30 October 2017

The Week Ahead: President and Deputy take Centre Stage

The President's oral question session on Thursday 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 and this will be his final appearance for the year. 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.

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.

Given past appearances, this session is likely to be another flashpoint, as MPs probe the President and try to put him on the spot.

It's unlikely that MP Z N Mbhele (DA) had to try too hard to convince the Speaker and motivate that a discussion on murders is a matter of public importance and should be placed on the Order Paper. All South Africans remain touched by violent crime. Released last week, the crime stats show that in 2016/17, the police recorded a total of 19,016 murders, up from 18,673 murders in 2015/16.

Another NA plenary highlight is the question session with Ministers in the Social Services Cluster. Lawmakers will grill the Executive on a wide range of issues, amongst others, SASSA, Life Esidimeni Arbitration hearings, title deeds, water crisis in Cape Town and foster care grants.

The new Minister for Higher Education and Training will also be questioned about the leaked report into the feasibility of free higher education in SA, with the report recommending that it is unaffordable.

Beyond this, the usual crop of legislative business, motions, statements, statutory instruments and committee reports are also on the agenda.

Elsewhere, there will be three sittings in the NCOP chamber this week. First up, Ministers in the Economic Cluster will appear to answer oral questions on Tuesday. The next day, it will be turn of the leader of government business, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa - here two questions stand out: Minister Dlamini's non-attendance before parliamentary committees and the SAA bailout. The programme is varied for the last sitting of the week where a debate, legislative business, motions and committee reports have been scheduled.

See plenary programme here

There is some significant action in the Committee Corridor. Here is a run down of the highlights:

On Tuesday, SCOPA and Portfolio Committee on Social Development has arranged a follow up meeting with SASSA to interrogate the Agency about the procurement processes followed in acquiring service providers to render a revised grants payment system. MPs were unimpressed that the Minister of Social Development had not turned up of for last week's joint meeting. At that meeting, lawmakers heard that SASSA had offered the South African Post Office only one of four possible services as part of the revised grants payment system. Of the four services put out to tender, the Post Office was only awarded the right to provide an integrated payment system which can also handle beneficiaries' biometric data. They were not successful in their bid to provide banking services, card production and cash payments at pay points.

After a week's break, the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises state capture inquiry into Eskom resumes but for the first time proceedings will be held in camera. Thus far, MPs have reacted with shock at the extent and scale of corruption at the power utility. Trillian will be the subject of focus and has been identified as having received over R250 million from Eskom for work it never did.

The National Energy Regulator of SA (NERSA) will brief the Portfolio Committee on Energy on its Annual Report for 2016/17. The Regulator is currently busy with the consultation process for Eskom's 2018/19 revenue application for tariff increase. The power utility is asking Nersa to grant it a 19.9% tariff increase for the 2018/109 period. No doubt, MPs will try to squeeze out some information from the Regulator relating to this or discourage it from agreeing to the request.

The mini-budget will be a regular feature over the next few weeks. The joint finance and appropriations committees will get a briefing from the Parliamentary Budget Office on the 2017 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement. Other headline-grabbing meetings includes a focus on the cost to communicate, Early Childhood Development (ECD) Programmes and Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF).

On Wednesday, the focus of the Eskom Inquiry is on how Optimum Coal Mine was purchased.

The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services will continue discussions on the review of the Executive Members Ethics Act. In the Public Protector’s State of Capture Report, Parliament was instructed to review the Executive Members Ethics Act to provide for increased accountability and transparency in conflicts of interest pertaining to the Executive. The Committee agreed that a dossier of all relevant information on the review of the Act and the previous draft Bill should be compiled and given to Members. Members further noted that this process would take some time to finalise but it was important to expedite the remedial action on the legislative review.

On the same day, Committees will receive briefings from National Treasury on the Consolidated Report on deviation and expansion for national departments and entities for 2016/17, SAPS and the DPCI on Second Quarterly Reports, Special Investigating Unit on investigations into the Department of Water and Sanitation 2014-present and National Treasury into debt management by the Department of Water and Sanitation and Water Trading Entity.

The Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has scheduled a Discussion/ Workshop on Intergovernmental Relations.

On Thursday, the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus has scheduled a broad agenda: Briefing by the Independent Electoral Commission on the establishment of gender quotas, Briefing by National Treasury on initiatives put in place to enable gender responsive budgeting, Briefing by National Treasury on what is being spent on gender based violence and how budgetary processes can be improved upon in this regard to make a gender analysis possible, Brief update/follow up on no vat exemption on sanitary products and the budgeting measures put in place to ensure implementation of the provision of free sanitary products.

After marking time for over a year, the Ad Hoc Committee on Review of Powers and Privileges Act will come back to life when MPs receive briefings on international best practices and conventions relating to parliamentary powers and privileges and proposed amendments to the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act. The Committee was initially established in response to a Constitutional Court ruling that sections of the act were unconstitutional as they allowed the use of security services to remove MPs from the National Assembly.

On Friday, the mini-budget theme continues with the HSRC briefing the Standing Committee on Appropriations on the 2017 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement.

In between, there will be a fair amount of legislative lifting with MPs set to deliberate on the Marine Spatial Planning Bill, Legal Practice Amendment Bill, Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, Foreign Service Bill and Communal Property Associations Amendment Bill.

See full schedule here

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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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