Meeting with the Vietnamese Delegation of the Standing Committee on Citizens Claims and Petitions of the National Assembly of the Social Republic of Vietnam

Private Members' Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions

29 November 2010
Chairperson: Mr S Thobejane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Vietnamese Delegation of the Standing Committee on Citizens Claims and Petitions of the National Assembly of the Social Republic of Vietnam. Members of the committee had to share and exchange information with the Vietnamese delegation on how they dealt with Private Citizens’ Petitions and what systems they used in dealing with such petitions.

They ask each other questions as to how they receive such petitions, and what types of petitions do they receive. They also explain the procedures and rules governing the petitions they had to handle. They explain the purpose of the petitions and their meaning to the public at large. Both sides had to explain their system of Government and how it affected the rules and procedures that govern the handling of petitions

Members exchanged gifts with the Vietnamese delegation.

Meeting report

Introductory Remarks
The Chairperson welcomed Members and the Vietnamese delegation. He thanked the delegation for visiting the country and invited everybody to introduce themselves.

Thereafter, the Chairperson explained that the purpose of the meeting was to share and exchange ideas and information in terms of how the two parliaments handle the challenge of Citizens Claims and Petitions. He hoped that the meeting would assist both sides in terms of their work as public representatives in carrying out their mandated duties.

The Chairperson informed the delegation that the Committee was set up by the rules of the National Assembly as mandated by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Part of the Committee’s responsibility was to vet legislative proposals that came from Members of Parliament of South Africa. It was also responsible for receiving petitions from the population of South Africa. Currently, the Committee was only considering “Special Petitions” as ordinary petitions were directly referred to the relevant parliamentary committees. As a consequence, the Committee was dealing with an area were there were no guidelines on and which had a vacuum in terms of current legislation. The Chairperson invited the Committee Researcher to explain the Committee’s current method of operation when dealing with special petitions.

Committee Researcher briefing
Ms Sisanda Siphamla, Committee Researcher, explained that the Constitution provided for petitions in section 17 as the basic fundamental right of all South Africans. Every citizen could make a submission to Parliament. Section 56(d) of the Constitution provided for the National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Private Members’ Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions to receive petitions from the general public. As already mentioned by the Chairperson, the Committee dealt only with special petitions. According to the rules of the National Assembly, a special petition was described as a petition that requested a petition or personal relief from the State that was not authorised by law. To make an example of the special petitions that the Committee was dealing with, it was a petition by a gentleman, his wife passed away and he sought relief from the State that he should be given the pension money. In such petitions, a particular process must be followed. A petitioner is referred to Parliament via a member of parliament in his constituency. It would then be sent to the Secretary to parliament then through the Speaker of the National Assembly. From the Speaker’s office, it would be sent to National Assembly Portfolio Committee on Private Members’ Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions for consideration. It was during that consideration stage that committee would consult with the relevant departments, ministries and any other committee that could assist. Once the petition had been considered, the committee may invite the petitioner to come and do a presentation. Further fact finding was done during that stage and if it was found that the petition was valid the Minister of National Treasury would have to introduce a Bill to provide for the money to be released. Since that petition was not provided for in terms of the law, it was through that bill from the Minister in the National Treasury the money could be realised. The committee would then complete the petition and give report to the National Assembly.

The other part that the committee deals with was the proposals of legislation and all Bills were introduced through members of parliament.

The Chairperson emphasised that that was a summary of what the Committee did and asked the delegation to explain their system.

Vietnam Delegation
Mr Congoong Long, Deputy Chairperson of the Vietnamese delegation, stated that their committee was in charge of petitions and claims sent by the people of the Republic of Vietnam. All the petitions and proposals that were sent to the National Assembly of the Republic of Vietnam would be received by their committee. If they dealt with the proposals they had to make recommendations and send the proposals and recommendations to the relevant committees. If the proposal was related to a specific branch of Ministry they then sent that proposal to that relevant Ministry. The committee would then be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the proposals. The committee collected and classified the petitions according to relevant organs in the State apparatus.

The Chairperson invited Members to engage with and share said that if the deputy chairperson of the Vietnamese delegation was through with his presentation, they could exchange information between each other so that they would learn more from their experiences. All he would be doing was to facilitate that process of engagement between the two groups.

Mr Long reiterated that the delegation was interested in understanding how the Committee operated. The exchange of information and experiences would be beneficial for both parties. He understood that the two countries had different political systems but the respective governments had the same purpose of serving their people. The delegation wanted to know how the Committee organised its work, its daily activities and how many committee members and staff it had. They also wanted to hear more about how the Committee dealt with special petitions.

Mr Long indicated that his country had two types of legal procedures for receiving documents. One was approved by the National Assembly in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of Vietnam, and the ordinance approved by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly. The second type of the law, were documents legally received and passed by the Government of Vietnam through the Prime Minister. They would like to know how the committee dealt with petitions that the government was in charge of.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee comprised of 13 members, 8 from the ruling party and 5 from the opposition. The Committee tried not take a partisan approach when it debated issues. The Committee has 4 supporting staff, 1 from the Parliament’s Legal Unit, 2 researchers and the Committee Secretary. Three of the supporting staff were fulltime employees of the Committee and the one from the legal unit was shared amongst other committees. The nature of the work that the committee was doing was legal in nature therefore it was imperative to have a fulltime legal advisor for the committee. As a result, the Committee was not properly capacitated and this sometime had an impact on its work..

Mr P Pretorius (DA) highlighted that the Committee has two functions, the one related to the legislation that private citizens wanted to introduce and the other dealt with special petitions. The Constitution of South Africa allowed that legislation or bills could be introduced to Parliament by three methods, namely, by the Executive itself, secondly by a committee of Parliament and thirdly by a Member of Parliament. When the individual Member of Parliament wanted to introduce a bill or legislation, the Rules stated that the bill should not go straight to Parliament but should first be referred via the Speaker of Parliament’s office to the Portfolio Committee on Private Members’ Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions. The Rules further stipulated that a Member could not just introduce a bill. It must be introduced in a form of a memorandum and be submitted as a legislative proposal before it became a bill. Only once the Committee had given a go ahead, the Member could introduce the bill. It would then go to the Speaker, who would in turn refer it to the relevant committees of Parliament. That process took 90% of the Committee’s work and the remaining 10% was for special petitions.

When dealing with petitions the rules make a distinction between ordinary petitions and special petitions. Petitions would normally come from private citizens. Ordinary petitions were petitions that came from people who demonstrated on the street and asked for signatures for a particular demand. Those petitions would be received by the Speaker and be referred to the relevant committee. The Committee no longer dealt with those types of petitions and instead only focused on special petitions. There were no clear guidelines on how to deal with special petition because it was something new for the Committee. The Committee was therefore formulating processes in that regard.

Ms J Sosibo (ANC) asked the delegation how they monitored the Standing Committee when it dealt with proposals as explained earlier by the Deputy Chairperson of the delegation.

Mr Long replied that according to the law any legislative proposal sent to the National Assembly by a citizen of Vietnam should be sent to the executive branch of the relevant Ministry. Since 2008, the relevant Ministry must then account to the National Assembly on how it planned to resolve the proposal. The Ministers in Cabinet were elected by the National Assembly and once they failed in doing their work properly, they would be reported in a plenary broadcasted session in view of the whole country.

Ms Sosibo asked if whether before 2008 the ministries were not reporting to the National Assembly.

Mr Long replied that before 2008 the public were not able to see the live broadcast when Ministers had to account, it was a closed session and they did not answer in details.

Mr Long asked Members to explain what criteria were used when were dealing with the two types of petitions as alluded to by Mr Pretorius.

Mr Pretorius responded that the special petition was any petition that came before the committee and all other petition go to their relevant committees depending on their topic. Special petitions only relate to pension money and pleas to increase pensions.

Ms Siphamla emphasised what Mr Pretorius said by stating that the special petition was a petition that was requesting a pension or other specific or personal relief from the State which was not authorised by law. Special petitions were usually requested by retired public servants and the other or the personal that was referred to above relief was the relief that would impact on State spending as would had been the case in terms of government’s social grants. And those would happen when the personal circumstances of an individual not a group of people who was prevented from using State social grants in a manner that it could not be remedied in a court of law. That was the committee’s effective oversight duty as indicated in its mandate for public interests.

Mr Long noted that as he was informed by the chairperson that all the petitions of ordinary South African people were send to the National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa through the Speaker’s office. He asked whether how many people that were employed to deal with petitions in the Speaker’s office.

The Chairperson responded that they have said the area of special petitions was not very clear, it needed to be reviewed. The rules were very silent in terms of dealing with such petitions but currently the office of the speaker had what was called the ground table staff. The staff’s responsibility was to vet or screen all the petitions received by the speaker’s office in terms of which ones were ordinary and which were special petitions. After they finished screening the petitions they would send them to the relevant committees to deal with them. The committee was not sure or did not know the number of staff that was employed in the speaker’s office.

The chairperson asked the Vietnamese delegation to explain to the committee on how do they deal with special petitions in their country.

Mr Long responded that they also had to classify the petitions when they arrive according to the relevant committees. For those that were not covered by law, firstly they had to inform officials of different Ministries and then formulate a recommendation to the Committee of National Assembly. Their committee was slightly different because it was responsible for helping the Speaker of the National Assembly in receiving and resolving all the petitions sent by Vietnamese citizens. The officials on the panel of peoples’ claims and petitions were present in the meeting and their duty was to receive the petitions and report them to him. The petitions were classified into two types of petitions. There was one petition that was send by an individual and the other petition was send by a group of people in their constituency. Those petitions were normally about asking the government to change its policy in the eradication of poverty and hunger and increasing pension.

Ms A Molebatsi (ANC) asked how do they did the screening or classification of petitions.

Mr Long responded that there was a separate building that was located not very far from the National Assembly where all petitions were screened and classified by recruited expects from different committees. Private Citizens send their petitions through post office, and that’s how they receive petitions. He said that as representative of the people they had to go their constituencies and talk to the people and listen to their concerns so that they could report back to the National Assembly. He asked the committee to share with them on how they maintained their relationship with the voters.

Ms Sosibo asked where did they draw the pool of expects who assisted with the petitions.

Mr Long stated that as he already mentioned that in order to ensure that they had enough petitions from the people, they receive them and send them to the National Assembly and he had to go to the constituencies to listen to the voters. After that they make a summary report and send it to the Committee of the National Assembly to resolve the matter. In their country the Ministry was responsible for drafting legislation and Bills and the committees of the National Assembly had to follow those laws. They also send some petitions to the relevant Ministries for them to formulate legislation before they send a draft Bill to the National Assembly.

The Chairperson interjected that the Vietnamese delegation were also confronted with the same situation as them in South Africa in terms of dealing with special petitions because there was no clarity in law.

Ms J Killian (Cope) said that it was clear from the head of the delegation that most parliaments in the world had a healthy tension between the National Assembly and the Executive. Sometimes it was necessary to make an effort and communicate with the people in their constituencies so as to bring the voice of the people and remind the executive about their needs. Because South Africa has a Proportional Representation (PR) system, they have list of people elected by parties, not directly constituency based system. All parties were allocated constituency offices by parliament and they distribute offices throughout the country depending on how many they could operate because the smaller the party the few they could be able to afford. There were attempts in the past to say parliament should not sit throughout the year, it should break for longer periods but actually it was not practical because government introduced legislation throughout the year. They have four terms of parliament usually between 9 and 11 weeks, and a constituency period of two-three weeks. In addition they were trying to give members every Friday and Monday to go back to their constituencies. But it was not always possible because members did not have enough air tickets to fly back and fourth. And so it was one of those measures of trying to maintain contact with their constituencies they were representing.

Ms Killian asked the delegation that from the number of petitions that they received whether how long do they often had sittings of the National Assembly to discuss those petitions.

Mr Long responded that if there was a petition that related to a particular organisation in Vietnam they send that petition to that organisation. The National Assembly of Vietnam was not capable of resolving all the petitions sent to it.

Ms M Twala (ANC) asked how effective was their system of monitoring as alluded to by Mr Long. And she also asked whether there where any petitions, claims and legislative proposals that were debated in the National Assembly.

Mr Long stated that normally their reports on minister’s responsibilities were available via a 3 days plenary session of the National Assembly where deputies asked the Minister and at the end of the session they compile a report which stipulates the Minister’s responses. They had just started the procedure in the last few years and they just beginning to see the results. From his personal point of view, the procedure was very much effective in publicising the Minister’s responsibilities.

Ms F Khumalo (ANC) asked if whether do they send that petitioner their decision after they had resolved a petition. She also asked what happens to the petitions that were not resolved when the term of office of parliament lapse.

Mr Long stated that they send petitions to the National Assembly and send their recommendations to the relevant Ministries. It was not the responsibility of the National Assembly to send a report back to the individual or group. It was the responsibility of the relevant Ministry to report back to the individual or group, or the relevant organisation to answer the petitioner. The National Assembly’s responsibility was to check whether the procedures had been followed by the relevant stakeholders. He asked if the committee could give more examples of legislative proposals and how did they resolved them.

The Chairperson stated that generally all legislative proposals brought up by private members were forwarded by members of parliament to parliament. They were doing that more often on behalf of citizens as part of their constituency work. Therefore, as they engaged with their constituencies they pick up things that people were raising and came and forward the legislative proposals on behalf of private individuals. The parliament of South Africa was constituted by 490 members of the two houses. 90 of those members belong to the National Council of Provinces and the 400 belongs to the National Assembly. And when they were together they did not form even a quarter of the population of South Africa whom might have better ideas to take the country forward. So as they do their constituency work, it was where they get the information and take it to parliament for consideration. It was quiet clear that the discussion would not conclude what they wanted to share with each other. Therefore they would further continue in the future to communicate, engage and hold discussions with each other in order to understand and confront the challenges they encounter in their work.
The Chairperson asked Mr Long to tell the committee the number of the members of his committee. He also asked whether in terms of the political system, how was it doing since it was a socialist system. He asked him to clarify the issue of public accounts in relation to public spending.

Mr Long thanked the chairperson for his question and explained that the chairperson of the committee was the Deputy of the National Assembly. And he was the deputy chairperson of the committee and also a member of parliament. Actually their political system was a one party rule and their National Assembly consists of 500 members of parliament. 95 percent of those members came from one party and there were 10 committees in the National Assembly. There were 3 sub-committees, namely, the standing committee of the National Assembly, 10 committees for deputies divided into 10 groups and each group belonged to each committee, and 2 of the 500 deputies one was the chairperson of sub-committee for the standing committee of the National Assembly. That means their National Assembly has one standing committee. The was a chairmen of the National Assembly, deputy chairmen of the National Assembly, the chairmen of the 10 committees of the National Assembly and the chairmen of the standing committee of the National Assembly. There was also a composition of the Speaker of the National Assembly, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, chairmen of committees and chairmen of sub-committees, and they were all working together in the National Assembly of Vietnam. Their committee was called a sub-committee on peoples’ petitions and claims of the standing committee of 18 powerful MP’s of the National Assembly. 70 percent of the members of the National Assembly were not full-time, only 30 percent of members were full-time. He concluded that their parliament was little bit different from the parliament of South Africa.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation for the opportunity they have made to share their experiences with them and for their visit to the country and he was looking forward to their next meeting. He concluded that there were gifts that were prepared for the delegates and he asked Ms Sosibo to roll out the gifts to the delegates as he was reading their names.

Mr Long also thanked the committee for their hospitality and it was an honour to come and share information with the committee. He also presented the committee with a gift on behalf of their committee and the Government of Vietnam.

The meeting was adjourned.


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