South Africa

Parliamentary Monitoring Group: This week – busy week in the committees as first term draws to a close.

By Parliamentary Monitoring Group 26 March 2018

The constituency period beckons, with MPs due to depart at the end of the week and return to Parliament on 17 April 2018. There is no opportunity to go through the motions as a fair amount of heavy-duty business will be done before they go. By PARLIAMENTARY MONITORING GROUP staff.

This article was first published by PMG

If you want to find out more about MPs, go to www.pa.org.za

In the National Assembly chamber, the main highlight is the second reading debate on the Political Party Funding Bill. Drafted by a multi-party ad hoc committee, the proposed legislation provides for and regulates the funding of political parties represented in national and provincial legislatures. Once passed, this law could have a profound effect on the future of our democracy.

Beyond this, the NA House will discuss skills development (officially the topic is titled: A renewed approach towards skills development to ensure opportunities for economic activity) and deal with regular items like Motions Without Notice, Members’ statement and Notices of Motion.

Elsewhere, the main chamber in the NCOP has set aside two days for question sessions with the Deputy President and selected Ministers in the Peace and Security Cluster. The Leader of Government Business will be probed about alleged criminal activities in state companies, regulations over the religious sector, lifestyle audits for the National Executive and expropriation of land without compensation. Meanwhile everything from security management at borders, to closure/downgrade of the South African and Israeli Embassies, to extradition rules and vetting services for Departments will be in the spotlight when the Ministers appear. These sessions are used by MPs to seek information, press for action and to hold the government to account. Some questions though fall short of this standard and are designed to be a PR opportunity for the government.

Check the full plenary programme here

The Committee corridor will be the main source of parliamentary action, where there are several hearings on important issues and detailed legislating. Here is a run down of the highlights:

  • The Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation and Standing Committee on Public Accounts will have a joint meeting with stakeholders to discuss the challenges facing the Department of Water and Sanitation. Recently, both Committees approved the terms of reference for an investigation into the Department. This inquiry was initiated after the 2017 Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report identified overspending of budget and under-performance in reaching objectives. The Auditor-General, National Treasury and the Special Investigating Unit will provide submissions to the joint committee that will shape the focus and parameters of the investigation. There was agreement that the inquiry move in parallel with law enforcement agencies and work in co-operation with the Hawks and that criminal charges could be laid without waiting for the investigation
  • The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs will discuss emails in relations to the early naturalisation of the Gupta family. At a previous meeting, the Committee could not reach a decision whether to first verify the validity and authenticity of documents on the status of the Guptas submitted by the Department of Home Affairs or to immediately establish a commission of inquiry to investigate all Gupta matters related to Home Affairs.
  • Predictably, the proposed Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill has provoked a strong reaction. According to the Memorandum on the objects of the bill: The bill is not about whether or not abortion can be condoned for any reason. However, it is about ensuring the maximum protection of a woman by allowing her to apply her mind to the relevant facts and information in order to make an informed choice. It also aims to ensure that through mandatory, as opposed to non-mandatory counselling, adequate budgets are made available for this purpose. Further, the bill aims to prevent unnecessary discrimination against pregnant women in low-income families or challenging social and financial circumstances by ensuring that a social worker’s expertise is offered before a pregnancy is terminated for social or economic reasons. The bill further seeks to prevent the very broad and vague circumstance of ‘‘a risk of injury to the foetus’’ being used as a valid reason to terminate an otherwise viable baby after 20 weeks of gestation as indeed every birth or pregnancy could be said to pose a risk of injury to the foetus. Many have argued that the real intent behind the bill is to limit the number of abortions taking place. The bill’s drafter, Honourable C Dudley from the ACDP, will provide an initial briefing to lawmakers.
  • The controversial Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill – which has been in legislative limbo – will pop up delegates submit their negotiating mandates on the bill.
  • Eskom will brief MPs about the impact of Nersa’s decision on the power utility’s revenue application for 2018/19. Eskom’s application to Nersa was for a 19.9% increase. Nersa’s decision was to award Eskom an increase of 5.23%. Nersa recently briefed the Energy Committee on the reasons behind its decision and highlighted that Eskom had to reduce its costs and grow its sales volumes.
  • There is a planned joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Portfolio Committee on Health to discuss the listeriosis outbreak and recall of certain products by retailers. At a previous meeting in Parliament, the National Consumer Commission (NCC), informed legislators that the Department of Health will be called upon by the NCC to assess the disposal part of the recall strategy and Tiger Brands will provide the NCC with weekly recall progress reports. The parties also agreed that Tiger Brand would directly engage with the Departments of Health and Agriculture on technical / scientific matters.
  • There is growing pressure on government to reduce data costs. For some time Parliament has been engaging with Icasa and key stakeholders in the communication sector on this topic. There will be another meeting to tackle this issue this week.
  • The Portfolio Committee on Social Development will get a progress report from Sassa (South African Social Security Agency) on the implementation of the Constitutional Court judgment. Last Friday, the Constitutional Court granted Sassa a six-month extension of its contract with Cash Paymaster Services.
  • The Portfolio Committee on Communications has a full agenda: this includes quarterly reports from the Films and Publications Board and Media Development and Diversity Agency; a discussion on the Icasa Council Chairperson and allegations of State Capture against former Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi as contained in the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse report.
  • The Standing Committee on Finance, Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry, SCOPA and Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration will have a follow-up meeting with Steinhoff. In the initial meeting, Members maintained that Parliament needs to tackle corporate greed and public sector corruption with equal vigour. They said that the regulatory bodies needed to be more swift and decisive in pursuing the Steinhoff matter, especially given its gravity and huge implications.
  • In recent weeks, Parliament has stepped up the pressure on law enforcement agencies and sought updates from them in relation to high profile cases. The spotlight will be on IPID this week. The Police Committee will also get a progress report on the implementation of the Farlam Commission recommendations. Previously, Members complained about the slow pace that SAPS is implementing the demilitarisation of the police force. They further pointed out that SAPS lacked clear time frames for the finalisation of all the recommendations and asked if there were any members of the police at the management level that had been charged over the Marikana massacre.
  • Away from Parliament, the Joint Constitutional Review Committee, which has been tasked to amend the constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation, will begin part 1 of its work. The Committee has joined with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Gordon’s Institute of Business Studies, and the In Transformation Initiative to engage in stakeholder consultations on 27 and 28 March 2018 in Johannesburg. The National Land Dialogue with a cross-section of opinion makers in the arena of land reform will provide a valuable induction for Committee Members before they undertake their roadshow.

The constituency period will run from 2– 16 April. During this time, MPs have a duty to: be available to the public, help solve problems and report back to their constituents on what is happening in Parliament.

The purpose of these periods is to encourage MPs to remain in contact with the people they represent. For more information about constituency offices, click here. DM

View the full schedule here.

This summary is based on the schedule as it is published on Monday morning. The programme is subject to frequent updating so the link above needs to be checked daily to confirm the programme for the day

Photo: An abortion services poster on an electric box in Mfuleni. Photo: Masixole Feni.

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