Parliament in 2016: what to expect

From the local government elections to political battles, 2016 promises to be another turbulent year in Parliament. Also high on the agenda are contentious legislation, domestic challenges, the state of the economy and public accountability. We preview some of the main issues that will dominate the headlines in 2016.

More wrangling & tit-for-tat battles

A big feature of the Fifth Parliament has been the acrimony and tension between the three largest parties. Although 2016 has barely started, the finger-pointing, squabbles and jousting have begun in earnest. The ANC has accused the DA of leaking information from the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and called for the removal of the guilty culprit(s). The DA – for the third time in as many years - has requested Parliament to schedule a motion of no confidence debate against the President. Unsurprisingly, the ruling party has dismissed this as a “lame publicity stunt“. Both parties have referred the other to the ethics committee over racism utterances by their Members. Meanwhile, the EFF has promised some action to disrupt the State of the Nation address, which could lead to a repeat of last year's events. The DA and EFF have also exchanged words on who is setting the agenda in Parliament. No doubt these are just preliminary skirmishes for some of the big policy battles that will play out during the year.

Important Appointments

Thuli Madonsela's term of office expires in October and Parliament is required to recommend a replacement. According to the Constitution, the National Assembly must establish a multi-party ad hoc committee to undertake a selection and interview process. The nomination of the committee must be approved by 60% of the National Assembly.

The ANC should have little trouble pushing its candidate through as it holds 62% of the votes in National Assembly. In contrast, the ANC has been unable to secure a two-thirds majority to appoint its candidate for the position of inspector-general of intelligence. The Office of Inspector General of Intelligence has a crucial watchdog role to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and that the rights of South Africans are protected against abuse of power by the intelligence services. The position has been vacant for almost a year and with no sign of compromise, it will be interesting to see how parties resolve this impasse.

The Protection of Personal Information Act establishes an independent Information Regulator as an independent juristic person to regulate the implementation of the law. The appointment of the Regulator is still underway, with the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services having called for nominations from individuals, organisations, institutions and civil society for suitable persons to be appointed as members of the Information Regulator for a period of five years.

Civil society has already mobilised and called on the parties to ensure that the appointees are capable, fearless and independent.

Local Government elections & politicking

With the local government elections looming large, political parties are going all out to win over voters. With this in mind we can expect MPs to use every possible parliamentary occasion - question times, members’ statements, debates, whatever – to target hot button electoral issues and try to score points over their opponents. These elections are set to to be hotly contested and must be held within 90 days of 18 May 2016. The parliamentary programme is likely to make space for campaigning.


Arguably, some of the most significant action – that will have a direct impact on the legislature – will happen outside the assembly. The courts will decide several important matters – these include Parliament’s Nkandla report, the removal of unruly MPs by police, the broadcast feed policy and fundamentally, whether a court can interfere with the decision of a presiding officer in Parliament.


So there's plenty of meaty legislation to process in 2016.

Lawmakers are expected to move quickly to finalise the Expropriation Bill. The Bill seeks to align the Expropriation Act of 1975, with the Constitution and to provide for the expropriation of property for a public purpose or in the public interest. The proposed law has been met with fierce opposition in some quarters and is likely to end up in the Constitutional Court.

The Higher Education Amendment Bill has prompted fears that the new amendments will put the autonomy of universities at risk. The bill is expected to attract wide attention amidst ongoing calls and protests for transformation, increased funding and improved access in the higher education sector.

Freedom of expression activists will be tracking the progess of the Films and Publication Amendment Bill through Parliament. They argue that the planned law will curtail freedom of expression and force people wanting to post pictures and videos on Twitter or Facebook to have to submit them for classification first.

Opposition parties are up in arms at the new Broadcasting Amendment Bill which removes the role of MPs in appointing board members at the SABC. The Minister is expected to have a tough time convincing opposition parties that this is the correct decision.

The technical processes of Parliament have hampered the progress of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill. The Portfolio Committee is expected to provide clarity in this regard and to quell speculation whether the Bill will continue to be debated in Parliament, be withdrawn or replaced by a new draft.

The introduction of several contentious new bills is expected to spark debate and their passage is likely to be fraught. These include the Copyright Amendment Bill, Carbon Tax Bill, Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, Regulation of Landholdings Bill, and the Liquor Amendment Bill.

In addition, Parliament has appointed a panel led by Kgalema Motlanthe to scrutinise the impact of legislation in accelerating change and transformation. The Panel will conduct its work through public consultations across the country which will include public outreach and other research processes such as: calls for submissions; provincial outreach; and public hearings. It will make recommendations and submit its Final Report to the Speakers’ Forum in 12 months.

Behind the Scenes

Whilst overshadowed, committees remain a vital platform where the real work of Parliament takes place. Committees will continue to make their mark and hold their shadow departments accountable. The minimum wage, drought, racism, economy, nuclear build programme and media appeals tribunal are just a few of the salient matters that have and will continue to be tackled in committee-land.

The establishment of a Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament is an important development towards improving transparency in how the legislature allocates its resources. Parliament-watchers will keep an eye on the performance of this new structure.

Politicians are volatile and a week is a long time in politics. It is therefore impossible to predict with certainty what will happen over the course of 12 months. The only thing that is guaranteed is that it will be very interesting.

Meanwhile, the legislature released its first term programme last week and the agenda is packed with activities. Some of the highlights include oversight and legislative work, SONA and the ensuing debate, questions to the Executive, the Budget Speech, and committee work.

See 2016 First Term Programme.


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