The Week Ahead: New Term Begins...
Parliament returns from recess this week. The second term will run for 9-11 weeks and will be packed with activities. Some of the highlights include committee, oversight and legislative work; oral questions to the Executive; NCOP Local Government and Oversight Weeks and passing of the national budget.
In addition, the national legislature has provisionally scheduled sittings to debate and commemorate Africa Day and Youth Day. That said, the timetable is pretty fluid and the plan can be overtaken by unscheduled debates, statements and events.
It will be anything but a gentle start as MPs immediately get stuck into the gruelling budget vote process. This ritual – which will consume most of this term - includes meetings with various departments and entities on their Strategic Plans, Annual Performance Plans and budgets for the financial year. Committees then have to prepare a report for consideration by the House. This will be followed by the budget debates in mini plenary sittings, and conclude with consideration of the Appropriation Bill by the NA and the NCOP.
The Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act gives Parliament unrestricted power to change the fiscal framework, the Division of Revenue (Division of Revenue Bill) allocations, and tax policy. However, these changes must be made by following a set order of engagements with different parts of the budget. This is to ensure that: changes to allocations are in line with the fiscal framework, a large number of changes do not result in an unsustainable fiscal policy stance and the overall sustainability of the budget is not put at risk.
One of the regular criticisms about this process is that the timeframes are very short and that meaningful public engagement on very important Bills does not take place. In order to address this, the Finance Committee was tasked to review implementation of the Money Bills Act; specifically to look into the time frames and sequencing associated with the different financial instruments and bills, and the parliamentary procedures related to them. The Committee has not concluded its work and a revised law is only likely to come into effect later in the year during the MTBPS process.
In between, there will be some heavy legislative lifting as there are 52 bills before Parliament with more in the pipeline. Some bills interrupted by the constituency break will resume their path to becoming law. The major ones include the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, Political Party Funding Bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill, assorted money bills and a suite of labour bills.
Other leftover bills cover an array of issues, including border management, hate crime and hate speech, customary initiation, abortion, civil unions, traditional leadership, debt relief, animal protection, copyright and liquor products.
The work of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review is likely to eclipse everything else this term. The Committee was given a mandate, by the National Assembly and the National Provincial Council of Provinces, to review Section 25 of the Constitution, and other clauses where necessary, to make it possible for the state to expropriate land in the public interest without compensation. The Committee will undertake an extensive nation-wide public hearing process and will report back to Parliament in August.
Also on the radar are the four Committees tasked to investigate state capture. The Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, which focused on the mismanagement of state funds at Eskom, plans to finalise its first report in May and table the final draft in Parliament in mid-June. The other three Committees -which have been slow to kick start their inquiries – will be under pressure to conclude their work or make significant progress.
It is highly possibly that the Ethics Committee will publish the long-awaited 2017 Register of Members’ Interest.
The 2019 elections loom large in the background. With this in mind we can expect MPs to use every possible parliamentary occasion - question time, Members’ statements, debates, whatever – to target hot button electoral issues and try to score points over their opponents.
The planned extended Winter break will have an impact on the schedule with Committees forced to add additional meetings and fast track their work.
Turning to this week, there are no plenary sittings scheduled in the NA Chamber. The main chamber in the NCOP has arranged 3 sessions where Ministers in the Social Services cluster will appear to answer oral questions on Tuesday and Thursday and it will debate the Outcomes of the Taking Parliament to the People Report.
Elsewhere, the Committee corridor is a two-trick pony this week: most committees will be considering Strategic Plans and budgets and several will be processing legislation. We can expect an impressive array of Cabinet Ministers to be present during these engagements. Here is a selection of the stand out meetings:
- On Tuesday, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs will consider and adopt the Terms of Reference for its inquiry on the Naturalisation of the Gupta family.
-Lawmakers will hear from the Broad–Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBB-EE) Commission on the work done since inception.
-In addition, the Office of the Public Protector, SALGA, CRL Rights Commission and SAPS will present their Strategic and Annual Performance Plans.
-On Wednesday, Eskom will brief legislators on its 2016/17 Annual Report and performance targets for the 2018/19 Financial Year.
-On Thursday, the SA Human Rights Commission and the SABC will present their priorities and targets for 2018/19.
-On the legislative side, Parliament will consider the following bills: Labour Bills; Electronic Deeds Registration Systems Bill; CPA Amendment Bill; Mineral & Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill; Border Management Authority Bill; Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Bill[ Public Service Commission Amendment Bill and Copyright Amendment Bill.
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.
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.