The week ahead: Question Time with the President & NCOP Provincial Week top the agenda

The President's oral question session is the high point of the parliamentary week. Question Time occurs in both the National Assembly and the NCOP and is one of the ways Parliament scrutinises the work of the executive. The President is required to answers questions of national or international importance once per term in accordance with the annual parliamentary programme. The questions are sifted and published beforehand in a process involving the Speaker, to ensure that only questions satisfying the set criteria are put to the President. Four supplementary questions, arising from the reply to a question, are allowed.

Over the years, questions have been raised about the form, frequency and effectiveness of these sessions. Foremost, are queries about the type of questions posed and the quality of the answers provided. Some argue that it is a choreographed exercise and does little to hold the executive to account. To support this view, they point to the number of questions allowed, the vetting process, the scripted response, the soft questions asked by party members, the shielding by the presiding officers and the (in their view) non-responses. Others point out that even though it is not a perfect mechanism for executive scrutiny, it helps to shape our views and perceptions of the President. It's an opportunity for him to present ideas, demonstrate leadership abilities and political skills. The supplementary questions, in particular, show whether the President is knowledgeable, has a sound grasp of issues and is able to think on his feet. A poor display/performance can not be disguised. It is also a rare opportunity for legislators to interact directly with the President.

In Tuesday’s session, the President will be probed on a range of issues including the Presidential State Owned Companies Coordinating Council, the work of the the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Investment, how the country can avoid a sovereign ratings downgrade and about the 6th Summit of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development that took place in Kenya.

Since the start of the Fifth Parliament, the President's appearances have been marked by the following patterns: interruptions, intervention by the presiding officer, walkouts, unparliamentary language, sniping and forcible removal of MPs. Can we expect more of the same tomorrow? Chances are high that some of this behaviour will be repeated.

Beyond this, the National Assembly is set to debate an urgent matter of national public importance: the challenges facing South African Airways. EFF MP, Floyd Shivambu, called for the snap debate amidst concerns about the financial and governance challenges plaguing the airliner. The state-owned company had a loss of over R1bn in the first quarter of the 2016/17 financial year, has not published financial statements for the last 2 financial years and is seeking to raise R16bn. According to the EFF, most of the problems are a result of the Chairperson of the SAA Board, who was reappointed by Cabinet to the position last week. The DA also announced that it would challenge the re-appointment in court.

Elsewhere, this is Provincial Week in the NCOP. During this week the delegates to the NCOP with their provincial counterparts undertake oversight visits to communities in order to ensure that they get direct information on the needs and challenges of the people. The Provincial Week provides a forum for the exchange and sharing of ideas around service delivery issues, and challenges that are facing the provinces in fulfilling their roles.

Bubbling in the background is the strike by parliamentary staff members aligned to Nehawu. Their unhappiness stems from Parliament’s decision to deduct money from their salaries for a strike they embarked upon late last year. Unlike last year, Parliament seems prepared this time around and has contingency measures in place to ensure its programme is not disturbed. In a statement, the management warned that “the action is unprotected and staff are cautioned against committing misconduct by participating in such action. In instances where misconduct is committed, disciplinary action will be taken and this may lead to dismissal”.

Update: Nehawu has suspended the strike as the two parties entered into talks facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

The Committee corridor has schedule a number of interesting meetings that are likely to produce big headlines. Here is a rundown of the highlights:

On Tuesday, MPs will get a briefing from the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and entities on broadband rollout.

Also on the same day, there will be meetings on the Integrated Energy Plan; Department of Trade and Industry's 2015/16 Annual Report; Boxing SA's governance and financial performance and state of readiness for 2016 matric examinations.

There's some high-powered law-making to be done - on administrative adjudication of road traffic offences, financial sector regulation, courts of law and there will be public hearings in relation to the Border Management Authority Bill.

On Wednesday, legislators will hear from Treasury on a vat exemption on sanitary towels and Gender Based Budgeting.

Also on the agenda are discussions on implementation of the Climate Change COP21 Agreement, a briefing by the Anti-Corruption Task Team and SIU investigations in the Telecommunications and Postal Services portfolio.

Public Hearings on the draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill & Tax Administration Laws Amendment Bill and a review of the Powers Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act are the only legislative business scheduled.

The main highlights are a briefing on the Broadcast Digital Migration Project and further deliberations on the Financial Sector Regulation “Twin Peaks” Bill on Thursday and Friday respectively.

You can find the full list of meetings here.


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