The Week Ahead: Committee meetings get underway ahead of SONA

The pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) period is usually a low-key time in Parliament – quiet and uncontroversial.

There was shift in this trend this year as MPs met in the past two weeks to finalise proposals on how to tighten Parliament's rules. A dress code for parliamentarians, their conduct during plenary sittings and the use of secret ballots where some of the topics that generated excitement. The EFF claimed that the review was targeted at its MPs and aimed at preventing the party from disrupting the President’s SONA. The Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the NA Rules stressed that this process was not informed by the current political representation in the National Assembly, but was started long before the 2014 elections. In the end, the review was unresolved, but will be dealt with at a later stage.

Elsewhere, the Minister of Police asked Parliament to remove Hawks boss Anwa Dramat. Dramat was suspended last year, pending a probe into his alleged involvement in the illegal rendition of four Zimbabweans in November 2010. Opposition parties objected to the request and voiced concern about the instability in the unit and other state institutions like the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Both can be seen as preliminary skirmishes for some of the big policy battles later in the year. These include debates on the country’s energy crisis, MDG targets, the re-introduced Expropriation and Traditional Courts Bill and the returned Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill.

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, Budget Speech, National Council of Province’s Oversight Week and committee work. Notably, a motion of no confidence in the President has also been scheduled.

There's an intriguing week in prospect in the Committee corridor with a few meetings likely to produce big headlines. Here is a rundown of the highlights:

On Tuesday, the Portfolio Committee on Labour continues with its public hearings on the National Minimum Wage in Johannesburg. Further engagements have been scheduled for Free State, Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday respectively.

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services will give MPs an introductory briefing on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill. According to a government statement: “the amendments introduce a two year age gap in respect of children between the ages of 12 and 16 years who engage in sexual acts with each other. It also proposes providing presiding officers with a discretion in order to decide in individual cases whether the particulars of children should be included in the National Register for Sex Offenders or not. The Bill also introduces a procedure in terms of which certain persons may apply for the removal of their particulars from the National Register for Sex Offenders”.

The Standing Committee on Finance also has some legislative work and will receive a briefing from National Treasury on the Auditing Profession Amendment Bill, Banks Amendment Bill and the Financial and Fiscal Commission Amendment Bill.

On Wednesday, the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services will host day 2 of its Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Seminar, focusing on the sectors developments (telecoms, postal services, e-Government and ICT ecosystem) in the last 20 years.

MPs begin day 1 of Public hearings on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s Recapitalisation and Development Programme. The public hearings are intended to ascertain to what extent the programme has been implemented and its rate of success in empowering land reform beneficiaries, to compare developments on farms with the amount of money invested and possibly make proposals on steps to improve the policy based on input received.

Updated 3 February: The National Assembly Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting to consider the proposals agreed to by the Subcommittee.

Find the full programme, here.


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