The National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the Constitution. It does this by:
Members of the National Assembly can change the government by passing a vote of no confidence in the President and/or the Cabinet.
The National Assembly must have a maximum of 400 Members and a minimum of 350 Members of Parliament (MPs).
Members are elected to the National Assembly through an electoral system based on proportional representation. The Constitution makes it clear that the current electoral system can be changed by a new law, provided that the new electoral system results, in general, in proportional representation. This means that candidates are appointed from party lists in proportion to the number of votes the party wins in the elections. So if a party wins half the votes it will hold half the seats in the National Assembly.
The Speaker in the National Assembly and in the provincial legislatures is the person who presides over the proceedings of the House and is responsible for running the legislature subject to the policy laid down by the Joint Rules Committee of Parliament.
In the NCOP s/he is called the Chairperson and has the same powers as a Speaker. In the NCOP there are two deputies, one permanent and one rotating. The position of the second chairperson rotates amongst the provinces on an annual basis.
These presiding officers and their deputies are elected from amongst the Members of each legislature and are expected to be fair and impartial in the execution of their duties. They are responsible for:
The National Assembly may remove the Speaker or Deputy Speaker from office by resolution. A majority of the Members of the Assembly must be present when the resolution is adopted. Chairperson of Committees
The Chairperson of Committees is appointed by the Members of a legislature. His/her primary functions are:
The Leader of Government Business is chosen by the President (with the consent of the Cabinet) from amongst the Members of the Cabinet and represents Cabinet in Parliament. The Leader of Government Business, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the majority party, plays a crucial role in deciding on the programme of the legislature and ensuring that government business is dealt with and properly synchronised.
Whips contribute to the smooth running of a legislature. At the same time whips represent their party's interests and ensure the discipline of their members and the effective functioning of their party, both within the legislature as well as within the organisation. There are two Chief Whips who are the official office bearers. One represents the majority party and the other is from the largest minority party. The other parties have Senior Whips assisted by a number of other whips. The Chief Whips are formally appointed by the Speaker, based on the recommendations of the respective political parties.
The Chief Whip of the majority party, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the largest minority party, is responsible for the detailed arrangement of the legislative business, that is, the programme of the Legislature. S/he is also responsible for approving the budget of Committees in consultation with the Chairperson of Committees.
Much of the work of legislatures is delegated to Committees. This means that
The responsibilities of Committees include:
Committees do not take decisions but make recommendations to the legislature. Usually these recommendations are expressed in the form of reports to the House.
Each Committee elects its own chairperson. Each Committee is supported administratively by a Committee secretary/clerk.
In the National Assembly there are "Portfolio" Committees which shadow government departments - for each government department/portfolio there is a portfolio committee. For example there is a Portfolio Committee on Housing which addresses issues which relate to the Department of Housing. The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has equivalent Committees, known as "Select" Committees. But unlike the National Assembly committees, there is not always one committee per government department/portfolio but a cluster. For example the Security and Justice Select Committee deals with the portfolios of Justice, Safety and Security as well as Defence.
Provincial legislatures also have committees. Like the national portfolio committees, they shadow the area of responsibilities of Member of Executive Council (MECs) - but unlike the national committees, there is not always one committee per MEC or government department/ issue.
Both Parliament and provincial legislatures have temporary Committees, known as "Ad Hoc" Committees, which are formed to consider specific issues. They cease to exist once they have completed their mandates.
Some committees are permanent structures and are known as "standing committees" such as the Public Accounts Standing Committee. Some permanent committees have members from both the National Assembly and the NCOP, which are called "joint" standing Committees such as the Joint Standing Committee on Defence. However the term "standing committee" is slowly being phased out. For example the Joint Standing Committee on Defence will shortly be renamed the Joint Committee on Security Matters.
Legislative authority is vested nationally in Parliament (section 44 of the Constitution). Provincial legislative authority is vested in the provincial legislatures (section 104 of the Constitution).
The national legislative authority, as vested in Parliament, gives the National Assembly the power - to amend the Constitution; - to pass legislation with regard to any issue, subject to certain provisions; and - to pass on any of its legislative powers to any legislature in the other spheres of government (except the power to amend the Constitution). It gives the NCOP the power - to participate in amending the Constitution (section 74); - to pass legislation affecting provinces (section 76); and - to consider any legislation passed by the National Assembly (section 75). Parliament may intervene in provincial legislation and make or change laws dealing with exclusive provincial matters (listed in Schedule 5 of the Constitution) only in the following cases (section 44 (2)): - to maintain national security, - to maintain economic unity, - to maintain essential national standards, - to establish minimum standards for rendering of services; or - to prevent unreasonable action by a province that might be detrimental to the other provinces.