Progress on outstanding petitions, adoption of First Term Programme

NCOP Petitions and Executive Undertakings

18 February 2014
Chairperson: Mr A Nyambi (Mpumalanga, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Select Committee on Petitions and Members’ Legislative Proposals met for the consideration of the Committee’s First Term Programme 2014 and how to deal with the processing of outstanding petitions, which were to a large extent linked. The Chairperson welcomed two new Members to the Committee and gave a brief background to the difficulties this Committee had faced, not least in finding suitable times and venues for meetings and how far they had managed to get with various petitions. It did face a backlog and clearly could not finalise all matters before it. It had called for assistance from the Office of the Chief Whip, firstly in arranging for a meeting time and place, and secondly in managing to prioritise some of the matters referred to Parliament. Some petitions could well be referred to other departments for input or attention, whilst others would have to come to this Committee. The Committee identified and agreed on the week commencing 5 March 2014, and agreed to sit for 3 days at Gauteng Southern Sun Hotel to hear petitioners’ presentations and finalise whatever it could, failing which it would at least be able to come up with concrete recommendations and an exit report for the new Committee in the Fifth Parliament.

Members debated some of the petitions briefly, but the Chairperson asked that they focus on trying to identify those matters that were likely to be able to be finalised. Members raised concerns about the long-outstanding issues of the Shawela Extension 5, noted that input had been sought from a number of parties and the problems there seemed to be that the church involved was not making attempts to abide by the Municipality’s rulings and regulations. They also noted that there were some serious matters raised by a petition on Sasol Masala pension benefits. Here, some Members suggested that there was a need for a small delegation to visit the Minister of Finance to try to expedite the necessary changes to the legislation, but another Member pointed out that this was not feasible as the amendments would still need to go to Cabinet and could not be passed in this year, as this involved a money bill. Members were concerned that they had been hampered by some lack of support from the Committee Secretariat that had not attended expeditiously enough to some of the matters. This Committee would also be making recommendations on the future structure and functioning of this Committee to the next Parliament. It was resolved that by the end of the day, a list of issues would be identified with time frames allocated to them for the three-day programme, the necessary programming request would be sent through and the Committee would deal with those issues that it could, and list the others, with recommendations as to the next steps to be taken, in its legacy report.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed new Members to the Select Committee. They were Mr M De Villiers (DA) representing the Democratic Alliance and Mr P Jacobs (ANC).

He noted that the purpose of this meeting was to process the outstanding petitions, as there were some on which work had already started, and others that could not be done, given the short timeframes.

He outlined the background of this Committee, for the benefit of the new Members. This Committee required approval from the Chief Whip in regard to meetings. The Committee generally chose to listen to petitioners at the Gauteng Southern Sun Hotel, as most central for listening to petitioners, because it was difficult and expensive to transport all petitioners to Cape Town, and meant that Members would be able to deal with a number of matters over a few days. However, if there was no approval to deal with those petitions in a central venue it would be problematic. The approval initially given by the Office of the Chief Whip had later been reversed.

He then asked Members to study the Committee Programme, and that must be considered in conjunction with the list of petitions the Committee would need had to process. If it was possible to secure a week in that last term to finalise all the outstanding petitions, this Committee would be able to write a legacy report, to assist the incoming Committee after the elections. The Committee should try to fix a date to finalise petitions, but must also be realistic and accept that not all petitions that had been tabled would be attended to in such a short space of time. Some, however, which had been partially attended to, would be able to be concluded. 

He cited the particular example of Shawela Extension 5. When Members visited, the place had been physically blocked because the church was in the residential area. When the submission was made, the Committee had invited all relevant stakeholders, including the church leadership, the petitioners, the provincial legislature, the local municipality and the Department of Environmental Affairs to measure the level of the noise that the petitioners were complaining about, to come up with clear recommendations, so it was only the finalisation of the recommendations that still needed to be done.

The Chairperson requested Mr Jacobs to guide the Committee on the programme. The Committee was proposing to set aside 12 to 14 of March, but since then it had heard that Parliament might be closing earlier.

Mr P Jacobs (Free State, ANC) thanked the Chairperson for the welcome, and said that the NCOP was hoping to wrap up its business by 27 March 2014. According to the programme, a plenary was planned for 12 March, asking questions to the Deputy President, with another on 13 March, so he advised against setting aside that week for petitions.

Mr J Gunda (Northern Cape, ID) said that in the week of 5 March there was only one plenary, on a Tuesday. He suggested that Members commit themselves to working on petitions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and return on Sunday. He made a formal proposal to set aside this week.

Mr Jacobs agreed, pointing out that even the plenary of 6 March was provisional.

The Chairperson noted the Committee’s agreement to make application to the Chief Whip’s Office to use the week commencing 5 March to travel to Gauteng to finish the outstanding petitions. From then, the Committee needed to set a way to deal with the legacy report. He reminded Members that during the last two visits to Gauteng, even more serious issues had been raised, around the Sasol Masala Benefit, where people were being deprived of pensions. However, realistically, this Committee could not conclude this matter, because pension issues would not be resolved overnight and it would be necessary to look carefully at the legislation. Other petitions involved very complex issues. However, some might be referred to departments, or other stakeholders could be asked to assist. All Members should take ownership of the programme. 

Mr Gunda said he would like to see this matter being progressed speedily through to the Chief Whip and pointed out that some Committees were unable to do their work as their applications did not get to that office on time.

Mr Jacobs reminded Mr Gunda that last week the Chief Whip had said there was a Technical Committee which was looking at the petitions, and would sift those that had to be referred to departments, to isolate those that had to be referred to this Committee.

Mr Gunda asked if Mr Madima was part of this Technical Committee.

The Chairperson confirmed he was, and that in the last week a meeting was held with the Chief Whip and Mr Madima on how the Committee should move forward, and that the Gauteng visit was being treated differently from external trips. The Committee Researcher and Mr Madima had met with the Secretariat of the NCOP around continuing matters.

The Chairperson summarised again that certain petitions would fall into a category of petitions that could be referred to other departments. Secondly, there were petitions that had been largely concluded. The Shawela Extension 5 petition was not like any other that had not been addressed. He told Members that he was hoping to finalise the application relating to the week of 5 March today, and hoped for support from the Chief Whip’s office, which already knew what was going on. Turning to the legacy report, he said Members should look at how petitions had been dealt with in the previous years, and how the report could be structured. There were a number of petitions that would have to be referred to in that report. These might, for instance, include the border dispute about learners that were staying in Brokhorstspruit but attending school in Gauteng, and disputes as to who was to fund them, between the provincial governments of Gauteng and Mpumalanga. There was another issue involving Mofokeng and Mokoena. The Committee had visited Shawela, Extension 5 and had obtained reports that could be included in the legacy report.

Mr Jacobs said that that this Committee would be a lesson for the Fifth Parliament. It mostly comprised Chairpersons who tended to prefer their own committees than this, and he suggested that perhaps the future Committee needed to look at restructuring. This Committee currently had a large backlog of petitions. There were, for instance, more than 30 petitions that had not been dealt with in his province. Ideally, this Select Committee should be able to sit every week to function properly. At the moment, he would second the suggestion to finalise all outstanding petitions. The Technical Committee was not assisting on how it was sifting the petitions.

The Chairperson said that it should be understood that there was no way that this Select Committee could function like others. Most Select Committees shared Members, and the Chairs of those Committees would meet to agree on their dates to ensure that as many Members as possible could attend. When it came to the Petitions Committee, it would, firstly, have to make application to the Chief Whip to allow it to meet as early as 08:00 on a Wednesday, to ensure that Chairpersons were then released in time for their committees. Secondly, it needed to apply to meet outside Parliament. The problems with the Chief Whip applications also should be outlined in the legacy report for the incoming Committee to consider.

The Chairperson appealed to Mr Jacobs to select those petitions that were of priority in his province so that they could form part of the programme for the week of 5 March.

Mr Gunda raised another concern that the Technical Committee should, by now, have furnished its report to this Committee but had not. The Sasol Masala issue must be put right, and people should be assisted to get their pensions by amending the legislation.

The Chairperson said that this had been resolved as far as it could, because Parliamentary Legal Adviser Mr Gary Rhoda had been asked to look into and advise the Committee on the legislation. The way in which the Committee tackled the petitions during the week of 5 March could go a long way towards assisting people with problems. The Committee knew that the Gauteng Legislature was very cooperative and the municipality and the Department of Environmental Affairs had measured the level of sound allowed in the residential area at night. If people were not abiding by the recommendations made by the environmental impact assessment team, the leadership of that municipality and the Gauteng legislature, then the church leadership was undermining what was supposed to be done. At the final result, if they were not able to modify or sound-proof, it might lead to closure of the church, which was not under-financed and probably had the money to instal sound-proofing. 

Mr A Matila, (Gauteng, ANC) agreed with the Chairperson in terms of the need to move forward and finalise the petitions. The Committee Secretary had requested that matters be dealt with several times, but there were as yet no conclusions on how the Committee would deal with the numerous petitions that it could not conclude. He cited the example of the lady from Limpopo, a fairly simple matter in itself, but which was delayed by having to deal with the legislation. Members had been concerned that the Committee Secretary was not assisting. The Masala matter remained one of the most critical. The Committee had already agreed to call the companies to Cape Town, and had been asking the Committee Secretary why this was not being pursued, and the legal advisers had not yet given legal advice. This had been raised in the management meetings.

The Chairperson appreciated the roles played by Mr Matila and Mr Mofokeng, and had suggested that the Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Development should be asked to assist by shifting its dates to allow the numerous members from that Committee to attend this Committee.

The Chairperson asked Mr Rhoda for his input on the Masala matter.

Mr Rhoda noted that Mr Gunda had made a good point about amending the legislation. However, he was concerned about the timing. This would have to be a money bill, introduced by the Minister of Finance in the National Assembly, and there was only three weeks to the end of the term. That would not stop the Committee from proceeding to make a request that for the necessary amendments. If they were amendments to regulations, it would be easier. However, in the past there had been petitions on pension benefits and the previous Minister of Finance was not eager to change legislation or regulations around pension benefits.

Mr Gunda suggested that a delegation should be selected to speak to the Minister of Finance, to highlight the issues and insist that the regulations be changed. National Treasury could amend the regulations. He proposed that Mr Matila and Mr L Nzimande (ANC, KwaZulu Natal) should make an appointment to see the Minister next week.

Mr Jacobs raised a point of order, saying that the Committee now seemed to be discussing the Masala issue, although it had been trying to prioritise the matters for the week of 5 March.

The Chairperson took his point and asked Members to return to identifying the issue for that week. The programme would be finalised with the assistance of the Chief Whip’s Office.

Mr Jacobs thought the Chairperson would assist, and was not sure that it was right for the Chairperson to say that Members should suggest issues of priority from their province, as that might include new matters. He suggested that the Committee should confine itself to current petitions, which were capable of being concluded now.

The Chairperson said that some petitions had already been highlighted. By the end of the day, Members would receive details of which petitions would be handled on 5, 6 and 7 March. He had asked Mr Jacobs about those from his province because the Committee was not in possession of all of them, and thought that he would have been in a better position thus to identify the burning issues. None of the provinces should be excluded.

Mr Matila was disappointed by the input made of Mr Rhoda, reminding him that the amendments to the legislation had been raised several months ago. He agreed that partly-completed matters be finalised. Nothing new should be addressed, as Committee Members knew from experience that one presentation could take hours.

Mr L Nzimande (KwaZulu-Natal, ANC) reminded Members that they would be making recommendations to the incoming Committee and this Committee needed to be realistic. The Masala issue could not be finalised, even if this Committee were to meet with the Minister of Finance on the next day. It did not involve a Treasury Regulation as such but an amendment that would have to go through Cabinet processes. However, what this Committee could do was to agree what needed to be done to get to conclusion of the matter. In some matters, such as service delivery problems, this Committee could contact entities.

The Chairperson said that there were issues from North West relating to mines, land, chiefs and problems of Bafokeng people. The Premier had since set up a Commission. The Committee may decide to host the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and Office of the Premier, but should be realistic that this issue, which started several years ago, in the Third Parliament, was unlikely to be concluded. The same applied to the Masala issue. However, this Committee could make clear proposals, and set out the basis and foundation for the recommendations, to empower the next Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.


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