The Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings met to adopt the Committee guidelines, to consider the 2015 First Term Programme and the adoption of the draft minutes of Committee meetings in November 2014. The Committee agreed that Clause 9 of the Committee guidelines, covering the “submission of petition” process, must highlight that once the Presiding Officer had approved a petition it had to be checked to see whether if fell under the jurisdiction of the Committee. Members emphasised that Clause 18 needed to specify the “reasonable time” for the Chairperson to finalise a petition to the House, as the phrase was ambiguous. It was agreed that the administrative support staff should provide guidelines as to what was a “reasonable time” to deal with the whole process of a petition -- from the start, where it gets referred to the Committee, to where it gets finalised. This was meant to avoid the situation which arose in the 4th Parliament, where processed petitions never reached the House. A change was effected in Clause 13, where “Parliament” was replaced by the “National Council of Provinces” (NCOP), as the issues like legislation, oversight and other matters concerning government fell under the NCOP, and not the National Assembly (NA).
It was pointed out that Clause 12 (b) made it very clear that if a petition had been referred to an official of a national or provincial department and that person failed to respond, or gave an unsatisfactory response to the House, the Committee must make a complaint to the Public Protector in terms of the Public Protector Act, 1994 (Act No.23). This was in contradiction with Clause 6, where it was stated that Parliament was the last resort. There were suggestions that Clause 5 (b) should be rephrased to emphasise the fact that a person who submitted a petition in the interest of another person must make a mark in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign in their capacity as witnesses, as this was correctly reflected in Clause 8 (d).
Members proposed that they reconvene by the latest on Tuesday, 24 February, to properly adopt the guidelines. The 2015 First Term Programme was adopted with amendments.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone and stated that the purpose of the meeting was to adopt the Committee guidelines, consider the first term programme for 2015 and to consider the draft minutes of November 2014 meetings. The Committee would also table a petition from the Abazimela Squatters Association about the Tumahole Municipality.
Mr G Michalakis (DA, Free State) expressed disappointment that the Committee could not get an update on the Legacy Petitions at the beginning of the year, and requested that this be provided to Members in the quickest and most convenient time.
Mr Michalakis moved the adoption of the agenda. Mr J Julius (DA, Gauteng) seconded.
The agenda was adopted.
Adoption of Committee Guidelines
Mr Julius referred to Clause 6 on page 3 under “purpose of petition,” and pointed out that it was important for the Committee to check whether a petition went through all the spheres of government (local, provincial and national) before being submitted to Parliament.
The Chairperson said that Members should bear in mind that some of the petitioners that would be looking to Parliament to assist might not necessarily be provincial or local government competency and it was not necessary to outline such specific steps that needed to be taken before submitting a petition in Parliament.
Mr Michalakis said that Clause 9 on page 5 covered the process involved in the submission of a petition. The amendment here sought to highlight that once the Presiding Officer had approved a petition, it was then referred to the Committee for consideration and processing in terms of the rules, which must ensure that it fell under the jurisdiction of the Committee. This was to prevent a situation where approved petitions were referred to the Committee only to find out that they fell outside of its jurisdiction.
He also said that in Clause 15 on page 9, under “witnesses,” the Committee needed to be a bit clearer of the method of the subpoena, and added that witnesses had to attend the Committee in order for the petition to be processed, just as in court cases.
Clause 18 on page 9 covered the accountability of the Committee, and the “reasonable time” in which the Chairperson could report to the House. The amendment here sought to expand the meaning of “reasonable time,” which was creating ambiguity, and suggested that Members needed to come up with an adequate time-frame in which the Chairperson could take the processed petitions to the House. This was to avoid the situation where, during the 4th Parliament, processed petitions never reached the House.
The Chairperson asked whether it was necessary to include a time-frame, considering the laborious steps involved in the processing of a petition.
Mr Michalakis responded that it was necessary and imperative to ensure that the Committee dealt effectively with all the petitions. “Reasonable time” was a relative concept, and it could be very long. The administrative support staff could provide guidelines in this regard in terms of explaining a reasonable time to deal with the whole process of a petition -- from the start, where it gets referred to the Committee, to where it gets finalised.
Mr D Ximbi (ANC, Western Cape) said it would be difficult to specify the time-frame for the processing of a petition, as this would put the Committee in a corner. He suggested that “reasonable time” was appropriate.
Mr M Chetty (DA, KZN) requested the administrative support staff to shed light on the “reasonable” time-frame for the processing of a petition.
Mr Michalakis explained that the purpose of putting a time-frame was not intended just to rush the completion of all the petitions, but rather to ensure that all the petitions were effectively processed within a reasonable time-frame and then reported to the House as soon as possible.
Ms G Manopole (ANC, Northern Cape) pointed out that the Members needed to take into consideration that the Committee was currently facing a major backlog of petitions still needing to be considered. Giving a specific time-frame would only add unnecessary pressure, as more petitions were coming in on a weekly basis.
Mr Julius stated that “reasonable time” could be three years or even longer. This had been the case in the 4th Parliament, and the Members needed to come to an agreement about a time-frame that was required for the processing of a petition. He supported the suggestion that the administrative support staff should be given time to provide guidelines for a reasonable time to deal with the whole process of a petition.
Mr M Mohapi (ANC, Free State) said the Committee must avoid the element of ambiguity which could be abused. He also supported the suggestion to consult the administrative support to clarify further on a “reasonable time” for the processing of a petition.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Members if they were satisfied with the amendment so far.
Mr Julius mentioned that in Clause 13 on page 8, under the “composition of Committee,” the word “Parliament” must be replaced by the “National Council of Provinces” (NCOP), as the issues included legislation, oversight and other matters concerning government which fell under the NCOP, and not the National Assembly (NA).
Mr Mohapi asked about what was informing Clause 5 on page 3 (b) under “right to petition,” as there was ambiguity. In some instances, people could be manipulative in the submission of a petition of someone who, for whatever reason, was not in a position to submit a petition in his or her own name. He pointed out that Clause 6 on page 3, under “purpose of petition,” suggested that the Committee was the last resort when all other lawful avenues of relief had been exhausted, but Clause 12 on page 7 (e) indicated that the Committee may also refer a petition to an institution strengthening constitutional democracy, established by Chapter 9 of the Constitution. He also suggested that Clause 7 on page 3, under “scope of petition,” was more relevant under the definition of a petition.
The Chairperson responded that Clause 7 was important in order to have clarification on the broad outline for the process of petitioning, and did not necessarily have to fall under the definition of a petition. It was imperative to take into consideration that the majority of elderly people in South Africa were still illiterate and Clause 5 on page 3 (b) sought to accommodate those people, as they also had a right for their voices to be heard.
Mr Michalakis pointed out that the Committee could still refer a petition, or any part thereof, with a specific directive or recommendations to other avenues, but the last resort for the petitioner was Parliament.
Mr Mohapi indicated that Clause 12 on page 8 (b), under “powers of the Committee,” made it very clear that if a petition had been referred to an official of a national or provincial department and that person failed to respond, or gave an unsatisfactory response to the House, the Committee must make a complaint to the Public Protector in terms of the Public Protector Act, 1994 (Act No.23). This was again in contradiction of the statement that the Committee was the last resort.
He also suggested that Clause 5 on page 3 (b) should be rephrased to highlight the fact that a person who submitted a petition in the interest of another person must make a mark in the presence of two witnesses,, who must also sign in their capacity as witnesses as this was correctly reflected in Clause 8 on page 4 (d).
The Chairperson interjected and reminded the Members that they should be mindful of time constraints, as there were other items that still needed to be adopted.
Mr Michalakis said it was concerning that the Committee was already facing a backlog of petitions, and this would reflect negatively on the Chairperson and the ruling party. However, due to time constraints, the Committee should take all the suggestions on board and then schedule a short meeting by the latest next week – Tuesday, 24 February -- for the adoption of the guidelines.
Mr Mohapi suggested that the Committee should also invite the legal advisers to deal with the technicalities of law.
The Members agreed with the suggestions.
Adoption of the 2015 First Term Programme
Mr Michalakis said that both item (3) assessment and update on the Legacy Petitions and (4) consideration and adoption of the Third Term Quarterly Report were not part of the agenda that had been adopted at the beginning of the meeting, but appeared in the first term programme. He recommended that the agenda must be adopted as it was, and that the Committee must move item (3) and (4) to the agenda of 18 March 2015.
Mr Mohapi indicated that the Committee needed to review how it approached the programme of petitions and executive undertakings, as it was clear that the current approach was more office-based than reaching out to the general public. The Committee needed to be proactive in dealing with problems affecting the majority of people in the country, and not necessarily waiting for the people to go through the rigorous process of petitioning or violent protests.
Mr Chetty asked whether it was possible to ensure that the Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings did not clash with other committee meetings.
The Chairperson responded that this was impossible to do, considering that the Committee was the only cluster that had three committees.
The Chairperson requested the Members to adopt the 2015 First Term Programme.
Mr Michalakis moved the adoption of the programme and Mr Ximbi seconded.
The 2015 First Term Programme was adopted, with amendments.
Adoption of minutes
The Chairperson asked the Members to adopt the minutes of 5 November, 25 November and 26 November 2014.
Ms Manopole requested that minutes reflect the conclusion that had been reached by the Committee on the petitions.
Mr Michalakis also added that the minutes must reflect that the Committee had agreed that it would firstly deal with the hearing, and when the petitioner left the Committee could then deliberate on the specific issues.
The Chairperson said the minutes were supposed to be a summary of what transpired at the meeting and did not necessarily have to reflect all the matters discussed.
Mr Michalakis agreed, and said he preferred that the minutes stay as they were. However, if the point of Ms Manopole was being accommodated, then the minutes should also reflect the decision on the hearing.
Mr Michalakis moved the adoption of the minutes of 5 November, and Mr Chetty seconded.
The minutes were adopted as is.
Mr Ximbi moved the adoption of the minutes of the 25 November, and Mr Michalakis seconded.
The minutes were adopted as is.
Mr Mohapi said that the minutes of 26 November were supposed to reflect the conclusions that had been reached by the Committee. It was important to take into consideration that the minutes could create confusion, as this had been the case during the recent State of the Nation (SONA) debate.
Mr Ximbi moved the adoption of the minutes of 25 November, and Mr Mohapi seconded.
The minutes were adopted, with one amendment.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: Content of Abazimeli Residents Association Petition
- Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings: Draft Guidelines on Consideration and Processing Of Petitions
- Draft Report of Select Committee on Petitions & Executive Undertakings on Hearing of Mkhize Petition
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