National Council of Provinces

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) ensures that the nine provinces and local government have a direct voice in Parliament when laws are made. The National Council of Provinces represents the provinces to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government. It does this mainly by:

  • participating in the national legislative process and
  • providing a national forum for public consideration of issues affecting the provinces.

The NCOP also has an important role to play in promoting national unity and good working relations between national, provincial and local government. While the delegates in the NCOP represent their political parties, they also have the important duty of representing their provinces as a whole.


Each province has ten delegates, no matter how big or small the province, thus guaranteeing a balance of interests among the provinces. There are six permanent and four "special" non-permanent delegates in each delegation. Each is headed by the Premier (as one of the special delegates) or a substitute for him/her when the Premier is not available. . The delegation must reflect the proportional strength of the various parties in the province. In addition to the nine provincial delegations, the NCOP includes a delegation of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) whose ten non-voting representatives are chosen from a group of representatives from the nine Provincial local government associations.

Office bearers of legislative institution

Parliament: NCOP

The NCOP elects a Chairperson and a permanent Deputy Chairperson to run its affairs (in similar roles to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker). In addition, a second rotating Deputy Chairperson is elected for a year, enabling each province to have one of its Members elected as the second Deputy Chairperson.

Other office bearers in the NCOP comprise:

  • the Chairperson of Committees and his/ her Deputy.
  • Two sets of Whips:
  • province Whips to organise the work of its delegation and
  • party Whips to organise its party business within the NCOP

Functions and responsibilities of office bearers

Presiding officers

In the NCOP the Chairperson 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 there are two deputies, one permanent and one rotating. The position of the second chairperson rotates amongst the provinces on an annual basis. The presiding officer and deputy 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:

  • presiding over meetings in the House and taking charge of debates, making sure that Members can participate freely while keeping to the rules;
  • interpreting the rules. S/he may also give a ruling or make a rule on a matter for which there is no provision in the current parliamentary rules;
  • regulating public access to meetings and ordering members of the public to leave the House, where necessary;
  • censuring Members, ordering them to leave the House and even ordering the offending Member to leave the precincts of Parliament until they have decided what action to take against the Member. In the event of serious disorder at a sitting, they may suspend the proceedings or adjourn the sitting.

Chairperson of Committees

The Chairperson of Committees is appointed by the Members of a legislature. His/her primary functions are:

  • to preside at meetings of the Committee of Chairpersons;
  • to approve the budget and expenditure of Committees, in consultation with the Chief Whip of the majority party; and
  • to preside at the sittings of a House when the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are not available.

Chief Whips and Party Whips

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:

  • issues can be debated in more detail than is possible in a full sittings of the House;
  • public hearings can be held on specific matters;
  • Members assigned to a Committee can develop expertise and in-depth knowledge of the field covered by that Committee; and
  • internal arrangements, proceedings and procedures for the legislature can be devised and monitored.

The responsibilities of Committees include: - initiating legislation (rules for which have recently been established); - debating and amending legislation and policy documents; - monitoring the departments they oversee; - investigating and making recommendations on the budgets of these departments; - holding public hearings or asking for submissions on important bills; and - investigating any function of the executive and its department, which includes summoning ministers and any department official to appear before them to supply information;

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.

Portfolio and Select Committees

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.

Committees in the provincial legislatures

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.

Ad hoc committees

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.

Standing Committees

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

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.