23 October 2017

The Week Ahead: Mini-budget tops the agenda

It's a busy week in the main chambers. Everything from the mini-budget speech, to Ministerial question time, to debates, to legislative business, to motions and Members' and Ministerial statements dominate the plenary agenda.

All eyes will be on the Minister of Finance when he delivers the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) on Wednesday. The MTBPS outlines the economic context against which the 2018 budget is being formulated and sets out the spending framework for the next three years. It is an opportunity for government to modify expenditure and revenue patterns so that delivery is accelerated. The Minister has a tough job to do as he seeks to stimulate the economy, contain expenditure and satisfy ratings agencies. All of this must be achieved against a background of low growth, high unemployment, increasing government debt to GDP, failing SOEs, extreme inequality and growing pressure from the public. Under current economic conditions, government will have to do more with less.

Earlier this year; Treasury predicted that growth in the South African economy will be 1.3% in 2017. However, commentators expect the Minister to announce revised growth forecasts, in line with the IMF and World Bank, which recently reduced their estimates to 0.7% and 0.6% respectively.

Read about What’s at stake in South Africa’s new finance minister’s first budget

With a bleak forecast and government revenue declining, South Africans will be watching to see what balancing act the Minister achieves. At the same time, the Minister will introduce the Adjustments Appropriation Bill, Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment of Revenue Laws Bill and Taxation Laws Amendment Bill.

There is wide agreement that the criminal justice system is weak and there is a need to re-purpose it. According to Stats SA’s Victims of Crime Survey, there was a steady decline in the public's confidence in the criminal justice system. Since 2011, household satisfaction with police declined from 64% to 57% and during the same period, satisfaction with the way the courts deal with perpetrators also dropped. Part of fixing this problem lies in having qualified staff that are properly trained and resourced. ANC MP Mr J Maake has put forward this topic for discussion under the theme: The Criminal Justice System: Professional, Resourced and Skilled, Serving Communities, Safeguarding Lives, Acting Against Crime and Respecting People’s Lives to Equality and Justice.

Beyond this, the NA will consider motions, Members’ statements and process assorted Bills, international instruments and Committee reports.

Elsewhere, the NCOP has scheduled question time sessions on Tuesday and Thursday with Ministers in the Economic Cluster. There is plenty of scope for party battles and bare knuckle fights as many of the questions (see here and here) touch on bread and butter issues: illegal farm evictions, transformation, corruption and job losses.

You can view the full plenary programme here

There’s lots of action in Committee-land. Legislation and mega-important spending decisions dominate the Committee corridor. Here is a run down of the highlights:

On Tuesday, the South African Police Service (SAPS) will release its annual crime statistics to the Police Committee. According to some experts, this provides a useful indication of the crime situation in the country but it will not reflect the full reality and that other information – like victim surveys – should be considered.

Sascoc has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons recently. Allegations of corruption and mis-management have dogged the organisation for some time. In response to this, the Minister of Sport instituted a ministerial inquiry into the Sascoc board a few months back. After many attempts, lawmakers will finally get a chance to probe the sports governing body on governance issues and the organisation’s programmes, annual report and challenges.

There are 300 fishing communities on the country's coastlines. They have been at loggerheads with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for some time about its small-scale fisheries policy. They argue that the policy will not bring about socio-economic change – because a lot of the resources are allocated to the commercial sectors and have effectively tied these resources up for years to come.

The Department of Home Affairs will brief MPs on implementing the White Paper on Migration, including establishing one-stop border posts and refugee processing facilities closer to the border. Eight policy areas are identified for change in the policy: admissions and departures, residency and naturalisation, skills and capital, ties with South Africans abroad, the African context, asylum and refugees, integration and enforcement.

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) will present its pre- MTBPS analysis to the joint Finance and Appropriations Committees. The presentation will provide MPs with the macroeconomic environment informing the 2017 MTBPS and the current progress made with implementation of the 2017/18 budget. The aim is to prepare Members for discussions around the MTBPS and highlight key issues that should be considered when formulating the 2018 budget.

The South African Social Security Agency and the Department of Social Development failed to appear before the Portfolio Committee on Social Development and SCOPA last week for separate meetings. They were supposed to account for the delays in appointing the Post Office to take over the payment of social grants. This time, both Committees have scheduled a joint meeting with the relevant officials.

On Wednesday, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services will have a follow up meeting on the DA’s request for the National Assembly to institute removal proceedings against the Public Protector in terms of section 194 of the Constitution and the request for an inquiry into the alleged misconduct of the Deputy Public Protector. At a previous meeting, the Committee was at loggerheads about how to deal with the complaint – the opposition, supported by the Chairperson, wanted an Ad Hoc Committee to process the matter while the ANC maintained that it should be dealt with by the Committee.

Other noteworthy meetings include a briefing by the Centre for Environmental Rights on the issues relating to mine closure and rehabilitation and a briefing by the Acting Secretary to Parliament on the Annual Report of Parliament for the 2016-17 financial year.

On Thursday, the Minister of Finance will brief legislators in the joint Appropriations and Finance Committees on the 2017 MTBPS.

In between, there will be a lot of detailed legislating on a number of important Bills: Committee Bill on debt relief, Copyright Amendment Bill, Draft Political Party Funding Bill, National Land Transport Amendment Bill, Films and Publications Amendment Bill, Marine Spatial Planning, Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Bill, Legal Practice Amendment Bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill and Public Service Commission Amendment Bill.

See full schedule here.

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"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.

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