28 August 2017

The Week Ahead: Questions to the President

The President's oral question session on Thursday is the high point of this parliamentary week. Question Time occurs in both the National Assembly and the NCOP and is one of the ways Parliament scrutinises the work of the Executive. The President is required to answers questions of national or international importance once per term in accordance with the annual parliamentary programme. The questions are sifted and published beforehand in a process involving the Speaker, 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 exercise and 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 our 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 is knowledgeable, 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.

Beyond this, Parliament will be hosting a two-day international women’s conference under the theme: “Women in the Changing World of Work.” The conference provides a forum for the exchange and sharing of ideas around gender mainstreaming and strengthening initiatives to eradicating poverty, educating girls and women and closing the gender gap in the economy. Delegates to the conference will include lawmakers from across the world and representatives from trade unions, business and civil society organisations.

Elsewhere, there will be two sittings in the NCOP chamber this week where lawmakers will consider assorted Committee reports.

The Committee corridor is thin this week but there are a few meetings likely to create big headlines. Here is a rundown of the highlights:

  • The Portfolio Committee on Communications will interview 36 candidates over 3 days (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) to serve on the SABC Board. These will be marathon sessions and will generate huge public interest. The public has until Tuesday to submit their comments on the short-listed candidates.

  • The Standing Committee on Finance will be holding hearings on the Draft Tax Administration Laws Amendment Bill (TALAB) and Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bills (TLAB) on Tuesday. The main tax proposals contained in the 2017 Draft TLAB include removing the foreign employment income tax exemption in respect of South African residents and extending the application of controlled foreign company rules to interposed foreign trusts and foreign foundations. The main tax administration proposals contained in the 2017 Draft TALAB relate to employees’ tax and reimbursement of travel expenses and application of the cap on deductible retirement fund contributions.

  • Last week, legislators grilled SAA about irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure at the airliner and on Wednesday they will turn the screws on South African Express on the same issue.

-Earlier this year, several Committees met jointly to discuss illicit financial flows and to hear the views of stakeholders in the battle to stop the harmful effects of illicit financial flows. The stakeholders included National Treasury, SARS Customs, the Financial Intelligence Centre, Department of Trade and Industry, South African Reserve Bank, South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and Department of Mineral Resources. A follow-up meeting is scheduled this week, with a focus on prosecutions.

-On Friday, the Portfolio Committee on Police will receive a briefing from the Central Firearms Registry on its Turn-Around Strategy.

See the full schedule here. *The programme is subject to changes so the schedule needs to be checked daily for accuracy.

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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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