Review of Parliament 2019

Dec. 13, 2019 (7 months ago)

“I can only hope that none of those to whom an oath of office will be administered would see that exercise as just one those inconvenient processes that one has to go through, itching to occupy an office rather than determined to internalise the magnitude, the enormity of the responsibility that he or she is publicly declaring to the nation that they will discharge” – Chief Justice Mogoeng on the swearing of Members of Parliament, 2019

​Story of the Sixth Parliament so far…

New MPs

Following the sixth democratic elections, Parliament opened its doors to new political parties and Members. At least 42% of MPs were newcomers with no prior legislature experience.

The sixth Parliament also boasts more women and younger people than ever before. Source: https://pmg.org.za/blog/TurnoverYouthandGender

The initial six months has been a learning curve for most. Some are still finding their feet and developing their knowledge in their respective portfolios while a few are beginning to emerge as key players on issues or in certain Committees. Fortunately, Parliament prepared an orientation and training programme for them to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to do their work as public representatives and lawmakers.

One quarter of MPs (over 100) were replaced during the course of the previous Parliament. The resignation of experienced politicians is accompanied by the loss of expertise and experience. Too much turnover is undesirable and weakens the institution’s law-making and watchdog functions. It will be interesting to track the turnover rate over the next four and a half years. The most notable resignation has been that of the leader of the official opposition.

Passing budgets

The majority of the time was spent considering and passing both the main and adjusted budgets. The main budget was processed faster than usual, with everything compressed into a 2 to 3-week period. Alongside this, Parliament performed budgetary and fiscal oversight over government departments and entities.

The budget approval process, yet again, highlighted that Parliament must find a way to do effective budget and performance oversight over the Executive to ensure timeous interventions where there is evidence of underperformance on non-financial and financial information.

Committees

The first important matter that the new Parliament had to consider was to establish a range of committees and to assign a portfolio of government affairs to each committee. The re-configuration of government meant that committees had to be clustered to align with this.

While most of the public attention is directed at the main chambers, MPs spend most of their times in Committees.

Committees are the site where the real, substantive work (law-making, oversight and budget allocation) happens.

Committees have more time to study, interrogate and debate proposed legislation, policy proposals, budget plans and conduct oversight. They also provide a platform for the public to engage with lawmakers directly.

More than 750 committee meetings were held since the start of the sixth Parliament.

The Justice Committee agreed to set up a Sub-Committee on Correctional Services. Parties had previously expressed concern that because of its workload, matters relating to Correctional Services had been squeezed out completely in the Fifth Parliament and it had led to a situation of complete imbalance to the extent that those matters relating to Correctional Services had not been discussed adequately in meetings and the Committee had suffered in respect of oversight.

It took some time but Parliament eventually established a committee tasked to keep an eye on South Africa’s intelligence agencies.

Committees tackled a range of issues including municipal debt to Eskom and the water boards, the foster care backlog, school infrastructure, crime stats and municipal audit outcomes to name a few

The busiest committees in the NA were Justice and Correctional Services followed by Higher Education and Finance. Meanwhile, the busiest committee in the NCOP was the Select Committee on Security and Justice.

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology held two colloquia as well as a pre-parliamentary inquiry.

SCOPA certainly stamped its authority under the chairmanship of the IFP’s Mkulukeko Hlengwa. The public purse watch dog met on matters concerning municipalities under investigation, investigations into the SABC, SSA vetting of officials and non-tabling of Annual Reports.

Legislation

This period will be remembered because of the landmark nature of some of the bills under consideration.

The introduction of the National Health Insurance Bill has seen high levels of public participation. Parliament looking at appointing an outside service provider to consolidate all the public submissions. The hearings in 5 provinces (Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal) have been extensive – four days set aside for each province - were well attended. The remaining provinces will be concluded in the new year.

An ad hoc committee was set up fairly quickly after the establishment of the Sixth Parliament with the aim of drafting legislation to amend section 25 of the Constitution to expropriate land without compensation. This committee published a draft Bill for comment at the end of the year and is expected to dominate the agenda in the early part of next year. Prior to this, the committee held workshops with land and constitutional experts.

The processing of the Special Appropriation Bill, which allocated an additional R59bn to Eskom over the next two years, was subjected to detailed scrutiny.

A consistent complaint was that Parliament was struggling to meet constitutional court deadlines to fix defects in certain laws and that the Constitutional Court will increasingly read-in provisions in legislation if the deadlines are not adhered to. The National Assembly Programming Committee agreed that that there should be a timeline wherein defects needed to be remedied and that timeline should be processed through the Office of Leader of Government Business. It should only be in exceptional circumstances that Parliament is not able to meet the deadline.

There were 39 unfinished Bills when the Fifth Parliament ended. These leftover bills covered an array of topics including cybercrimes, hate crimes and hate speech, gambling and civil unions. Parliament revived 31 of these bills from the stage at which they lapsed when the previous Parliament. In total, 12 bills were passed by the Sixth Parliament.

There are currently 31 bills (incl the draft section 25 bill) before Parliament. These will resume their path to becoming law in the New Year.

Appointments

A range of functions and duties are assigned to Parliament in the Constitution and in legislation. Amongst others, this includes the appointment and dismissal of office bearers of the institutions supporting democracy (Chapter 9 of the Constitution) such as the Auditor-General, Public Protector and others.

Parliament was kept busy on this front.

The Sixth Parliament was barely underway when the Speaker received a request from the DA to initiate proceedings to remove the Public Protector from office. Parliament, however, decided to first develop rules for the removal of the head of a Chapter 9 institution, such as the Public Protector. This would avoid any pitfalls and ensure that the process is legally sound. The rules were later adopted. By the time Parliament rose for the year, the DA requested that the Public Protector be removed in terms of the new rules.

Legislators confirmed a recommendation not to restore Advocate Nomgcobo Jiba and Advocate Lawrence Mrwebi to their positions of Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions and Special Director of Public Prosecutions at the National Prosecuting Authority.

The National Assembly recommended a new Deputy Public Protector but failed to muster – on two occasions - sufficient votes in respect of the Public Service Commissioner.

The legislature also initiated processes to fill vacancies at the CGE, MDDA, NYDA.

Oral and Written Questions

The President, Deputy President and cabinet ministers appeared routinely to answer questions in both chambers. The President appeared 3 times, the leader of government 5 times and the four government clusters a combined 18 times. The Economics cluster accounted for the most appearances with 7.

Written Questions is another tool through which the legislature conducts oversight over the executive. They provide an opportunity to request for more detail and to probe a specific matter by a Member of Parliament over a sustained period of time. This is particularly a tool of the opposition. The DA lead the way 1 275 questions submitted since the start of the Sixth Parliament in the National Assembly

Most of the written questions were directed to the Departments of Police and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

Interesting and enlightening information is revealed through these replies: https://pmg.org.za/question_replies/

Plenary Sittings

To its credit, the Sixth Parliament has been to schedule debates on matters of urgent national importance – this in keeping with one of Parliament’s important role to act as a forum for national debate. MPs proposing debates certainly had their fingers on the pulse of the nation and the Speaker granted their requests. Such urgent debates included:

-the state of SAA: in light of strikes at the national carrier (IFP, Narend Singh)

-calling of special joint sitting by the President to discuss a new approach to combating violence against women. This came about as Parliament was the scene of mass protests as thousands took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and the killing of young women and children. The catalyst for the protests was the rape and murder of 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana

-recent incidents of violence and criminality in the country including those affecting foreign nationals (IFP, Mkhuleko Hlengwa)

-crisis of unemployment in SA (DA, Mmusi Maimane)

Other topics for discussion included escalating violent crimes, water scarcity in SA, advancing the African Union agenda, insourcing of government and state-owned companies’ workers, prescribed assets and the crisis of unemployment.

Rugby World Cup

We won’t quickly forget Monday the 11th of November 2019 when Parliament, Presiding Officers and MPs gathered to welcome the Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks – the scene was positively jubilant as the national legislature took part in national celebrations.

Internal Issues

The Secretary to Parliament was dismissed after being found guilty of serious misconduct.

Parliament initiated its search to find a new Director for the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The Public Service Commission’s (PSC) inquiry report into the tragic death of Mr Lennox Garane was tabled and most of the recommendations were accepted by Parliament.

Parliament is yet to finalise and publish its five-year strategic plan. This is important as it will set out the legislature’s vision and objectives and set out measurable targets.

Both Houses reviewed and amended their rules.

2020

Looking to next year, the legislature released its first term programme 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. Other things to look out for is the release of the Register of Members’ Interest, the finalisation of key internal appointments, as well as the conclusion of various investigations by the ethics committee



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