07 April 2020

Are Ministers attending parliamentary committee meetings? A look back at the start of the 6th Parliament (Jun-Dec 2019)


Committees take great exception when the political leadership in departments do not show up at meetings. Sometimes meetings get postponed as their presence is needed to answer high level policy questions. A clash of committee meetings with Cabinet sittings, prior commitments (in and outside the country) and illness are largely cited as reasons for non-attendance.

Typically, Ministers and their deputies attend committee meetings for crucial events such as the introduction of legislation as well as the tabling of annual performance plans and annual reports. Beyond this, they are invited to address major topical issues that are in the public domain.

If they do not attend when expected, committees can compel them to do so. Parliamentary rules empower committees to summon the Executive or any public entity to appear before them on any matter, to account on their actions or implementation of policy.

Failure by Cabinet Ministers to avail themselves when invited or required to do so has been a concern and can hamper proper oversight. In her opening address to the Sixth Parliament, National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise stated:

“We have noticed over the years that attendance at committee level is left to officials. Nothing wrong when they are properly delegated, but please remember we hold the executive to account. Therefore, the temptation for the ministers to be hands and ear –off from the financial execution of the business can be detrimental if things are done wrong. So perhaps we must re-understand the reason for the Public Finance Management Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act when the executive authority is and must be held responsible but pleads innocence. The Leader of Government Business will be kept busy liaising between Parliament and the cabinet. The President will get reports on attendance especially on debates and questions sessions.”

Are Ministers and their deputies heeding the call of the Speaker? Our findings show that between June and December 2019, the 27* Cabinet Ministers attended 106 committee meetings in total.  Of the sum total, 92 appearances were before National Assembly committees and 14 before the National Council of Province (NCOP) select committees.

The top two best attendees were Ministers Barbara Creecy (12) and Thulas Nxesi (9). On the other end of the spectrum, Ministers Jackson Mthembu, Tito Mboweni, Khumbudzo Ntshaveni, Naledi Pandor and Ronald Lamola only appeared once before parliamentary committees. The committees that had the most ministerial appearances were the Portfolio Committees on: Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (10), Employment and Labour (9), Social Development (8), Public Works and Infrastructure (8), Police (8), Home Affairs (8), Basic Education (8).

Two-thirds of Cabinet Ministers appeared at least 3 times during this period. This is an encouraging sign.

We put together an infographic to highlight the data. See accompanying attachment

While Deputy Ministers are not Members of the Cabinet, they are required to assist the relevant Cabinet Ministers in the execution of their duties and are also expected to appear before Committees.

Check out Deputy Minister Attendance here during this period.

By design, there will always be tension between committees and the executive.   It is difficult for committees to exercise their oversight role without cooperation and engagement.  The executive should see parliamentary scrutiny as a constructive tool to improve performance. 

PMG does not have data on the number of invitations sent to Ministers and their deputies to appear, therefore this piece only focuses on their attendance in meetings.


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People's Assembly

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