Third Term Review of Parliament (17 August to 10 September 2021)
September 10 marked the final day of the four-weeklong third term. Parliament cut the term short following the Constitutional Court decision not to postpone local government elections. The apex court reaffirmed that the polls should be held between 27 October and 1 November.
We rundown the highlights from the term.
Election of New Speaker
Following the 5 August cabinet reshuffle, which saw National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise appointed Defence Minister, the House elected Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula as new Speaker on 19 August. The Speaker was elected with 199 supporting votes. Voting was done by way of secret ballot after the DA fielded an opposing candidate. The EFF did not take part in the process.
35 Bills are currently before Parliament. Amongst others, these include the Second Special Appropriation Bill, National Health Insurance Bill, Children’s Amendment Bill and the Expropriation Bill. When they return, committees will have to juggle their big legislative load with their oversight and budgetary work.
President Ramaphosa returned the National Land Transport Amendment Bill to Parliament due to reservations about its constitutionality.
Despite the recess, Parliament is pushing ahead to process the Second Special Appropriation Bill. The legislation allocates funding for the COVID-19 Relief of Distress grant and support for small businesses affected by July’s unrest.
The three gender-based violence (GBV) Bills: Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill, and the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill were passed this term and sent to the President’s desk for assent and signing. Track their processing here.
Before MPs left for the campaign trail, the Ad Hoc Committee to Initiate and Introduce Legislation amending Section 25 of the Constitution concluded its work and the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill was formally adopted. The process began with an EFF motion in 2018. In order to pass, 267 Members (two-thirds) of the National Assembly must vote to support the Bill. Once referred to the NCOP, it requires six out of nine provinces to vote in favour.
A fair amount of work was done in the committee corridor during this relatively short term. 194 meetings were held, the bulk of them on the National Assembly side. The agendas included processing of departmental quarterly performance reports, briefings on the July unrest, processing legislation, to mention a few. In addition, scrutiny of government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic continued. MPs used a range of oversight tools to get answers. We have consolidated our reports on the COVID-19 related meetings here.
Towards the end of the term, Speaker Nosiviwe-Mapisa Nqakula received a letter from the Judicial Service Commission recommending that Parliament impeach Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. The matter was referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services for processing. The Committee is expected to consider the procedural aspects before reporting to the National Assembly, where a two-thirds majority is required for removal.
Following President Ramaphosa’s decision to split the human settlements, water and sanitation portfolio into two distinct portfolios with their own Ministers, the National Assembly followed suit and established two separate committees to oversee the separate government departments.
This also resulted in committee membership changes, with 6 new chairpersons elected.
On ministerial attendance, Ministers and their deputies made 82 appearances before committees this term. Typically, they attend committee meetings for crucial events such as the introduction of legislation as well as the tabling of annual performance plans and annual reports. Beyond this, they are invited to address major topical issues that are in the public domain.
Written and Oral Questions
Written questions are a critical oversight mechanism available to MPs to hold members of the Executive to account.
A total of 645 questions were sent to the Executive by Members. Of the tally, 503 were posed by National Assembly MPs and 111 replies were received.
On 2 September 2021, the National Assembly approved a Mechanism to Monitor Replies to Written Questions. The system includes the Speaker writing to the defaulting Ministers and the Leader of Government Business quarterly, reporting those Ministers to the Rules Committee, and in the case of continued default, a reprimand from the Speaker in the House. Finally, the Speaker may escalate the matter to the Leader of Government Business as a formal complaint. It was agreed that the National Assembly wait to see the impact of these sanctions before taking more extreme steps.
As per the norm, Oral Questions and Answer sessions were held in both chambers during the term. The President, Deputy President and several ministerial clusters made appearances.
Unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng
Following the July 2021 unrest, which saw the country experiencing unprecedented levels of turmoil and destruction of public and private property, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, Parliament had to respond and it did so on many fronts. Several Committees convened meetings to receive updates on the situation and how government plans to respond to this. In addition, many undertook oversight visits to assess the extent of the looting and its impact. The Legislature also established enquiries and scheduled debates to get a better understanding what happened, why it happened and what lessons can be learned. We have consolidated Parliament’s response to the July 2021 unrest here.
Citizens can get redress and assistance through petitioning Parliament. Five petitions were sent to Parliament this term: four relating to service-delivery concerns and one from the Post Office calling on the NA to establish the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.
These were referred to respective committees by the Speaker’s Office for processing.
Register of interests
At the beginning of September, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests published the Register of Member’s Interests for 2020 as per the Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests for National Assembly and Permanent Council Members. These financial interests are registrable interests and must be disclosed: shares, financial interests in companies and other corporate entities, remunerated employment outside Parliament directorships and partnerships, to mention a few.
Public Protector matter
Parliament intends to appeal the High Court ruling which found fault with two of the rules for the impeachment of Chapter 9 heads. The Section 194 Inquiry Committee, handling Public Protector Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane's impeachment, was established in July but it has not started with the inquiry.
The term ahead
MPs are expected to return on 2 November 2021, and the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) has been scheduled to be delivered by the Minister of Finance two days later (4 November).
Before the mid-term budget can be adopted, committees’ oversight over departmental spending, including annual reports and strategic and performance plans, must lead to the Budget Review and Recommendations Reports. According to Parliament’s latest programme, only a week has been set aside for this exercise, which might raise questions about the quality and effectiveness of oversight.
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.