12 March 2018

The Week Ahead: President Q & A and Legislation


The President's oral question session on Wednesday is the high point of the parliamentary week. The President is required to answer questions of national or international importance once per term in accordance with the annual parliamentary programme. The questions are sifted and published beforehand to ensure that only questions satisfying the set criteria are put to the President. Four supplementary questions, arising from the reply to a question, are allowed. This is President Ramaphosa's first question session in the House since being inaugurated as President. 

Over the years, questions have been raised about the form, frequency and effectiveness of these sessions. Foremost, are queries about the type of questions posed and the quality of the answers provided. Some argue that it is a choreographed and ritualistic exercise that does little to hold the Executive to account. To support this view, they point to the number of questions allowed, the vetting process, the scripted response, the soft questions asked by ANC MPs, the long-winded statements camouflaged as questions and the poor responses. Others point out that even though it is not a perfect mechanism for Executive scrutiny, it helps to shape the public’s views and perceptions of the President. It's an opportunity for him to present ideas, demonstrate leadership abilities and address specific concerns raised. The supplementary questions, in particular, show whether the President has a sound grasp of issues and is able to think on his feet. It is also a rare opportunity for legislators to interact directly with the President. 

Read More: Op-Ed: Why the President’s Q&A will rarely hit the spot

During his second term, President Zuma was always given a hard time during question time and chaos was often the order of the day. While President Ramaphosa will be subjected to a few robust questions , it is unlikely that the House will degenerate to the same extent as it has in the past.

Beyond this, the NA chamber will, on Tuesday, discuss the plight of foreign qualified medical doctors who are ineligible to sit for the Health Professions Council of South Africa board exams and debate Human Rights Day under the title: Celebrating the Centenary of President Mandela by promoting and deepening a Human Rights culture across society - this will take place on Thursday. 

Other plenary highlights include legislative business, motions, statements and the processing of statutory instruments and Committee reports.

Elsewhere, the National Council of Provinces delegates will spend the week in Buffalo City and Alfred Nzo Municipalities in the Eastern Cape as part of its report back on the Taking Parliament to the People initiative. The NCOP visited the Eastern Cape in 2016 and has been monitoring the progress made on the undertakings given. The delegates will be joined by their counterparts from Provincial Legislatures, Members of the Executive Councils, the Local Government Association, Mayors and other relevant stakeholders

There’s lots of action in Committee-land, with a few Cabinet Ministers set to make appearances. Here is a run down of highlights:

-On Tuesday, the Hawks will brief SCOPA on cases currently being handled. This will include its role in investigating state capture allegations, a progress report on its specialised units dealing with illegal firearms and narcotics, as well as its operations to combat human trafficking and rhino poaching.

-Later the same day, the IMC will give SCOPA an update on SASSA and SAPO re payment services. SASSA approached the Constitutional Court last week, requesting that the Court extend its invalid contract with Cash Paymaster Services. SASSA notified Parliament recently that it had come up with a contingency plan in case the Court denied the request. However, SASSA and SAPO claimed the opposite when they appeared in court and are now in trouble.

-According to the schedule, Minister Malusi Gigaba, Ms Dudu Myeni, Dudzane Zuma and the Gupta brothers are expected to appear before the Eskom Inquiry. It will be an achievement for the Committee if any of them attend: the Minister’s appearance was stalled last week when he asked for more time to prepare; Ms Myeni has failed to honour previous invitations citing illness and the unavailability of her lawyer while the whereabouts of the Guptas and Dudzane Zuma are unknown. The Minister's appearance is highly anticipated and he will be asked to testify on matters related to the Eskom board and governance while he was Minister of Public Enterprises. 

-It's a story that refuses to go away - Mr Jonas Makwakwa was suspended and later reinstated after an independent external process cleared him of any misconduct in his employment at SARS. However, there is still a Hawks investigation ongoing against Mr Makwakwa. MPs have repeatedly said that he should not be back at work with a serious criminal investigation against him still unresolved and will put pressure on the revenue body when they meet to discuss this.

-The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services will get an update on the cost to communicate. According to the mobile price index, South Africa is ranked 25th out of 49 African countries surveyed with regard to comparative data tariffs. Members are expected to raise concerns about affordability, quality and accessibility, particularly in the rural areas.

-Public hearings on the Traditional Courts Bill have been arranged over two days. The main objective of the Bill is to create a uniform legislative framework to regulate the role and functions of traditional courts. Since the Bill was first introduced in 2008, and then again in 2012, many efforts had been made to address concerns raised about the role of women and other vulnerable groups.

-The determination of human resource allocation for police stations will be in the spotlight when the Portfolio Committee on Police meets with SAPS and stakeholders. According to a written parliamentary reply, this is a dynamic process, which is influenced by various factors (variables), the internal environment, the external environment as well as taking contingency factors (i.e. absence/leave from duty) into account. 

-In December, NERSA increased Eskom's tariff to 5.2% for 2018/19. The Regulator recently published the reasons for its decision and warned Eskom that it will not allow steep increases in future and that the power utility would have to reduce its workforce and close down inefficient power stations. MPs will be given a briefing about this.

-After many delays and false starts, the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope, content and technical details of its state capture inquiry.

-There is no denying that the National Assembly’s motion to initiate a process to amend the Constitution so as to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation has caused a political tremor. Whether this meeting is in response to this or if it was always planned, the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform has scheduled a timely meeting - which was meant to happen last week but was postponed - to look into the recommendations of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation. The Panel looked extensively into the topic of land reform, restitution, redistribution and security of tenure. The Panel reported “that the need to pay compensation has not been the most serious constraint on land reform in South Africa to date – other constraints, including increasing evidence of corruption by officials, the diversion of the land reform budget to elites, lack of political will, and lack of training and capacity, have proved more serious stumbling blocks to land reform". The Panel is of the view that government has not used the powers it already has to expropriate land for land reform purposes effectively, nor used the provisions in the Constitution that allow compensation to be below market value in particular circumstances. Rather than recommend that the Constitution be changed, the Panel recommends that government should use its expropriation powers more boldly, in ways that test the meaning of the compensation provisions in Section 25 (3), particularly in relation to land that is unutilised or underutilised.

-The Portfolio Committee on Social Development will get a progress report from SASSA on the implementation of the Constitutional Court judgment.

-The Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation will discuss the Reform of the Security Council.

In between, there will be some heavy legislative lifting as Committees deal with the following Bills: National Credit Amendment Bill; Draft Public Audit Act Amendment Bill; Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill; PIC Amendment Bill; Draft Carbon Tax Bill; Copyright Amendment Bill and NEM Amendment Laws Bill.

See full schedule here

*Note: The schedule is subject to frequent changes and needs to be checked daily.


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People's Assembly

"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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