Meeting with the delegation from the Vietnamese Parliament

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Justice and Correctional Services

09 September 2009
Chairperson: Mr N Ramatlodi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed the nature of its work as well as how Bills were processed with a delegation from the Vietnamese Parliament. The delegation was interested in the legislation and over sight work of the Committee.

Meeting report

Introductions
Mr H Nguyen Van Thuan, leader of the Vietnamese delegation, briefly introduced the members of the delegation and explained that they had visited South Africa in order to learn about its achievements in the struggle against apartheid and its efforts to rebuild the country.

The Chairperson said that he would skip introductions due to of a lack of time. Copies of the Constitution and a pocket guide to South Africa were handed out to the delegation.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked Mr Holomisa to lead a brief and focused discussion of the work of the Committee.

Mr S Holomisa (ANC) said that South Africa was also inspired by the Vietnamese struggles against colonialism. He explained that government was divided into three spheres; Parliament; the executive- consisting of cabinet ministers and led by the president, and the judiciary. He said that legislation came into being when departments formulated a policy paper that had two stages. First it was referred to as the Green Paper, which was published for public comment. The department then produced a White Paper, which was a policy paper. To give effect to the objectives contained in the White Paper, the department formulated a piece of draft legislation called a Bill.

The Minister tabled the Bill before Cabinet and once approved by Cabinet it was published in the government gazette for public comment. Once comments from the public had been received, the Bill was re drafted and tabled before Cabinet again. Thereafter, it was tabled to parliament, and the Speaker then referred it to the relevant Committee. The Bill was then presented by the relevant department and again went through two stages. First would be the informal briefing, and thereafter the formal briefing. After the informal briefing the Committee decided whether the legislation was desirable for consideration by parliament. After the formal stage, the Committee had to decide whether to call relevant stakeholders to make submissions on the Bill. The Committee then looked at the return submissions and decided whether or not it should call on the organizations to make oral submissions or simply decide on the basis of the written submissions. The Committee then looked into the submissions and made its decisions about the amendments to the Bill that was presented to Parliament. In the final stages the views of cabinet, the members of parliament as well as the public informed the Bill.

The Committee approved the Bill once it had been debated in the general session of the National Assembly. Once the National Assembly of Parliament had passed it, it was referred to the National Council of Provinces for agreement. The National Council of Provinces had to decide whether the Bill had to be taken to the provinces for further scrutiny by the Provincial Legislature and the public. According to the Constitution, Bills that have a special impact on provinces must be taken to the provincial legislatures before they could be finalised by Parliament. The Bill was taken back to the National Assembly for consideration and once passed, it was taken to the President for his signature. The President could refer it back to Parliament if he believed there were certain provisions of the Constitution that were not complied with. Once the Bill had been passed, the same department that introduced it would be expected to implement it.

Members of Parliament also had to conduct oversight of the laws and policies that had been adopted, and monitor their implementation. Various institutions of state advanced the goals of legislation and policy and Parliament voted finances to state departments as well as other organs of government to ensure service delivery. Parliamentary committees were responsible for visits to the provinces, and they discovered that some policies had been successfully implemented while with others showed a lack of progress. Committees had to submit a report to Parliament with recommendations, to overcome the challenges that were met, and looked at whether the laws that were passed needed to be amended, in view of the conditions that were experienced on the ground. In addition, members called on Ministers to account for their failure to carry out their responsibilities.

Prof L Ndabandaba (ANC) said that an aspect of oversight was taking Parliament to the people because when they visited people, there were lots of problems, which they felt Ministers and MEC’s might have overlooked. These issues were written down and taken back to the executive.

Mr Vhonani Ramaano, Committee Secretary, explained that the Committee Secretary gave support to and served all members represented in the Committee. In addition, members of the Committee had their personal secretaries from their respective political parties. The Committee also had a content advisor who analysed every document that came to the Committee, and then presented it to members. Parliament also had researchers to assist the Committee as well as researchers from different political parties that could assist Committee members. The work of the Committee was mostly informed by what happened in the study groups of the different political parties in the Committee. For example if a Bill came before the Committee, members would go to their study groups to discuss the Bill, in preparation for the Committee meeting. The work of study group was largely informed by the decisions of the caucus of the respective parties in the Committee. The contribution of members in the Committee was generally influenced by the different policies of the parties, and the view of the majority party would normally prevail.

The Chairperson said that as much as possible the views of all parties were taken into account, as there was strength in the different points of view, which was not always negative.

Mr Van Thuan
said that they would like to learn more about the mission of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development.

Ms N Michael (DA) replied that sections of legislation that dealt with the justice system of South Africa were referred to the Committee, as well as anything that had an affect on the Constitution. These included any amendments to the Constitution or the Chapter 9 institutions.

Mr Van Thuan
requested Ms Michael to name some of these Chapter 9 institutions.

Ms Michael responded that the Committee was currently dealing with two of these chapter 9 institutions, namely the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Protector that was like an Ombudsman. The Committee was in the process of interviews to appoint one person as the Public Protector and to appoint six or seven people to be Human Rights Commissioners. The Human Rights Commission was important to ensure that the Bill of Rights was entrenched in our Constitution, and adhered to. The Public Protector played a crucial role in since he/she was the watchdog of Government and made sure that it was accountable, transparent and democratic. The Justice Committee also dealt with the legal fraternity of SA and anybody that was an advocate or an attorney belonged to a Law Society, which fell under the Committee, and included the Legal Aid Board, which provided free legal services in the country.

Mr Van Thuan
requested the names of recently introduced Bills.

Ms Michael said they were currently dealing with the Traditional Courts Bill, which was a Bill that had been in existence since 1927/1929 and dealt with disputes in the ‘traditional tribal manner’ in SA. The Committee would also review the Protection of Personal Information Bill and the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill in the near future.

Mr Van Thuan
asked if the Bill was created for the jurisdiction of the High Court and fell under the Justice Committee.

Ms Michael responded that it did, and that an amendment of the Constitution was due shortly, known as the 17th Amendment Bill, which was a Constitutional Amendment Bill that would also come to the Committee.

The Chairperson responded that some of the incoming Bills dealt with the administration of justice, which was currently presided over by the judiciary. A few committee members had been elected by Parliament to sit on the bodies, which appointed Magistrates, Judges of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.

Mr Nguyen Van Thuan asked for information about the public hearings that ensured public participation in law making, how people were invited and selected to come to Parliament and how they were organised to speak. He asked for clarity on public hearings that made public officials accountable to Parliament.

Mr Holomisa responded that the Committee took the decision whether to invite interested parties to come forward. If the Committee decided that the publics views were needed an advertisement would be placed in the newspaper which requested interested parties to write and give recommendations about the improvement of the Bill. The return submissions were evaluated by the Committee, which then made a decision whether some people should be invited to elaborate with oral representations. In most cases these people come at their own expense, and Parliament usually paid for those who did not have the means. They were asked questions and listened to, and after having taken their submissions into consideration, the Committee then deliberated on the content of the Bill. Departments and other bodies were invited to the Committee on a regular basis to present their strategic plans and annual reports. Ministers were also invited to account and had to explain certain issues to the Committee.

Mr Nguyen Van invited members to visit Vietnam. He understood the time constraints, as they were also members of the National Assembly and thanked the Committee for the opportunity.

The meeting was adjourned.

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