The Week Ahead: MPs return & President appears
Parliament resumes this week after a two-week constituency period. The final term will run for nine weeks and the programme is packed with activities. Some of the highlights include committee, oversight and legislative work; oral questions to the executive;Taking Parliament to the People report back event and a review of the national budget.
The timetable is also fluid and can be overtaken by unscheduled debates, statements and events.
Annual Report Season and Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS)
It's that time of the year when parliamentary committees conduct performance assessments of government departments and entities. The performance assessments will be achieved through the scrutiny of their 2018/19 Annual Reports and financial statements. This will enable committees to compile an informed Budget Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR). These Reports include recommendations on the future use of resources and are a critical part of Parliament’s engagement with the budget.
Given their involvement in the legislative, budget and in-year monitoring processes, portfolio committees are ideally placed to exercise oversight of the service delivery performance of departments and public entities that fall within the same portfolios. Indeed portfolio committees’ role in overseeing annual reports is crucial to closing the accountability loop of planning, budgeting, implementation, reporting, auditing and, finally, oversight. In essence, the portfolio committees should exercise oversight as to whether departments, public entities and constitutional institutions have delivered on the service delivery promises they made in their strategic plans and which the legislature agreed to finance by appropriating public funds through the Budget.
National Treasury: Guideline for legislative oversight through annual report, 2005
One of the regular criticisms about the Annual Report season is that timeframes are very short and meaningful public engagement does not take place. Critics point out that committees need time to apply their minds, the Parliamentary Budget Office and other advisory bodies need time to do substantive analysis and the public needs time to absorb details and make representations. An interesting side issue is to keep track of the attendance of Ministers and Deputy Ministers at committee level.
Later this month, the Minister of Finance will present the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in Parliament. The MTBPS outlines the economic context against which the 2020 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. Another thing to look out for is whether any party will try to make amendments to the Adjustment Appropriations Bill – the DA tried unsuccessfully for the past few years and will probably do so again this year.
The first two weeks of the programme are packed as virtually all portfolio committees meet to pore over the Annual Reports of the department and entities reporting to them. This process also takes on a new dimension as this is the first time many MPs will be going through this laborious activity (approximately 42% of NA MPs are rookies).
We are now 5 months into the Sixth Parliament and only 1 bill has been passed. This statistic is unsurprising and even understandable if you compare this with previous Pariaments over the same time period.
There will however be an improvement in this statistic over the next term as lawmakers process and finalise assorted tax bills, the Eskom bill and legislation accompanying the MTBPS.
In addition, committees are under pressure to meet constitutional court deadlines to fix defects in certain laws. This incudes the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development which is fast tracking the Promotion of Access to Information Amendment Bill.
Beyond this, there are plans to revive specific bills that lapsed at the end of the previous Parliament. These leftover Bills cover an array of issues, including gambling, border management, cybercrimes, traditional courts and civil unions to name a few. This is expected to happen incrementally.
All of this though is likely to be overshadowed by the processing of the National Health Insurance Bill. The reactions so far indicate that this bill will face a long and difficult journey: there will be protracted deliberations and much haranguing amongst stakeholders and MPs. Public hearings on the bill will start in Mpumalanga from 25-28 October. Thereafter, it will move to the Northern Cape from 1-4 November.
Even with a packed schedule, lawmakers have set time aside to interview and recommend candidates for appointment to several statutory bodies – this includes the Office of the Public Protector (Deputy Public Protector) and ICASA. Members of the public have a few days left to comment on the nominees/applicants for the position of Deputy Public Protector. Details here: https://pmg.org.za/call-for-comment/861/
There is also the process to appoint a permanent Executive Director of IPID – the Portfolio Committee on Police has scheduled this into its programme later in the term
Public Protector Removal Proceedings +Jiba & Mrwebi matter
There is mounting pressure on Parliament to conduct an inquiry into the Public Protector’s fitness to hold office. The Sixth Parliament was barely underway when the Speaker received a request from the DA to initiate proceedings to remove the Public Protector. The Speaker officially referred the request to the Portfolio Committee on Justice. This matter was referred to the Rules Committee to formulate rules for the removal of chapter 9 institution heads. This is being prioritised.
This same Committee is also dealing with another removal process, that of Advocates Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi from office at the NPA. An agreement was reached by Speaker of the National Assembly and parties involved in the urgent interdict sought by Adv Jiba to stop President Ramaphosa from removing her and Adv Mrwebi from office. Parliament will pick this matter up again in the new term.
Turning to this week, only the NCOP chamber has scheduled a sitting and it is a big one. The President will appear to answer oral questions. He will be probed on a variety of matters such as: border control/security; Eskom crisis; Stimulus Package; Victims of Asbestosis; gender-based violence and strategic economic interventions. Read the questions here
In Committee-land, the schedule is bursting and the agenda is largely one-sided: scrutiny of annual reports. MPs will certainly be earning their pay due to the volume and length of meetings. We can expect an impressive array of Cabinet Ministers in the Committee corridor during this time.
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.
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.