17 February 2020

The Week Ahead: SONA Debates & Legislation

Week Ahead

It’s taken a few weeks but Parliament is finally firing on all cylinders with plenty of action beckoning in both the main chamber and the Committee corridor.

The main events will be the joint debate on the State of the Nation Address on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as the President’s reply on Thursday.

The debate allows MPs to respond to the President’s speech, and for the opposition, it is an opportunity to give a rebuttal.  This occasion is a highlight of the parliamentary calendar as all party leaders and a galaxy of heavyweight MPs take part.

Reacting immediately after the speech, opposition parties welcomed some parts of it and expressed disappointment in other aspects.

The debate follows a predictable path: the opposition attacks the President and governing party for not offering new ideas and highlights all their failures. In return, the governing party defends the President, government's record and proposals and points out weaknesses in the opposition. The President gets the final say when he rounds off proceedings.

Speaker after speaker bear their political fangs. Jibes, rhetoric and heckling are the norm. The presiding officers are tested as they remind speakers not to depart from the purpose of the debate and try to maintain control.

View SONA 2019 Debate

Away from Plein Street, the Portfolio Committee on Health will embark on the final leg of public hearings on the NHI Bill in Gauteng. It will be spread over four days and the venues include: Soshanguve, Kagiso, Soweto and Germiston. You can track the processing of the NHI Bill through Parliament here

While most of the attention will be focused on the debate, the Committee corridor will also generate its fair share of attention. Here is a run down of some of the most interesting meetings:

SCOPA carried out oversight visits to Medupi and Kusile power stations last year. In its oversight report, the Committee highlighted that: “The building of these coal-fired power stations, which started in 2007 and 2008, has been hit by cost overruns, poor engineering designs, labour problems and allegations of corruption. The projects were initially budgeted at R79 billion for Medupi and R81 billion for Kusile. However, due to delays and other defects identified during and post construction, the costs of the projects have increased by more than R300 billion, currently reaching R145 billion for Medupi and R161.4 billion for Kusile”. The Committee proposed 23 recommendations including: 1) “Consequence management must be followed through where wrongdoing has been proven, and quarterly reports in this regard should be submitted to SCOPA” and 2) “Quarterly reports on progress and expenditure must be submitted to SCOPA”. In line with this, SCOPA has arranged a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises to get an update on the implementation of the recommendations. (Tuesday)

The South African Reserve Bank will brief legislators on Economic Performance and Outlook. Just last week, the President admitted that the economy has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade, that the recovery has stalled because of persistent energy problems and public finances are under severe pressure. Both the World Bank and IMF have cut the country’s 2020 GDP growth prospects to a meagre 0.9% and 0.8% respectively. (Tuesday)

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education will brief MPs on two reports compiled by the SA Human Rights Commission:  Report of the SAHRC on National Investigative Hearing into the Status of Mental Health Care in South Africa and Report of the SAHRC on North West Provincial Investigative Hearing into Lack of Safety and Security Measures in Schools for Children with Disabilities in South Africa. (Tuesday)

SCOPA and the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises will get an update from SAA on outstanding matters. One matter that is certain to come up is the move by the business practitioner to cut domestic routes. This decision has received criticism in some quarters with some voicing their objections and asking government to intervene. The airliner is also embarking on a restructuring process which may lead to job losses. (Wednesday)

Last year, the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs raised concern regarding the late submission of the annual report by the Department of Cooperative Governance. The Committee stated that “the perpetual non-adherence must come to an end and proper consequence management must be implemented henceforth in the case of non-adherence”. The Committee will be meeting with the Auditor-General of South Africa on the Department’s Annual Report audit outcome. Also on the agenda is a briefing on the 2018/19 local government audit outcomes. (Wednesday)

The Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) will present its annual report to the Standing Committee on Finance. MPs will be keen to get the entity’s reaction to Cosatu’s proposal that R250-billion of state employees’ pension money be used to alleviate some of Eskom’s debt. (Wednesday)

South Africa assumed the chairship of the African Union for 2020.  MPs will be briefed on the country’s priorities and the challenges that need to be addressed in the next 12 months. President Ramaphosa has identified Libya and South Sudan as the two conflicts he wants to focus on during his tenure. (Wednesday)

The Sub-Committee on Correctional Services will get a briefing from the Department of Correctional Services on its 3rd Quarter 2019/20 performance; the filling of key vacancies and litigation cost. (Friday)

In between, MPs will be discussing and considering several Bills: Border Management Authority Bill; Prescription in Civil and Criminal Matters (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill; National Minimum Wage Amendment Bill; Military Discipline Bill and Social Assistance 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.

Week Ahead

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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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