Third Term Review (2020)
It was a short and disjointed third term with both Houses starting and ending at different times. Notwithstanding this, there were plenty of highlights during this period:
Plenary sessions and Executive oversight
The role of Parliament remains indispensable during this period of national lockdown brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. During the hybrid plenary sessions, some MPs were present in the chamber in Cape Town and others would join in through virtual platforms.
Oral Questions and Answer sessions were held in both chambers in this period.
President Cyril Ramaphosa answered questions in the National Assembly on 27 August, where he engaged MPs on issues ranging from gender-based violence and femicide, to the investigations into COVID-19-related procurement. Judging by the sentiments expressed during this sitting, the outrage among South Africans over allegations of corruption in the procurement of goods and services for the COVID-19 response did not go unnoticed by the Executive.
Deputy President David Mabuza, as leader of government business, also appeared before the NCOP to reply to questions. This session generated more interest than normal as the Deputy President had missed previous scheduled sessions (in both chambers) due to ill health.
Another highlight was the plenary debate on the recent scourge of farm attacks and murders of farmers and farmworkers, held on September 1. The issue has come under sharp focus following the killing of a farming couple in the town of Newcastle in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Another farming family suffered a horrific killing in the Northern Cape town of Hartswater last month.
Local Government Week
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) hosted a virtual Local Government Week (8 to 11 September), under the theme “Ensuring capable and Financially Sound Municipalities.” Delegates interacted with stakeholders and reflected on issues affecting local government with the aim of improving service delivery.
Questions for Written Reply
In addition to oral questions, MPs can ask government ministers written questions. These are often used to obtain detailed information about policies and statistics on the activities of government departments. During Term Three, MPs from both Houses submitted a total of 494 questions, of this, 192 were endorsed as unanswered in accordance with National Assembly Rule 146(3) which stipulates that if a written reply has not been received within 10 working days or within the period of an extension approved by the Speaker, the Question Paper must be endorsed to the effect that the question has not been replied to.
On the legislative front, a total of 30 Bills are under consideration by parliamentary committees. Five Bills were passed which include the two COVID-19 tax relief Bills tabled by the Minister of Finance during the 24 June Supplementary Budget presentation.
During the course of the term, three key Bills relating to gender-based violence were introduced in Parliament. According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his weekly letter, “the three amendment Bills are designed to fill the gaps that allow some perpetrators of these crimes to evade justice and to give full effect to the rights of South Africa’s women and children… SA is on the cusp of the most far-reaching legislative overhaul in the fight against GBV and femicide.”
The Portfolio Committee on Health, on 2 September, was briefed by the parliamentary support staff officials on how far they had progressed with processing the National Health Insurance Bill. The Committee had been constrained by COVID-19 and the national lockdown in terms of focusing on the Bill. Members heard that 32 217 hand-delivered submissions were being scanned and the scanning process is projected for completion by the end of December 2020. In terms of the forthcoming oral submissions, a total of 121 organisations and individuals have expressed interest to make oral submissions in Parliament.
Committees and Ministerial Attendance
A fair amount of work was done by committees during this relatively short term. 174 meetings were held, a bulk of them on the National Assembly side. The agenda included COVID-19, oversight and legislative business. 35 COVID-19 related meetings were held, which translates to 20% of the total number of meetings convened this term. (We have consolidated our reports on the COVID-19 related meetings here.)
On ministerial attendance, typically, Ministers and their deputies 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. The mean (average) attendance for both Ministers and their deputies was two times this term**.
Economic cluster committees are in the process of filling the vacancy of Director of the Parliamentary Budget Office. The Office’s mandate is to provide impartial, expert advice to parliamentarians about public finance issues in a transparent manner. Eight candidates were shortlisted from 52 applicants and the interviews will take place virtually on 29 September 2020.
Section 56(d) and 69(d) of the Constitution provides for the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces to receive petitions from any interested persons or institutions. A petition is a formal request to Parliament for intervention in a matter. It can take the form of either a request for assistance on a specific issue or for the redress of a grievance. One petition was received this term from the Uthukela Tourism, Hospitality and Associated Industries sector in KwaZulu-Natal calling on Parliament to assist the sector in having all COVID-19 regulations affecting its operations lifted.
**Disclaimer: PMG makes every effort to use reliable and comprehensive information, but we do not represent that the tally is accurate or complete.
We unpack some of the key numbers and activities on the infographic below:
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.