End of year statement - Parliament

25 years into democracy, it has become necessary to craft procedures which elaborate on provisions in Constitution

End of year statement from Parliament

12 December 2019

The sixth democratic Parliament has had a demanding 28 weeks since its establishment following the May general election and this is likely to continue next year.

On the agenda were 31 Bills revived from the stage at which they lapsed when the previous Parliament’s term ended – and another 13 new Bills.

The 31 revived Bills included the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) Amendment Bill. The Bill arose from the Constitutional Court’s finding that certain legislative provisions authorising the Minister of Police to suspend, take disciplinary action or remove the IPID head were invalid. The Constitutional Court directed Parliament to rectify these provisions within 24 months from 6 September 2016, the date on which the court handed down its order. Parliament has passed this Bill and sent it to the President for assent.

The 13 new Bills included five budget-related ones, which have been passed and sent to the President for assent. New Bills still under consideration include the Independent Electricity Management Operator Bill (a Private Member’s Bill) and the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill.

The NHI Bill aims to provide more equitable access to quality health care. The Portfolio Committee on Health has embarked on a public participation process involving written submissions and public hearings.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Initiate and Introduce Legislation Amending Section 25 of the Constitution has also published a draft Bill and asked for written submissions on it by 31 January 2020. The draft Bill aims to amend the Constitution to provide that, where land and any improvements on it are expropriated for the purposes of land reform, the amount of compensation payable may be nil.

Besides passing legislation, Parliament must exercise oversight of executive action. This happens in several ways, including regular oral question sessions with the President, the Deputy President and Cabinet Ministers. 

By 21 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa had answered 18 oral questions at three oral question sittings with Members of Parliament. Deputy President David Mabuza had answered 30 oral questions at five sittings and Cabinet Ministers had answered 427 oral questions. In addition, out of nine written questions to President Ramaphosa, eight were answered. Deputy President Mabuza answered all three written questions put to him. Cabinet Minsters answered 1 237 of the 1 647 written questions put to them (260 written questions were not replied to).

Parliamentary committees are the engine rooms of the national legislature. It is through regular meetings of these committees that public access to and involvement in Parliament’s work is also facilitated. From the beginning of April to the end of September, there had been 360 meetings of parliamentary committees.

Another way of scrutinising and overseeing activities of government entities is to keep a close eye on their spending of public funds. The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) plays a key role here by providing independent technical research and advice to Parliament. The PBO came about as a result of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act of 2009, which also empowered Parliament to amend money Bills, not only approve or reject them. Section 77 of the Constitution required such an Act.

PBOs exist also in other national legislatures. The United States of America’s Congressional Budget Office, for example, was established about 45 years ago to provide independent technical advice to reduce reliance on analyses from the president’s office of budget management.

Internationally, there is wide agreement that PBOs help to enhance transparency in how public funds are managed and to reduce waste. The process of appointing a new director for the PBO is underway, after its first director resigned last year.

Twenty-five years into our democracy, it has become necessary to craft procedures which elaborate on provisions in our Constitution. An example is the new Rules, which the National Assembly adopted, for removing office bearers and commissioners in Chapter 9 State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy. Existing National Assembly Rules and section 194 of the Constitution set broad parameters for their removal from office and the new rules elaborate on these. The new Rules apply to the Auditor General; the Commission for Gender Equality; the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities; the Electoral Commission; the Public Protector; and the South African Human Rights Commission.

Parliament also provides a national forum for public consideration of issues. Debates since May have focused on the unemployment crisis in South Africa (5 September); recent incidents of violence and criminality in the country, including those affecting foreign nationals (10 September); the strike at South African Airways and its implications for the economy (26 November); and 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children: Enough is enough – 365 days to end gender-based violence (3 December).

Parliament intensified its international programme and parliamentary diplomacy this year in continental and international parliamentary formations. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Forum, the Pan African Parliament and Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum are among these. Speaker is s currently leading a delegation to the SADC PF’s forty-sixth plenary assembly in Swakopmund, Namibia.

The year ahead starts with several landmark events.

11 February is the 30th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, who would become our first democratically elected President in 1994. Who of those who were there that day can forget the people-lined route from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl to the Grand Parade in Cape Town? It was from the City Hall balcony opposite that Madiba – after 27 years in prison –made his first public address.

Two days later, on 13 February, President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address since his election as President on 15 February 2018.

Minister of Finance Mr Tito Mboweni delivers the Budget Speech on 26 February, detailing the funding for government programmes, announced in the President’s State of the Nation Address.

By 27 February, Parliament will table its draft strategic plan, aimed at strengthening oversight and accountability. The Executive Authority of Parliament (the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces acting jointly) will table this plan to both Houses of Parliament.

Issued by Moloto Mathapo, Media Officer, Parliament, 12 December 2019