The Parliamentary Research Unit took the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings through papers that familiarised the Members with the content, work and key concepts pertaining to the Committee. The papers intend to serve as a point of reference for the work the Fourth Committee had done, highlight the challenges which that Committee had faced during its term, and suggest recommendations to be considered by the new Committee.
The papers sought to outline what the mandate of the Committee in relation to executive undertakings was likely to entail, and made recommendations in relation to executive undertakings referred to the Committee. The Committee was also briefed about lessons it could take from countries like Zambia and India, which had established committees that had a mandate to oversee and implement executive undertakings.
The papers also provided a synopsis of the petitions sector in South Africa. They touched on the regulations governing the consideration and processing of petitions in the ten legislatures of the country, and highlighted discrepancies in the consideration and processing of petitions within the various legislatures.
The Committee was briefed about the contents of the Bokamoso Village Petition and Paternity Leave Petition. The former was submitted to the National Council of Provinces after their municipality evicted them from their village following a Constitutional Court ruling that the land they occupied belonged to the municipality. The latter petition was seeking the assistance of the Committee in introducing paternity leave for fathers into South African law.
The key strategic objectives of the Committee for the remainder of the 2014/2015 financial year are primarily to develop detailed and comprehensive petition guidelines, to consider and process new petitions, and to clear the backlog of petitions inherited from the Fourth Parliament.
Members remarked that the holding of meetings should not depend on the availability or unavailability of the Chairperson, because there were enough members from the party to act as a chairperson. They proposed that in the interim, the Committee should produce some guidelines that would help it to do its work and which would benefit the public in presenting petitions. They suggested the Committee should look at how it was going to deal with petitions with regard to its involvement in the three tiers of government, because provinces and some municipalities had their own petition laws. They also wanted to know if the prioritisation of issues by the Committee with regard to petitions was on a first come, first served basis or not.
The Committee tabled and adopted the third term programme (14 October – 28 November 2014). It includes the National Council of Provinces oversight week, consideration of a number of petitions, and the tabling and adoption of the committee programme for 2015.
The Chairperson said there was a backlog in the processing of petitions. In the circumstances, they would work with the workable ones and the ones that have insurmountable obstacles would be given attention at a later stage. He acknowledged concerns from the Members that the Committee had not done its work as expected, due to the absence of the Chairperson.
The Chairperson asked for a Member to move the adoption of the minutes of 1 September 2014. Mr G Michalakis (DA, Free State) proposed that the minutes should be adopted with amendments. Mr D Ximbi (ANC, Western Cape) moved the adoption of the minutes, and Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) seconded. The minutes were adopted.
Dr Mimmy Gondwe, Parliamentary Researcher for the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings, informed the Committee the aim of the paper was to familiarise Members of the Fifth Parliament with the content, work and key concepts pertaining to the Committee. It was noted that during the Fourth Parliament the Committee was known as the Select Committee on Petitions and Private Members’ Legislative Proposals, but in June 2014 its mandate had been changed to include the monitoring of executive undertakings.
The paper was intended to serve as a point of reference for the work done by the Committee in the Fourth Parliament and highlighted the challenges that faced the Committee during the course of the same Parliament. It would also assist the Committee to carry out its core role of processing petitions in an effective manner during the Fifth Parliament.
Rules 147 to 150 of the National Council of Provinces established the Committee and provided that its core mandate was to consider all petitions. This role was strengthened by the following powers and responsibilities:
- To refer the subject matter of a petition referred to it, to the Executive or a particular department or another administrative agency for further attention;
- To recommend to the National Council of Provinces any course of action it deems fit and proper; and
- To keep the petitioner informed of the decision or other course of action with regard to the petition and the reasons thereof.
The role of the Committee in processing petitions was guided by section 69 (d) of the Constitution, which states that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP)or any of its committees may receive petitions from any interested individual or institutions. Further, Rule 5 (1) (b) of the Rules of the National Council of Provinces makes this constitutional right a reality in providing for members of the public to submit petitions to the (NCOP)
Rules 229 and 236 of the Rules of the National Council of Provinces set out the requirements of petitions:
- Must be in a form prescribed by the Chairperson of the NCOP;
- Must be in one of the official languages;
- Must be signed by the petitioner or, if the petitioner cannot write, the petition must be marked in the presence of two witnesses who must sign the petition in their capacity as witnesses;
- Must be deposited with the Secretary of the NCOP for at least one day and the Secretary must in turn submit the petition to the Chairperson of the NCOP for approval;
- Must be tabled by the Chairperson of the NCOP after approval ;
- Must be referred to the Committee after being tabled by the Chairperson in the House;
- The petition must state the name and contact details of the petitioner;
- Must indicate the intended recipient;
- State the nature of request being made and motivation for the petition;
- Indicate the nature of the relief sought; and
- Must not contain improper or disrespectful language.
In its processing of petitions, the Committee was supported by the Committee Secretary, Committee Assistant and Parliamentary Researcher. Once the researcher has handed over the petition to the Committee, the Committee would then meet and consider the petition. Depending on the course of action the Committee decides upon in relation to dealing with a petition, the Committee also has the power to visit petitioners in their respective areas or call the petitioner to meet the Committee in order to get first-hand information.
The Committee has got the power to refer the petition to a relevant government department or entity. Then after meeting the petitioner or visiting the area or receiving a report from the government department, the Committee meets again to discuss the best way of resolving the petition.
It was also highlighted that as of 11 November 2013, 60 petitions had been referred to the Committee. By the end of the Fourth Parliament the Committee had considered only 24 of these petitions. During the Fourth Parliament, the Committee managed to finalise only one petition out of the 60 petitions referred to it.
During the Fourth Parliament, one of the major challenges that faced the Committee was the fact that it shared its members with two other committees. This made it difficult for the Committee to hold its meetings because when the two other committees were holding their committee meetings, the Committee was unable to hold its meeting.
Another challenge that presented itself to the Committee was that four of its Committee members were also Chairpersons of other committees, and this contributed to the inability of the Committee to hold its meetings regularly.
The Committee also faced a challenge in that when it did manage to schedule a meeting, the number of members present could not constitute a quorum.
However, a notable achievement of the Committee during the Fourth Parliament was its resolution of the Mofokeng and Mokoena petition. Even though the petition did not fall within the scope of the Committee, the Committee went on to consider and process it.
Another achievement of the Committee was the study tours it undertook in an attempt to improve the petition process of Parliament and share best practices and experiences around petitioning, with other legislatures in Uganda, the United Kingdom and Germany.
In light of the challenges the Committee encountered during the Fourth Parliament, it was suggested that the following recommendations, among many others, be looked at:
- The Committee formulates binding guidelines regulating its functions and the processing of petitions in an effectual and efficient manner. The guideline should contain timeframes and feedback mechanisms.
- The Committee undertakes frequent petition oversight visits aimed at verifying the issues raised in petitions.
- The Committee membership should include dedicated Committee Members who will ensure the Committee sits, irrespective of whether the Chairperson is present or not, or whether there is a quorum.
- The Committee focuses on working collaboratively with the various government departments as well as with petition offices of the legislatures so as to ensure a speedy resolution of petitions.
- The Committee explores the possibility of advocating for a Petitions Office, which would provide the Committee with the necessary administrative support in processing petitions referred to the Committee.
It was concluded that all petitions submitted to the Committee should be referred to the relevant governance structures for resolution in an effort to ensure political oversight and accountability by these structures, and that a Petitions Committee should also be required to manage its petitions process in a manner that contributes to the stability of the democracy of the country and the orderly resolution of the concerns or grievances raised by members of the public in the petitions referred to the Committee.
Mr Michalakis remarked that the holding of meetings should not be decided on the unavailability of the chairperson, because there were enough members from the party to act as a chairperson. As a Committee, they could not continue with infrequent meetings, whether the chairperson was there or not. He asked why the Mofokeng and Mokoena petition was fast-tracked.
The Chairperson, on the issue of the Mofokeng and Mokoena petition, said the petition was handled at the joint level of the National Council of Provinces and Private Members’ Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions. He noted that the Committee had not yet reported to the House about the petition.
Mr M Mhlanga (ANC) enquired how far the Committee was regarding petitions.
The Chairperson stated that petitions had not yet been finalized, and no reports had yet been tabled to the National Council of Provinces.
Dr Gondwe told the Committee that this paper seeks to provide clarity on what constitutes executive undertakings, to outline what the mandate of the Committee in relation to executive undertakings was likely to entail, by drawing on the functions of similar committees in India and Zambia, and make recommendations in relation to executive undertakings referred to the Committee.
She said that at the beginning of the Fifth Parliament, a political decision was taken to adapt the mandate of the former Select Committee on Petitions and Private Members’ Legislative Proposals to include executive undertakings, and for that reason the Select Committee on Petitions and Private Members’ Legislative Proposals became known as the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings.
She defined undertakings as those promises, assurances, commitments or resolutions that are made by Ministers, or any organ of state, from time to time in Parliament. These undertakings may be made during question hour, statements, speeches, presentations or debates.
It was highlighted to the Committee that countries like India and Zambia have established committees with the distinct mandate of overseeing and implementing executive undertakings. They call their committees “Government Assurances Committees.” It has been found that in both countries these committees:
- scrutinise government assurances made by the Ministers on the floor of the House;
- comment on delays and grant extensions in the implementation of assurances;
- report back to the House on the extent to which such assurances have been fully or satisfactorily implemented;
- undertake spot visits to get first hand information; and
- record and store all executive undertakings made in the House and overseen by the Government Assurances Committees.
In light of the mandate and functions of similar committees in the Indian and Zambian Parliaments, it appears the new mandates and functions of the Committee will essentially entail:
- scrutinising and overseeing the implementation of executive undertakings;
- advising the House on the implementation of executive undertakings made in the House;
- recording and storing of all executive undertakings made in the House and overseen by the Committee;
- communicating with relevant organs of state in relation to the progress made in the implementation of executive undertakings;
- requiring relevant organs of state to appear before or report to it in relation to the progress made in the implementation of executive undertakings; and
- report back to the House on the progress made in relation to the implementation of executive undertakings it has scrutinised and overseen.
Therefore, this paper makes the following recommendations:
- Parliamentary Rules and/or guidelines for overseeing and managing executive undertakings need to be formulated. These guidelines would define and fix what constitutes executive undertakings, define the standard expressions constituting executive undertakings, set timelines for organs of state to fulfil and implement executive undertakings given in the House, set out the procedure of the Committee and generally assist the Committee and its staff.
- An effective system be developed and adopted in order to assist the relevant support staff to collate, record and codify executive undertakings made by organs of state during House proceedings and resolutions.
- An orientation and training workshop be organised for members of staff and management charged with supporting the Committee to carry out its mandate in this respect.
- The activities of the Committee in relation to the overseeing of executive undertaking be clearly articulated and outlined.
- The Committee be required and encouraged to report back regularly on its work with respect to the overseeing and implementation of executive undertakings.
- The Committee to undertake study tours to the Indian Parliament, because it has one of the most well-developed systems of overseeing and implementing executive undertakings. It was also suggested that the Committee combine the study tour to India with a study tour to the Ghanaian and Zambian Parliaments in order to acquaint itself with the best practice around its new mandate, and develop its functions with respect to this mandate.
This paper provides a synopsis of the petitions sector in South Africa. It states that petitions within the National Parliament are regulated by the Rules of the National Council of Provinces. The Rules set out the format of the petition and also provides that petitions can not be submitted directly to Parliament, but must be submitted through a Member of Parliament who will in turn lodge the petition with the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. Upon the approval of the petition by both the Chairperson and the National Council of Provinces, the petition is then referred to the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings.
What also emanated from this paper was that the petitions processes in the seven provinces of the country are regulated by the Petitions Acts. Each province has its own Petitions Act. These provinces are Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Western Cape. In the Eastern Cape and North West, the petitions processes are governed by the standing rules of the respective provincial legislatures.
A 2011 report on the petitions sector of the country, commissioned by the Legislative Sector Support of the Parliament, revealed a number of discrepancies around the manner in which petitions were being processed in the various legislatures.
Most of the legislation and rules governing petitions define what a petition is, but not all of the legislation and rules outline the scope of a petition or the purpose of a petition, and this leads to interpretation problems around the scope and purpose of a petition.
The submission of petitions across the majority of the legislatures was limited to written petitions, with the exception of the Eastern Cape, which also allows oral submissions. Such a requirement excludes those who are unable to read or write from participating in government.
Not all the legislation and rules on petitions detail the timeframes associated with each stage of the petitions process. But those acts that do include details around the timeframes associated with each stage of the petitions process, do this in great detail and this enables the efficiency and efficacy of the process to be measured or monitored. Contrarily, those acts that fail to provide significant detail around such timeframes make it difficult for the efficiency and efficacy of the petitions process in a specified legislature to be monitored or evaluated.
The roles and responsibilities of the committees and the units charged with the consideration and processing of petitions are unclear in some provinces. The authority levels, mandates and reporting structures of these committees and units are also not very clearly delineated in certain provinces, and this does not ensure accountability on the part of these structures.
Very few legislatures were reported in the Petitions Report to have an electronic database recording the details of the petitions they received. A petitions database is required in all legislatures, as this would allow for the effective tracking of petitions and for the statistical analysis of the petitions processed.
Mr Michalakis commented that petitions showed where dissatisfaction is in the country. If the Committee could be run satisfactorily, the Committee would understand a situation before it erupted. While the Members were waiting for the promulgation of the National Petitions Act, the Committee needed to be proactive.
Mr Julius suggested the Committee should look at how it was going to deal with petitions with regard to its involvement in the three tiers of government, because provinces and some municipalities had their own petition laws, and it had surfaced that some municipalities saw petitions as coming from a particular political party.
The Chairperson remarked that soon there would be public participation indabas which were going to be held in provinces and municipalities, allowing the general public to channel their grievances.
Mr M Khawula (IFP, Gauteng) wanted to know if the prioritisation of issues by the Committee with regard to petitions was on a first come, first served basis or not.
The Chairperson explained that once the petition came, it would be tabled to the Committee and researchers would do background research. Weighty issues would be prioritised.
Mr Michalakis asked if, in the 60 petitions that still needed to be tabled before the Committee, the two to three-year-old ones still needed the intervention of the Committee.
The Chairperson said there were petitions that might not need the attention of the Committee.
Ms T Mampuru (ANC, Limpopo) advised the Committee to develop its own approach to learn to deal with petitions, because it had happened that in some municipalities that some petitions had been ignored because they were suspected of coming from another political party, or were threatening the position of the ward councillor or city manager. People needed to be made aware that there was a committee to which they could forward their petitions.
Mr Mhlanga proposed that in the interim, the Committee should produce some guidelines that would help it to do its work and which would benefit the public in presenting petitions, whether in public or before the Committee in Parliament, but the Committee should use its own discretion regarding that and depending on the weight of the petition.
The Committee was also briefed about the contents of the Bokamoso Village Petition and Paternity Leave Petition. The former was submitted to the National Council of Provinces after their municipality evicted them from their village following a Constitutional Court ruling that the land they occupied belonged to the municipality. The petitioners would like the Committee to intervene in securing suitable alternative accommodation for them. The latter petition was seeking the assistance of the Committee in introducing paternity leave for fathers in South African law. It was recommended that the Committee should consider the petition, because it seeks to introduce amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
The key strategic objectives of the Committee for the remainder of the 2014/2015 financial year are, among other matters, to develop detailed and comprehensive petition guidelines; consider and process new petitions and clear the backlog of inherited petitions from the 4th Parliament; convene and host a Petitions Act Indaba which is aimed at developing and passing the National Petitions Bill; and to conduct petition clinics and road shows aimed at educating people around the work of the Committee and promote petitioning and public participation.
Third Term Programme
The Committee tabled the Third Term Programme (14 October – 28 November 2014). It includes the National Council of Provinces oversight week; consideration of a number of petitions in Gauteng, North West and Limpopo; tabling and adoption of the Committee programme (2015); and tabling and adoption of the draft report on theoversight visit to Gauteng.
The Chairperson asked for proposer to adopt the Third Term Programme.
Ms G Manopole (ANC, Northern Cape) moved the adoption of the programme. Ms Mampuru seconded Ms Manopole.
The meeting was adjourned.
- SC on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: A Synopsis of South Africa’s Petitions Sector
- SC on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: Content of Paternity Leave Petition
- SC on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: Orientation Paper
- SC on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: Exploring Executive Undertakings Mandate of Committee
- SC on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: Content of the Bokamoso Village Petition
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