Establishment and future work of the Joint Committee: Parliamentary Content Adviser briefing

Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS

24 May 2012
Chairperson: B Goqwana (ANC), Ms R Rasmeni (ANC, North West)
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Meeting Summary

The Parliamentary Content Advisors briefed the Committee on the background to, scope of, and a possible programme for the new Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS. The decision to establish this Committee was taken in October 2010, but it was not known why there was a delay in setting it up. It was intended that this Committee should act as an advisory, influencing and consultative body. It comprised Members from both the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), with one Co-Chairperson from each House. The quorum would be the majority of Members from each component House. The Committee was expected to monitor and evaluate the implementation of Government’s strategy, policy and programmes on HIV and Aids, to monitor and evaluate government’s compliance with all duties and responsibilities, including timeous submission of country reports, in relation to HIV and Aids, and to examine and evaluate the legal framework and make recommendations on existing and proposed legislation. It could make submissions to other relevant oversight Committees, would be expected to introduce an HIV and AIDS focus in Parliamentary activities, through debates, ensuring that HIV and AIDS prevention were prioritised in the national agenda and adequately budgeted for. It should also engage with civil society, the host of other departments charged with HIV and AIDS issues (including Departments of Heath, Social Development, Labour and Women, Children and People with Disabilities), and other structures. This Committee must report annually to each House on its activities and submit substantive reports and proposals to relevant Parliamentary forums, via each House. Some suggested topics included an examination of the legal framework and international instruments, the HIV and AIDS strategy, policy and programmes, linkage with the team compiling South Africa’s Country Reports on HIV and AIDS, and the possibility of holding a workshop.

Members added that they also thought that the question of circumcision, and the support given to NGOs, and their functions should be discussed. They asked questions of clarity on how best to identify the organisations with whom to work, or to call before themselves, as also on the monitoring of service providers that dealt with the HIV/AIDS issues. Members thought that it would be useful to hold a workshop involving those with whom they would consult. They also agreed on the necessity of drawing a strategic plan to decide how the Committee should meet its mandate. Members finally agreed to meet once a fortnight, on a Friday.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s Opening Remarks
Chairperson Goqwana noted that South Africa was relatively small when compared to other countries by size, yet was very high on the list of the proportion of population affected by HIV. This was particularly so in respect of women and children, who were the worst affected by the disease. It was unfortunate that most of those who failed to or were reluctant to take precautions to avoid the spread of the disease were men, and the prevalence of HIV was not so high in men as in women. The area of HIV and Aids was high on the agenda of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Because of these statistics, it was believed that Parliament should consider having a special committee to attend to oversight over initiatives, and legislation that was aimed at reducing the scourge of HIV and Aids. This was the first meeting of the new Joint Committee, and it was intended so that the Committee Members could formulate a strategy on how the Committee should function. It should consider programmes in place, in various departments, and try to ensure, through oversight, that the prevalence of HIV dropped, as also the number of deaths from HIV related causes.

Establishment of a Joint HIV and AIDS Committee: Parliamentary Content Advisor’s briefing
Dr Thulisile Ganyaza-Twalo, Parliamentary Content Adviser, tabled a report on the establishment of the Joint HIV and AIDS Committee, and said that it was based on the second report of the Joint Subcommittee Review on the Joint Rules, made in 2010  to the Joint Rules Committee. This report would provide background information on the establishment of the Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS, reflect on the functioning of the Joint Committee and reach a common understanding of the functions and powers of the Committee.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo noted that on 18 June 2009, the Joint Rules Committee referred a proposal to establish this Committee to the Joint Sub-Committee on Review of the Joint Rules, and it took the decision to establish this Committee in October 2010.

It was intended that this Committee should act as an advisory, influencing and consultative body. Its Members would have to decide what work they should do, who they were to advise, what they hoped to influence and on what they would be consulting. The Committee comprised Members from both the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), with one Co-Chairperson from each House. If one of the Co-Chairpersons was not present, an Acting Co-Chairperson must be appointed from the relevant component. Whilst the Committee could proceed with business no matter how many Members were present, it would need a quorum in order to take decisions. The majority of Members from each component House would constitute a quorum. A decision could be taken when there was an agreement between the majority of Members of the NA component and the majority of the Members of the NCOP component.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo enumerated the functions and powers of the Committee. Firstly, it must monitor and evaluate the implementation of Government’s strategy, policy and programmes on HIV and Aids. Secondly, it should monitor and evaluate government’s compliance with all duties and responsibilities, including timeous submission of country reports, in relation to HIV and Aids. Thirdly, the Committee should examine and evaluate the legal framework and make recommendations on existing and proposed legislation.

Other functions included making submissions to relevant oversight Committees, and introducing an HIV and AIDS-related focus in Parliamentary activities, which included programming of debates, monitoring Parliamentary oversight to ensure that HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment were prioritised on the national agenda, and ensuring that adequate provision was made for this in the national budget. The new Committee should also engage with civil society and other structures on HIV and AIDS-related issues, and consider any other matter within its mandate referred to it by either House.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo noted that this Committee must report to each of the Houses, annually, on its activities, and should submit substantive reports and proposals to relevant Parliamentary forums, via each House, having identified the forums with whom they could engage with on issues of HIV and AIDS.

Slide 9 of the report (see attached presentation) identified relevant oversight forums, and determined the relationship between the National Department of Health and National Treasury on the budget allocation. Slide 10 identified civil society organisations (CSOs) with whom the Committee could work and the likely terms of engagement with the identified CSOs, for example South African National Aids Council (SANAC), and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). Slide 11 set out when the Committee should report to each House, what format this should follow, and made suggestions on whether the Committee was allowed to engage with the Parliamentary forums once a report had been submitted to the two Houses.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo concluded by listing some suggestions for the Committee Programme, emphasising that these were proposals only for consideration by the Members, to start the activities. It was suggested that the Committee programme should look at the legal framework as it related to HIV and AIDS, and international instruments on HIV and AIDS, as well as the country’s HIV and AIDS strategy, policy and programmes. She urged that there should be a link and/or collaboration with the team responsible for compilation of the country report on HIV and AIDS, and suggested that all or some of this could be achieved through a workshop with various stakeholders.

Co-Chairperson Mr Goqwana noted that the document presented by the Content Adviser was just a discussion document but more input and suggestions would be contributed by Members of the Committee.

Co-Chairperson Ms Rasmeni thanked Dr Ganyaza-Twalo for her informative presentation, and suggested that, in her response, she may wish to touch on the role of other departments and committees who were also dealing with the issue of HIV/AIDS.

Mr D Kganare (COPE) noted that the main emphasis had been on those who were already HIV-positive. He suggested that this Committee should try to identify non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Government institutions who concentrated on prevention, as this was another vital area.

Ms Segale-Diswai commented that more clarity was needed on the NGOs, since there were many of these who did receive funding from government, or oversaw other institutions, yet did not seem to collaborate directly with government. She felt that this particular issue had to be singled out for specific consideration.

Ms M Motsepe (ANC) agreed that there were lot of NGOs who dealt with HIV/AIDS all over the country. She asked if this Committee was going to monitor loveLife and other service providers during the course of the year, or at the end of each financial year.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo responded to the suggestion of Mr Kganare by assuring him that the Committee support staff would be able to assist in identifying some NGOs and other organisations. However, as stated, there were numerous organisations working in the field. The Committee would need to decide whether it wished to consider NGOs with a national agenda to deal with HIV and AIDS programmes, or others who were more focused on giving care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS, or any other particular criteria on which to focus in order to identify the NGOs. She said that if the Committee confined itself to working with a smaller rather than larger number of NGOs, this would help it to gain more clarity on some of the issues; it could always extend the involvement with other organisations later.

She added that loveLife was presently performing a service on behalf of the Department of Health. For that reason, it fell to the Department (and the relevant Portfolio Committee on Health) to monitor what loveLife was doing. Whilst this Committee could ask the Department of Health to report to it on the successes or shortcomings, this Committee would not be able to monitor service providers of the Department itself. This Committee would be monitoring and evaluating government programmes in general, along with strategies and policies, and compliance of Government as far as international treaties were concerned, like the submission of country reports on HIV/AIDS.

Ms J Segale-Diswai (ANC) asked why there had been such a delay in setting up this Committee. She asked for more clarity on the quorum, noting that the majority of Members seemed to be from the NCOP.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo stated that was not able to answer this question, as she was allocated to this Committee only recently and did not know of its past history.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo clarified that the quorum would be the majority of the Members in the two houses, since there were members from both the NA and NCOP.

Ms S Kopane (DA) thought that the Committee needed to set its own strategic plan, and decide how it was going to achieve its functions and powers.

Mr M De Villiers (DA) suggested that the Committee should identify all role players with whom it wished to consult, and then hold a workshop and iron out issues raised in this presentation.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo agreed with Mr De Villiers that a workshop would be useful to involve other stakeholders. However, she pointed out that the Committee needed to work with people both inside and outside of Parliament, including relevant government departments and civil society groups. She supported the idea of having an initial planning session, and this could either be held separately, or incorporated within a workshop. She also agreed that a strategic plan was needed.

Dr Ganyaza-Twalo stressed that HIV/AIDS was not the prerogative of the Department of Health alone. Other departments had responsibilities in this regard, including the Department of Social Development, who was doing work on HIV an AIDS in regard to children, and the Department of Labour, who was looking at HIV and AIDS in the workplace. It was necessary also to work on building relationships with these departments.

Mr Goqwana noted that another issue that this Committee should consider was the issue of circumcision. Research had shown that men who were circumcised had a lower chance of contracting HIV. However, circumcision was done, in certain areas, in a certain way as part of the traditional customs, and often this would not have the same impact as it would have, if done as a purely medical procedure. Traditional healers would also have to be taken into consideration; many of them claimed that they could cure HIV and AIDS. In addition, it was necessary to consider the views of traditional leaders, especially those from the Eastern Cape, who were opposed to medical circumcision.

Mr Goqwana suggested to the Members that they should fix a date to call civil society organisations to come before the Committee. However, as pointed out, it was impossible to call all of them, and at this stage it was not certain how many there even were. However, even before taking this decision, the Committee could consider other logistics, such as how often to meet, and when would be a suitable day and time when Members of both houses would be available.

Members discussed whether Friday or Thursday was the most suitable day, and agreed that, given that a number of caucus meetings were on Thursday, that the Committee would meet fortnightly, on a Friday.

The meeting was adjourned


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