedings were what I expected, and numerous civil society organizations came to show their interest in reform. The actual act was beside the point for me. It was more interesting to finally enter the gates of the mystery building at the end of the street, and to see the South African system in action. If that makes me a nerd, so be it.

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