Meeting with Namibian Parliamentary Delegation: Committee's mandate and activities

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24 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms S Chikunga (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The meeting was intended to facilitate an information sharing session between the Committee and a Namibian Parliamentary delegation, consisting of Ms Lucia Basson (Swapo), Mr Peya Mushelenga (SWAPO), Mr Kaura Katuutire (DTA) and Mr Eric Hansen, Secretary of the Namibian Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security. The Chairperson and Members of the Portfolio Committee gave an overview of the activities and mandate of the portfolio committees, this Committee in particular, the oversight role and the power to summon any person to appear, and the legislative role. The role of the Committee in the appointment of the Independent Complaints Directorate was also outlined. It was indicated that the Committee was currently involved in public hearings, together with the Portfolio Committee on Sport and Recreation, on the Safety at Sport and Recreational Events Bill. In answer to questions, the cluster system and joint committee sittings were also outlined.

The Namibian delegation asked whether the Committee had access to legal skills. They asked whether the Committee could subpoena a Minister or any member of the Executive to come and account before it, noting that in Namibia members of the Executive outnumbered the ordinary MPs, and also enquired if a Minister could claim privacy of information, and whether the Committees had experienced difficulty in getting the Executive to account. They further asked if Committee Members could sit on more than one Committee, why Chairpersons were limited to one Committee, whether the Portfolio Committee played any role in influencing the budgets, whether Members were restricted from disclosing to their parties any information gained from Portfolio Committee meetings, and whether they had any say in the acquisition of security assets, such as arms. They further stated that media reports on the high crime levels caused some concern, and asked if there were plans to step up the fight against crime in light of the upcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Meeting report

Meeting with Namibian Parliamentary Delegation
The Chairperson welcomed the delegation from the Namibian Parliament. This delegation consisted of three Namibian Members of Parliament, all of whom served on their Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security.

The Chairperson then gave an overview of the activities and mandate of this Portfolio Committee with regard to policing activities in the country. She highlighted the main areas of the oversight role of the committee vis-à-vis the Executive, namely the Ministry of Police. She said that the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa gave the Committee the power to summon any member of the Executive before the committee and account for any of his or her activities. She further explained that the Committee had powers to consider, initiate, deliberate, amend or even reject any legislation that affected the Ministry of Police.

The Chairperson also explained the Committee's role in the appointment of the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD), a body that investigated allegations of misconduct amongst the Police.

With regard to legislative work, the Chairperson said that at present, the Committee, in conjunction with the Portfolio Committee on Sport and Recreation, was conducting public hearings into the Safety at Sport and Recreational Events Bill, preparatory to discussing the Bill further.

Mr Peya Mushelenga, Swapo Representative of Namibian Parliament, asked if the Committee had access to resources such as legal skills, especially at the initiation stage of Bills. He also asked whether the Committee, when initiating Bills, did so in consultation with the relevant Ministers.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) said that access to resources was not a problem at all. She added that legal resources had never been a problem when initiating or considering any legislation, and that legal advice was always available, whenever needed.

Rev K Meshoe (ACDP) also echoed the view that access to legal resources was not a problem, and noted that Parliament had its own in-house legal personnel.

Mr Kaura Katuutire, DTA Representative of Namibian Parliament, asked whether the Committee could subpoena a Minister or any member of the Executive to come and account before it. He noted that in Namibia members of the Executive outnumbered the ordinary MPs.

The Chairperson said the Constitution gave the Committee powers to summon any official in government to come and account before it, if the Committee Members felt that individual had information that would enable the Members to do their oversight role.

Ms Lucia Basson, Swapo Representative of Namibian Parliament, said that in Namibia, members of Parliament often served on more than one Portfolio Committee, especially those committees that had overlapping mandates. She asked if this also applied in South Africa.

The Chairperson responded that there was no prohibition on Members belonging to more than one Portfolio Committee, and this was a common practice, particularly for smaller parties. However, their membership of more than one Committee was also subject to logistics, such as clashes of committee meeting schedules, the number of members that were allowed on the different committees, and some internal political party procedures. She explained that in the ANC there was a rule that Committee Chairpersons could only belong to the Portfolio Committee that they chaired.

Mr Mushelenga asked why the Committee Chairpersons were forbidden from joining other committees if they wanted to.

The Chairperson answered that the main reason why Chairpersons were discouraged from joining other committees was that they all had offices to run, and the workload they faced in running their specific portfolios and ensuring that their committee ran smoothly was already a daunting task that took most of their time.

Ms Van Wyk said that there were instances where portfolio committees would sit jointly to discuss a matter or legislation that affected both committees. She added that the same applied at the Executive level, where Ministers of sectors in the Security cluster, for instance, had formed their own Security Committee where they discussed overlapping issues.

The Chairperson added that there
was and would always be a need for clusters to work together. She cited, in particular, the criminal justice cluster, noting that it was under review to ensure that the cluster components would cooperate much better than was presently the case.

Mr Katuutire wanted to know if, when a Minister was required to come before a portfolio committee, he or she could claim privacy of information that would prevent him or her from giving a full account.

Ms B Van Wyk (ANC) said that to date, this Committee had had a good working relationship with the Executive. In the case where confidential matters were at stake, the Minister would say so in advance, and the meeting, which would normally be open to the public, would take place as a closed session.

Ms D Schafer (DA) said that in the past some opposition parties had had difficulties in getting the Cabinet Ministers to disclose certain information. However, she hoped that the new administration would be different from the past. Although it was too early to tell with any certainty whether things were going to change for the better, the signs were that the new administration was willing to respect and recognise the role of the opposition.

Ms Basson asked whether the Portfolio Committee played any role in influencing the budget of the Ministry.

Mr G Schneemann (ANC) said there were more than enough avenues whereby the Portfolio Committee could influence the budget of the Department and the Committee had always been involved in the budget process. He also said that Parliament had a Joint Budget Committee that specifically dealt with budgets, and it was this Committee that was the most appropriate channel for Parliament to influence the budgets.

Ms Van Wyk said there was a generally a good relationship between the Executive and the committees, and that issues of budget were often discussed openly and contributions from the committees were welcomed.

Mr Mushelenga asked whether there were any restrictions placed on Portfolio Committee Members in relation to disclosure of information they gained from the meeting to their parties.

Rev Meshoe said there was no restriction placed on Members not to use the information they gained to advance their party oversight functions.

Ms Kohler-Barnard said that it often happened that members from different political parties worked together as a team while in their Portfolio Committees, but could take a different view when debating the same matter in the full National Assembly, if the party took a different line from that which the Portfolio Committee had taken on some issues. There was no rule that restricted disclosure of information to their parties.

Mr Katuutire asked whether the portfolio committees had any say in the acquisition of State security assets such as arms. He asked specifically whether the Defence Portfolio Committee had any input in the multi-billion rand arms deal.

Mr Schneemann said that Parliament had a specific committee, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which dealt with acquisition of arms, and which oversaw everything on behalf of Parliament. He added, however, that the Defence Portfolio Committee also did have an influence in the process.

Ms Basson raised concern about the high crime levels in the country, saying that the media often reported some very disturbing stories about crime. She asked whether there were any plans in place to step up the fight against crime, especially in light of the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The Chairperson said that South Africa was aware that 2010 was likely to take crime to some other levels. However, the 2010 FIFA World Cup was not the first international event that the country had hosted successfully. She mentioned the Rugby World Cup in 1995, Cricket World Cup in 2003 and the recent Indian Premier League, stating that all those events were hosted successfully, without any major worrying incidents of crime. However, she conceded that crime was always a challenge whenever such a large event was to be staged. She expressed confidence that the South African Police Service would be equal to the task and ready to defend the citizens and visitors in 2010.

Mr Mushelenga gave a vote of thanks, saying the meeting was very insightful and informative. The representatives were grateful for the opportunity afforded to discuss matters with this Portfolio Committee, and hoped that some of the ideas gained now could be taken back to the Namibian Parliament.

Mr Schneemann thanked the Namibian delegation, on behalf of the Committee, saying that although not much information about the Namibian Parliament had been expressed, it was useful to share the administrative issues with the representatives since the fight against crime concerned the entire region.

The meeting was adjourned.


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