Gender equality, HIV/AIDS, rural development and land reform: Canadian Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) briefing to joint committee

Rural Development and Land Reform

13 September 2011
Chairperson: Mr S P Sizani (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Members of the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association covered a limited range of topics during a one-hour meeting with Members of three portfolio committees.

The Members responded to questions related to the rules governing the Parliamentary committee system in South Africa, problems in the implementation of Black Economic Empowerment legislation, plans to improve education as a means of reducing unemployment, and rural development challenges.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the eight-person delegation from the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), and expressed the hope that its engagement with local Parliamentarians would help to strengthen the functioning of Parliament, but also lead to an improvement in conditions for each country’s peoples.

Mr Russ Hiebert, MP, leader of the Canadian delegation, initiated the discussion by referring to their presence at the previous day’s question time in the National Assembly, during which the Opposition had sought permission from the Speaker to discuss a topic that was before a committee.  In Canada, there was nothing to stop matters being discussed in one of the 26 committees from also being discussed in the House of Commons – unless it was a matter before the court.  Yesterday, however, the Speaker had ruled that because a matter was before a committee, it could not be raised on the floor of the House.  He asked for assistance in understanding the rules as they related to the committees, and how the matter might play out in the future.

Mr D Kganare (COPE) said he understood the South African procedure was the same as Canada’s.

Dr B Goqwana (ANC) said he was present at the time, and his understanding was that the Speaker’s ruling was that the President did not have to answer the question because the multi-party committee was still dealing with it, and only after it had presented its recommendations would he be able to comment on them.

Ms D Robinson (DA) supported Mr Kganare’s view that the Canadian and South African systems were the same.  However, the matter in question was a sensitive issue, and, in her view, it had led to an attempt to avoid answering the question.

Mr M Waters (DA) said the background to the matter was the Public Protector’s investigation into the activities of a Minister, who was found to have acted unlawfully.  The President was supposed to have acted on that report, but had instead referred it to a committee, which was irrelevant as the Public Protector had already found the Minister guilty.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) said her understanding was that the question was not answered because it was not on the question paper.  Local government issues had been under discussion at the time.

The Chairperson said the Speaker had considered the question irrelevant, as it was not related to the matter under discussion.  He agreed that the rules for South Africa and Canada were the same.

Mr Hiebert commented that the Canadian Prime Minister was called to answer questions in the House of Commons four times a week.  No advance notice for questions were given, although there was a 35-second time limit for both questions and responses.

Mr Roger Cuzner, MP, added that leaders of the opposition parties were allowed three questions each, which were answered by the Prime Minister, where-after subsequent questions were more likely to be answered by the responsible Minister.  A wide spectrum of topics was generally covered.

Mr C Frolick (ANC), House Chairperson of the National Assembly Committees, Oversight & Information and Communication Technology (ICT), said he had joined the meeting to hear the nature of the discussions on the important mechanisms of oversight.  A lot more needed to be done in parliaments in general in order to ensure the Executive was called to account.  There should be an enhancement of the authority which the committee system had over the Executive.  In this regard, he looked forward to a continued sharing of experiences with branches of the CPA, including interaction with counterpart committees in other parts of the world by means of modern information and communication technologies.

Mr John McKay, MP, said the issue of legislation regarding black economic empowerment (BEE) had been discussed with Canadian mining companies operating in South Africa, and while they were wholeheartedly in favour of the objectives, the application of the laws was proving both difficult and problematic at times.  One of the issues was funding, where up to 26% of shares might be delegated to people who might not be contributing funds, and this meant that the other shareholders would have to over-contribute.  As a result, an overseas investor’s contribution would immediately be devalued by up to 26%, This was not an attractive proposition to potential investors.  The other questions to be answered were who, in fact, received the shares, and whether there was a flow down in benefits to the people being affected by the mines.  He was interested in Members’ thoughts on the application of the legislation.

Ms A Steyn (DA) said that while mining did not fall under the rural development portfolio, the Opposition did not agree with the system of giving up a percentage of ownership, as this could be detrimental to investment in the country.  The nationalisation of mines was also being debated outside of Parliament, but both these issues needed to be discussed by Members of Parliament because of their impact on unemployment, as mining played a huge role in providing jobs in South Africa.

Mr Kganare said that everyone who knew the history of South Africa understood the need to redress the imbalances of the past, and accepted that the objectives of BEE were honourable.  Unfortunately, the implementation had led to unintended consequences, and there was ongoing debate on how to ensure wealth was properly redistributed, and how more formerly disadvantaged people could benefit from economic development.

Mr McKay said the Canadian delegation had no objection to the objectives of BEE, which had been “elegantly stated,” but sometimes when policies were poorly designed, they could be counter-productive, which was the feeling picked up in discussions with Canadian mining companies and their representatives. 

Senator Claude Carignan paid tribute to the South African Constitution and the Bill of Rights, commenting that the best seemed to have been picked from all systems.  However, unemployment posed a huge challenge, and as education was the key to alleviating the situation, he asked what the country’s plan to improve the education system was.

Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) said that, from her perspective, as Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities, a lot had been done in the field of educating young girls, who had in the past remained at home to look after children, while the boys went to school.  The basic and higher education systems now ensured all children went to school, even in the rural areas.

Mr M Hoosen (ID) said it was impossible to give a comprehensive response, but it was important to understand that the first priority was to overcome the imbalances in the system from the past, and there was still a long way to go.  He assured the delegation that all political parties were committed to the principle of ensuring a better quality of education for all children.

Ms Robinson agreed that education posed an enormous challenge, and one of the big problems was that, in some schools, the level of teacher training was not good enough, with a backlog resulting from the inferior education of the apartheid era.  Teachers were often not adequately qualified to teach subjects like maths and science, but there were projects and programmes in place to improve standards.  Referring to teachers not wanting to be monitored, she said trade unions were playing an increasingly important role in education, often to the detriment of the children.  Frequent policy changes were also demotivating teachers.   Funds were not available to provide specialised support in areas like autism.  Overall, much work still needed to be done.

Mr Frolick said a review of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for education had indicated that targets would be exceeded.  However, while it was possible to “tick all the boxes”, it was important to focus on the quality of the teachers, and to make sure that more children were being taught to read, write and count.

Senator Robert Peterson asked what major challenges had to be faced in the area of rural development.

Ms Steyn said redressing the inequalities in education was a big problem in rural areas, and tribal land was also an issue.  Unfortunately, the focus had been on the urban areas in the first 15 years of democratic rule, and only recently had more attention been paid to rural development.

Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) said the establishment of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform had brought about major improvements through the championing of integrated programmes involving all relevant departments in improving rural services.

Mr Kganare said there were many people in rural areas with farming experience, but in order to create sustainable jobs they needed to have access to both land and finance.  These were challenges which were being addressed, and assistance from Canada in training these farmers would be welcomed.

The Chairperson apologised for the fact that time was not available to continue the discussions.

Mr Hiebert said the delegation had learnt much, and hoped the process would continue during the rest of the visit.

The Chairperson responded that while the challenges facing the two countries might not be the same, Members had learnt a great deal from their Canadian counterparts.

The meeting was adjourned.   


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