The Chairperson reflected on the running of the Committee in 2009 and going forward into 2010. The Committee discussed the late provision of documents by those who gave presentations and they also expressed a desire for independent information to be made available. The Committee looked at the quality of their deliberations and the need for balance between external constituency obligations and Committee work.
The Committee considered its draft Committee Report on the Department of Trade and Industry Annual Report 2008/09 which was unavoidably late. Also looked at was the draft Committee Annual Report 2009. The Chairperson briefed the Committee on the report which dealt with outstanding issues from 2009, possible thrust areas as discussed by the Committee and summary issues that had come out in statements made by both the President and the Chair of Chairpersons. There was a long discussion on thrust areas. The Committee’s draft programme would be considered on 2 February 2010.
A Parliamentary Researcher briefed the Committee on the progress made in the review of the Gambling Act. The Committee discussed the logistics of how they could best conduct public hearings after concerns were raised that it appeared that not all stakeholders were equally represented, particularly ordinary South Africans.
Committee performance in 2010
In her opening remarks, the Chairperson discussed issues identified by the Committee as areas requiring improvement to enhance its functioning in the new term. As they began the new term, she was hopeful that members would have taken time to reflect on the reasons that they were in Parliament and why they had been elected by the public. It was important for members to consider what South Africans expected from them, especially service delivery to the nation as opposed to individual party interests. She asked all members to bear this over-arching objective in mind as they went about their daily business in Parliament.
The Chairperson appealed to the Committee, herself included, to read the documents that were provided to the Committee for meetings as there were very few members who read these documents. She also found it lamentable that certain members came up with excuses for not attending meetings such as the fact that they had not read the documents.
The Chairperson focused on the provision of documents by the department and invited input from members on how to ensure that the Committee acquired information that was precise and in sufficient time to aid their preparation for meetings. If the documents were too heavy in volume or content, the Chairperson suggested to the Researcher, the Content Advisor and the DTI’s Parliamentary Liaison Officer that documents be written in a more precise fashion to avoid bulky information that took up members’ time in preparing for meetings. She suggested that there had to be executive summaries of big documents.
The Chairperson discussed what was expected in terms of her role in the Committee. This related mainly to the conduct of meetings to ensure a balanced input from members of all parties as a way of ensuring that they were representative. She urged all parties to ensure that they were represented in meetings at all times and to ensure that for every regular member, especially in the smaller parties, that there was an alternate member available.
The Chairperson requested parliamentary staff to follow up closely with members when giving them notices of meetings and other administrative matters such as providing documents, by taking heed of the unique circumstances of each member. This was because there were members who had to travel long distances to get to an airport before they could take a flight to Parliament, whilst others were driving 400km to be able to attend meetings.
On the Chairperson’s style of dealing with the committee, she stated that it would be important for her to chair in a way that in the interest of fairness allowed equal time to all members - as opposed to giving one or two members an extraordinary amount of time. She would try to ensure that members were treated with dignity and she would be punctual at all times. She invited comments about how the committee could be run better.
Mr A Van Der Westhuizen (DA) thanked the Chairperson for her welcoming remarks and for the way she had conducted meetings during 2009, particularly for the way she had allowed all parties to participate in the Committee. However, quite often in these meetings members would ask questions and for reasons that could not be established, presenters would sometimes not provide answers to these questions. He therefore requested the Chairperson to concentrate on whether questions asked by members had been sufficiently responded to in full and whether relevant responses were given. For instance, in their last meeting with the Minister and the Director-General of the DTI there had been a lot of pertinent questions asked on the Annual Report that had not be answered. This defeated the purpose of asking if one did not get the answer to a question.
Mr M Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) commented on the Chairperson’s question about whether something could be done to improve the quality of the Committee’s deliberations. He said that he did so with some difficulty as he believed this to be one of the best performing committees in the National Assembly. However, everything was open to improvement even if one wanted to express a word of appreciation about the way the Committee was run. With respect to deliberations, he felt that they as a Committee had to deliberate. Matters were not sufficiently deliberated on as it seemed as if members did so in corridors and around dinner tables, which was important but this was not being done as a Committee. Issues such as the nation’s industrial policy needed to be deliberated on as the government was creating a new policy with no input from the Committee.
Mr Ambrosini commented that they had very good support staff. However upon reading the draft Committee Report on the DTI Annual Report, he could see that the support staff was filling the gaps by stating “the Committee resolved…” or “the Committee deliberated…” which the committee was not doing. They were putting together questions and comments and making these into a Committee view, which made it very nice reading but not necessarily a reflection of what had been done.
Mr Ambrosini noted also, in the interests of Parliament as an institution, that when requests were made for documents by the Committee they had to be provided with them. It was a mockery of the process for people to come to Parliament with information that they wanted members to hear and ignore members’ requests for information which the members felt was pertinent. There were numerous examples of this occurrence such as a request for the business plan of the satellite launch. He urged the Committee to consider issuing subpoenas so that people would start taking the Committee, and Parliament as a whole, with the seriousness it deserved.
Mr X Mabaso (ANC) echoed the Chairperson and Mr Ambrosini’s proposal that there should be a balance between work in Parliament and members’ responsibilities outside of their obligations to the Committee. He asked the Committee to consider the fact that there were members serving in various other committees and how this could clash with the Committee programme.
Mr S Njikelana (ANC) emphasised the need for a spirit of teamwork and co-operation in the conduct of meetings to resolve problems. He stressed the point that 60% of the Committee’s work had to be oversight work. In the same regard, he felt that it was important to provide the Committee with independent access to information which they needed in the exercise of their oversight role. It was important for Parliament to check on the impact of what the Executive was doing. He urged the Committee to dig deeper into reports made by the Department to delve into the impact of their programmes.
The Chairperson summarised the contributions made by members and commented that their remarks would contribute to a more effective Committee. She highlighted that the Committees were the engine of Parliament and they had to ensure that the people whom it represented were served better. She urged the Committee to strive for an optimum balance between serving the interests of members’ respective constituencies and their obligations in Parliament. This was a lot more difficult for the smaller parties than it was for the ANC, who had greater numbers. It was difficult for them all to cope with the demands of constituency work as well as their obligations to the Committee. It was therefore incumbent on all members to always have an appreciation of their commitment to serving the people of South Africa.
With regard to the issue of responses to questions, whether the responses were thorough enough, she suggested that it could be helpful to request them to be made in writing. On the issue of whether deliberations were sufficiently robust, she commented that there was some deliberation to a degree. There would not be an opportunity, however to sufficiently deliberate on the draft annual report. It would be more appropriate if they first obtained a briefing on it and then read the documentation before deliberating over it at another session.
The Chairperson referred to the draft Committee programme and suggested that political parties required time to consult amongst themselves to give members direction on what items should appear on it. With regard to the issue of independent access to information, she commented that Parliament was beginning to move in that direction with the setting up of a budget office for example. In the past they had no choice but to depend entirely on National Treasury. So there was this facility. The Committee would have to speak with Parliament’s library, Content Advisor and Secretariat to find out how the Committee could acquire independent information.
Committee Report on the Annual Report of the DTI and entities
The Committee Secretary, Mr Andre Hermans, briefed the Committee on the draft report to bring the Committee up to date with what they had done and to explain why they were only adopting it in 2010. The Committee had taken the decision that it would not be possible to maintain oversight over all the DTI’s entities and so hearings with a few of the entities had gone ahead in October. Problems had been experienced with the availability of the Minister of Trade and Industry and the Committee had only been able to secure a date on 13 November for a briefing on the DTI Annual Report. This was the reason why they were only now looking at the second draft of the report, which included the DTI presentation and the comments that had been made by members.
The Chairperson commented that it would be important for members to re-acquaint themselves with the document. Members would have to study it themselves and go through it with their respective political parties or caucuses.
Committee’s Annual Report 2009
The Chairperson briefed the Committee on the report which dealt with outstanding issues from 2009, possible thrust areas taken from the points raised in September and October 2009 as discussed by the Committee and summary issues that had come out since then in statements made by both the President and the Chair of Chairpersons. The other issues were the challenges that the Committee faced, core priorities of the industry and the thrust that the Committee would have. There was also the point about the mandates of the two departments, Economic Development and Trade and Industry - about which more would be learnt during the State of the Nation address. There was also no doubt from present discussions that the Committee’s strategic plan would have to be reviewed.
The Content Advisor clarified the item pertaining to Outstanding Issues of 2009. She submitted that they had looked at what the Committee had in their strategic plan and the budgetary report items that had not been spent so as to obtain the current list of outstanding issues. The document provided clarification about the two departments, Economic Development and Trade and Industry, in terms of how they would be affected by that split. It also referred to the review of African trade policy and financial crisis interventions amongst other matters.
The Chairperson made it clear to members that at this point, the Committee’s task was limited to a consideration of the draft report and that they would deliberate on it at a later stage.
Mr Ambrosini asked for clarity as he had some difficulty with this and he wished to make certain comments. His agenda in so doing was very clear: to strengthen Parliament and give meaning to the work done by the Committee. He did not want members to be in Parliament for five years exclusively involved in a process through which they educated themselves. This was too expensive an education to impose on the taxpayers. They therefore needed to get to the bottom of this. They had tackled certain issues and he wanted those issues to be taken to the next stage. The Committee had received a presentation on subsidies, particularly protectionist measures through the use of subsidies in the textile industry and marginally in the auto industry. He wanted this issue to be taken to the next stage which would be deliberative and he wanted to see public hearings being held by the Committee on what the impact of this policy was on the nation. The same was true with respect to the trade and industrial policy. The third item the Committee had to take further was international trade policy. He wanted to see consumer groups coming to Parliament and telling the Committee how government policies were causing suffering amongst the people of South Africa. At present, Parliament heard only from organs of state and not the people affected by such policies.
The Chairperson commented that some of what Mr Ambrosini had said was directly related to issues that the Committee had not dealt with in 2009 such as subsidies and incentives and public hearings. These had fallen off the agenda and could be classified as unfinished business. However, some of what had been said by Mr Ambrosini was issues that they had not clearly earmarked for discussion, which they needed to do so in 2010. She was going to put most of these suggestions under possible thrust areas to be dealt with by the Committee.
Mr Mabaso commented that it would be pertinent for them to include matters such as growing the economy as well as addressing inequalities because the Committee was, in his view, the most important portfolio to lead and expand on those matters. He also suggested that the Committee had to establish the connection between Trade and Industry and the environment in as much as the impact of business and industries on the environment was concerned.
Mr Njikelana commented that the restructuring of the economy had to be considered and referred to the strong movement towards economic restructuring by academics in South Africa. He cautioned that the government had already adopted the trade policy sometime at the end of 2009 without any input from the Committee and he suggested that there was a need to review it along with the package of other policies that they would be dealing with in 2010.
The Chairperson responded that the restructuring of the economy had been on the agenda in indirect ways and admitted that it might have not been pursued in the way that it should have been pursued. The growing of the economy had been discussed at the level of promoting emerging entrepreneurs but it had never really clarified how this was to be done. The other way of growing the economy that had been on the agenda but had not been fully carried through had been through export and beneficiation. There therefore had been no dedicated position on it and these had been indirect spin-offs attached to other issues. It could have been that the Committee had not seen themselves as being at the root of growing the economy and that it was the job of the portfolio for Economic Development. One of the areas that was going to come up and to which they would listen very closely was what would be said in the State of the Nation address about the changes to the mandate of the Trade and Industry portfolio. She felt that the whole of the economic cluster was involved in growing the economy and the question was how this would be done by the Trade and Industry portfolio. This issue would be left hanging for the moment because they were not sure how they would be dealing with it. With respect to industrial policy, the Minister himself had said that South Africa had nearly destroyed its industrial base and that was the key thing.
The Chairperson asked the Committee to flag the space issue which directly linked to climate change and environmental issues. She also asked the Committee to flag the issue of textiles, particularly because they would be hosts in 2011.
Other outstanding issues that they would be dealing with included international and regional trade relations, with regional integration being an absolute priority to address disintegration as a result of international processes. It would be important to consider whether the Committee had to play a greater role in contributing to regional trade. The issue of industrial development and broadening participation was also outstanding.
The other matters that the Committee would be dealing with included intellectual property rights which according to the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (CIPRO) was a vital part of South Africa’s economic culture. South Africa was one of the most unprotected countries in the world as far as intellectual property rights were concerned.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that there had been a request from a mining company to take members of the Committee to lunch in order to discuss a trade issue related to duties and tariffs. She commented that there was nothing to prevent the Committee going to lunch with people and it was really a question of time as Committee business came first before any other engagements. She asked the Committee to look at these invitations and to see if they could agree to them. She requested members to comment on how to constitute the delegation that would meet for lunch with these companies.
Mr Van Der Westhuizen commented that these sorts of lunches could be informative and members could have a one-on-one discussion which was impossible in a formal meeting. However, this also opened one up for all sorts of allegations afterwards. He therefore felt that whatever these companies could tell the Committee in Parliament should be rather done in the formal meeting. If there were other matters, perhaps they could be entertained somewhere on the premises such as in members’ offices for example. As long as members were supposed to remain impartial, he would always have serious questions about having lunch with such people.
Mr Njikelana also expressed the view that he had a feeling of uneasiness about accepting these invitations for lunch. To his mind, the purpose of such meetings had to be made very clear and with respect to the nature of such meetings. A group approach, in whatever form anchored around a purpose, was probably the best way of accepting such an invitation. They could not run away from the fact that every citizen had the right to access Parliament and also the fact that there was an interest from those companies or whoever invited members to lunch to influence direction in Parliament. Another consideration was if the Committee accepted one invitation from one company, this could trigger an avalanche of invitations from other companies. It was therefore advisable to find a way of promoting a cluster or sector approach so that these companies could come together in a combined fashion.
Mr B Radebe (ACDP) commented that Parliament’s programme had insufficient room to allow members to accommodate all people. He recommended a situation whereby the Chairperson did not go alone to such lunch meetings but was accompanied by a delegation of members from the Committee. That delegation could then make recommendations or resolutions and this protected everyone at the end of the day.
Mr Radebe also commented on the issue of growing the economy by saying that one had to look at the cost of doing business in South Africa. When one compared South Africa with Brazil, a country that was way ahead in terms of economic growth, there was a difference in the way businesses were run in that country. The question was what had to be done and the main thing was the issue of doing business in rural areas as well as in urban areas.
Mr Radebe commented on skills and drew a comparison with economies such as India, Brazil and China where the high number of engineers, actuaries, and accountants generated per annum contributed to economic growth. Education was a focal area and the Committee had to raise this issue at a cluster level.
Mr Ambrosini agreed with Mr Van Der Westhuizen’s assertion that there was no such thing as a free lunch. However, he accepted Mr Radebe’s point that if there was a need to speak to people informally then this needed to be done in front of colleagues. Therefore informally or formally, as long as one operated with colleagues, then there was transparency in the process.
Mr Ambrosini commented on the issue of mandate. While he had a full appreciation of the political reality, he nevertheless thought that for Parliament’s sake they had to draw a distinction between political process and institutional process. The ANC got its mandate from the ANC President which was then given to ANC structures and eventually found its way into the Committee. However, the Committee did not receive mandates from the President. As a matter of, the Committee gave a mandate to the State. The political discussion of mandate was political, and not institutional. They were the legislature and gave the mandate to the Executive and not vice-versa.
The Chairperson responded that she was in agreement. However once the Department had clarified their mandate then this would have an impact on how the Portfolio Committee conducted their business. She could not see how they could finalise a review of their strategic plan until after the State of the Nation address. The Committee therefore agreed to postpone the consideration and adoption of the draft Annual Report of the Portfolio Committee until sometime after the State of the Nation address.
The Chairperson put the different items on the programme before the Committee for consideration. The Committee agreed to look at the programme on the 2 February 2010. The Chairperson asked that if members identified any glaring anomalies in the programme to contact the Secretary directly.
The Chairperson consulted with members on whether they still wanted to engage further with CIPRO.
Mr Van Der Westhuizen submitted that CIPRO had been the subject of a large number of complaints from members of the public, that things like name reservations and company registrations had fallen behind and huge backlogs were being experienced. He had been asking numerous questions of CIPRO over the past year and the answers that he had received had been disturbing. CIPRO was presently a full entity of the Department of Trade and Industry and they were to be converted into a commission, which would require a different form of supervision over CIPRO. This entity was not in a good state of affair. Some of the staff members were unqualified to fulfil those positions. There had been serious questions about certain tenders and the Auditor-General would soon release a report on that issue.
Mr Njikelana submitted that he had also been keen on taking on CIPRO during the entity’s transition to become a commission. However, they definitely needed to balance time and look at priorities. He proposed that they keep CIPRO within the system and perhaps link it with another agency because to give one agency the 9am-1pm slot on the programme would be too much.
The Chairperson suggested the Committee could put some questions to CIPRO for them to come and answer at a meeting with the Committee at which they would be given one hour. The Chairperson selected a small task team of the members to collate questions from the Committee which would be sent to CIPRO.
The Committee also discussed logistical issues pertaining to the question of how to exercise oversight over the gambling industry and public hearings on the impact of the financial crisis and trade policy.
Briefing on progress made on review of National Gambling legislation
Mr Lwazi Mahlangu, Parliamentary Researcher briefed the Committee on the review of the Gambling Act [see document].
The Committee discussed the logistics of how they could best conduct public hearings after concerns were raised that it appeared that not all stakeholders were equally represented.
Ms P Lebenya (IFP) suggested that there was a need in the advertising for public hearings to focus on lay people’s understanding of these issues as well as placing information about the public hearings where ordinarily people had reasonable access.
Mr Mabaso (ANC) added that this matter had to be seen from the purview of empowering poor communities.
Mr Njikelana suggested the use of local language radio stations and the national community radio framework as a more effective advertising platform for informing the general public about the public hearings.
The Committee also engaged in discussion concerning the benefits to the economy and adverse effects on society of the gambling industry. In this regard, the Chairperson asked whether the benefits outweighed people’s lives and whether there was a need to contextualise people’s lives in relation to the adverse effects of gambling on society. She also told the Committee to be aware that the Constitution was founded on tolerance and that there was a need to ensure that they did not impose private morality on the public.
The meeting was adjourned.
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