19 June 2017

The Week Ahead: The President and Legislation top the agenda

The President's oral question session in the National Assembly chamber is the high point of the 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 party members, 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. A poor display/performance can not be disguised. It is also a rare opportunity for legislators to interact directly with the President.

Read Rebecca Davis article on Why the President's Question will rarely hit the spot

In Thursday’s session, the President will be probed on a range of issues including the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, government’s nuclear plans, the unemployment crisis in the country, the White Paper on Comprehensive Social Security and whether he plans to step down given all the protests and allegations against him.

See the questions here

In what has become a norm, the President's appearances are usually marked by robust exchanges, unparliamentary language and name calling, sniping, walkouts and even forcible removal of MPs. There is little evidence to suggest that this tradition will not continue.

There will be a second attempt to pass the Protected Disclosure Amendment Bill and Financial Sector Regulation Bill. Approval of the former bill was abandoned last week because there were not enough MPs in the House. In respect of the latter, concern was raised at the eleventh hour about the voting process in the Finance Committee and the bill was removed from the order paper last Thursday. This has now been cleared.

Elsewhere, the NCOP chamber has scheduled policy debates for six government departments spread out over three days. The agenda also includes the consideration of two bills: Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill and Refugees Amendment Bill. The Committee corridor has schedule a number of interesting meetings that are likely to produce big headlines. Here is a rundown of the highlights:

On Tuesday, the Department of Home Affairs will brief MPs on the Gupta’s citizenship. This follows media reports raising questions about former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's approval of the family's application for naturalised citizenship.

On the same day, the Portfolio Committee on Energy is meeting with the Department of Energy and Eskom on the signing of Power Purchase Agreements with Independent Power Producers.

Other noteworthy meetings include briefings by National Treasury and South African Revenue Service on their latest quarterly reports; briefings by SAPS and the private security industry about university security and a presentation by the South African Social Security Agency on its Annual Performance Plan.

The preparations for a parliamentary inquiry into Eskom are set to commence on Wednesday when the Public Enterprises Committee meets. There is cross-party support for the inquiry, which is expected to look into a wide range of issues; among other things this will include the reappointment of Brian Molefe, and various allegations contained in the state capture leaked emails and those made by the former Mineral Resources Minister‚ Ngoako Ramatlhodi.

The embattled public broadcaster has been a regular visitor to Parliament during this term and this time will appear before the Select Committee on Communications and Public Enterprises to present its Annual Performance Plan.

Other highlights are briefings by the Department of Basic Education and Department of Transport on their Memorandum of Understanding with regard to Learner Transport; an update by SASSA on the payment of social grants and a briefing by SAPS on the latest firearms amnesty.

In between, it's a big week for legislating. Lawmakers will spend time considering, deliberating and finalising 10 bills – at various stages – before 8 different committees. These include the Appropriation Bill, Films and Publications Amendment Bill, National Health Laboratory Service Amendment Bill, Refugees Amendment Bill, MPRDA Bill, Health Institute of South Africa Bill, Judicial Matters Amendment Bill; Courts of Law Amendment Bill, Communal Property Associations Amendment Bill, Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment of Revenue Laws Bill, Public Audit Act amendments and framework for the Committee Bill on debt relief. You can track all the bills here.

You can find a full list of meetings for this week here.

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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.

We host the latest posts of this blog, written by People's Assembly. You can find more on PA's blog.

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