A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY RULES COMMITTEE
23 October 2002
These minutes were provided by the National Assembly Table Staff
The Speaker welcomed Members and raised concerns about the large number of apologies, despite the fact that the notice of the meeting had been on the agenda for some months. She urged parties to take these meetings seriously.
1. Adoption of Minutes of 14 August 2002.
Mr Andrew queried the following: "21% of the month's salary" on page 4, 2nd last paragraph. It was agreed that it should read as: on the basis of 21 working days per month.
On the motion of Ms Southgate, seconded by Mr Doidge, the minutes were adopted.
2. Sanctions (Item 3 of Agenda)
The Speaker asked parties to respond to the documents which were circulated, specifically the Guidelines for Leave and the Appeals mechanisms and indicated that in the absence of any further party responses she was of the view that the documents circulated to parties were all agreed to and therefore the only other item outstanding was the decision on the date of implementation of sanctions. The Speaker suggested ~ of November 2002 as the effective date of implementation. She asked the Secretary to send out appropriate notices reflecting the date of 1 November as the effective date of implementation.
Ms Southgate said that the ACDP had discussed the sanctions issue and raised concerns, which would be communicated to the Speaker in writing by Mr Green. She added that they had concerns with the penalties as discussed. As a small party, their members would not be in a position to attend all meetings which tended to coincide with each other. The ACDP's concerns were mainly on procedure and not on principle.
Mr Chauke said that the ANC was still looking at the issues raised in the sanctions documents and had not yet taken these issues to the caucus. The party needed more time to discuss the matter. The Speaker responded by stating that a further deferment of the matter presented an unnecessary delay and the date of ~ November should stand as the date of implementation of sanctions. However, parties could write to her and if there were clear disagreements a special Rules Committee meeting could be convened to discuss these disagreements. The implementation of sanctions, however, could not be deferred to next term because it had been on the agenda for many months. The Speaker added that since the principle had been agreed to, what remained was simply to clarify the procedures.
Mr Andrew asked for clarity on the application of leave by a member. He said that it seemed that if a member applied for and obtained leave of absence under any one of the categories listed in the document that would automatically apply to the committees sitting on that particular day. He added that it would particularly affect the minority parties because their members had to attend several meetings at the same time. He suggested that leave of absence for a day should automatically apply to both plenary sessions and committee meetings.
The Speaker agreed that it could be made explicit and that the application for leave granted would state clearly that it was for Parliamentary work. Also, if a member received a last minute notice of a meeting or did not receive such a notice then that could be addressed in the application for leave of absence.
Ms Rajbally said that the question from smaller parties was what would be an acceptable reason for being absent since clashes in committee meetings created problems as smaller parties had to prioritise which meetings they attend and tender apologies for those they could not attend. The question was, would this be an acceptable reason for being absent?
The Speaker confirmed that it would be accepted as an apology and indicated that such issues were discussed in the guidelines and the criteria were also spelled out in the guidelines. The problem, she said, would arise in the management; for example, if one was present at the Rules Committee meeting then one's presence at that meeting would have to be established. She added that there was an attempt to make the guidelines as comprehensive as possible. The principle was that on parliamentary working days members should be involved in Parliamentary work, whether it was attending a public hearing or a committee meeting. Matters of practical application would have to be ironed out, if necessary.
Mr Hahndiek reminded the meeting about the issue of setting up a small Leave Committee to look at particular exceptional circumstances of requests for leave.
The Speaker suggested that the Chief Whips' Forum should set up a Leave Committee Of 4 to 5 members, to be chaired by the Deputy Speaker, the committee to look at exceptional circumstances warranting the approval of leave. The committee would process applications and report back.
It was agreed that:
- Sanctions would be implemented on 1 November 2002.
- Secretary to send out notices that 1 November is the effective date of implementation.
- Parties could write to the Speaker before 1 November and if they had clear disagreements a special Rules Committee could be convened to discuss these disagreements.
- Leave of absence for a day automatically applies to both plenary sessions and committee meetings.
- Chief Whips' Forum to set up a Leave Committee of4 to 5 members, chaired by the Deputy Speaker.
- Leave Committee to look at exceptional circumstances warranting the approval of leave.
3. Report of the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of Committees (Item 4 of Agenda)
The Chairperson of Committees referred the meeting to items 4.1.2, an extract of Management considerations, and said that the Secretary's office would respond to that issue, and he would lead discussions on item 4.1.3, regarding Policy considerations extracted from the Interim Report.
The Speaker requested a report from the Office of the Secretary on item 4.1.2.
Ms Keswa said that the issue that she had been working on Budgeting for Committees -which fell under Management considerations extracted from the Report, had been referred to the Speaker. She further reported that the assessment of support services rendered to committees had been delegated to her and she had been working with Mr Doidge 5 Office to secure meetings with the chairpersons of committees to find out what their experiences were, so that intervention strategies could be set up. The process, however, was ongoing, but very slow because problems were being experienced in securing meetings with chairpersons.
The Speaker said that in future it would assist if staff could provide written reports on the issues they were expected to report on.
The Speaker said that in terms of budgets, she would report back on this item together with Ms Pandor when she returned, because it covered both Houses. Concerning setting up appointments with the chairpersons, she suggested to Mr Doidge that if it was not possible to meet with them, they should be left out, or they could make written recommendations in regard to the information required by his Office.
Mr Doidge replied that there had been progress in terms of securing meetings with chairpersons and that his Office had been able to retrieve previous assessments that had been done and that this information could be used by his Office.
The Speaker indicated that her Office had identified a grant that should have come to Parliament some years ago but which was never referred to the Presiding Officers. She was waiting for Ms Pandor's confirmation on that. The grant amounted to approximately 1.8 million American dollars over a period of three to four years, which was estimated to be approximately 19-20 million Rands. Their view generally, as Presiding Officers, was that as the money would have to be returned to the funders, if the offer was not responded to, the money should be used to strengthen and upgrade, amongst others, committee support as well as research. She said that this could be put broadly whilst the details were being worked out. She added that this matter could later be discussed in detail with committee chairs and committee staff.
Ms Southgate welcomed the announcement as good news and said that she was aware of some problems experienced by a committee which required research to be done on a Bill, which was technical in nature.
The Speaker suggested that the chairperson of that particular committee had to follow up with the Chairperson of Committees because as Presiding Officers they wanted to empower the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of Committees so that they were able to address these issues, which did not have to come to the Rules Committee.
Mr Doidge supported the request raised earlier by the Speaker for members to be sent written reports by staff and further welcomed the announcement of the grant and expressed the hope that it would assist committees. He indicated that his Office needed resources and he hoped that that would be prioritised.
On the issue of Policy considerations (Item 4.1.3 of the Interim Report) Mr Doidge said that he was reporting on behalf of the ANC. The Speaker indicated that it would be inappropriate for him to report on behalf of the ANC and that he should report as a Parliamentary Office-Bearer. She added that if the ANC wanted to report on the issue then it should identify someone in the party, other than a Parliamentary Office-Bearer. The Speaker asked the ANC to be the first to give input on the Policy considerations.
The Chief Whip said that Mr Doidge, who also happened to be on the study group on this issue, had been appointed by the party to lead the discussion on these issues. The Speaker replied that Parliamentary Office-Bearers were appointed by Parliament in terms of the Rules, and they needed to perform in that capacity. She further said that to ask someone who is a Parliamentary Office-Bearer and who is given certain responsibilities by Parliament, and then acting as a party spokesperson was problematic. Her understanding was that if the House in accordance with the Rules elected a member, not as a representative of the party, but as the Chairperson of Committees and his Deputy as presiding officers, then they were Parliamentary Office Bearers. The Speaker asked for party inputs on the matter.
Mr Van Der Merwe agreed with the Speaker's views.
Mr Ellis said that his party also supported the Speaker's ruling as they thought it was important that Mr Doidge should speak as the Chairperson of Committees.
Ms Southgate said that her party also supported the Speaker's ruling, as this would protect Mr Doidge in his Office.
Mr Nhleko said that he was aware that the meeting was not the appropriate venue to raise the subject of Parliamentary Office-Bearers. He said that the meeting could revisit the subject at a later stage. He added that Mr Doidge was also a member of the ANC study group and therefore was mandated by the party as a political functionary to carry out that function. He said that a contradiction could arise on the basis that Mr Doidge is also an Office-Bearer at a Parliamentary level. He said that this question could be revisited so that members do not take positions that are informed by narrow party political positions The matter needed further consideration so that a policy could be developed which could inform parties. A proper discussion of this issue was required.
The Speaker said that she was not raising the issue as a narrow party political matter but as a parliamentary Office Bearer, based on 8 years of practice in this institution. She said that if the Chief Whip wanted the matter to be re-opened, then that was a different matter, but it was not something new, since it had been the practice for a long time. The Speaker said that she had no problem if any party wanted to revisit any subject at any time, but until such time that this was revisited and changed, the current practice would apply. She said that the particular practice could be re-looked and tabled at the Rules Committee meeting to look at in whatever form members wanted it. She ruled that on this occasion and for this subject Mr Doidge should introduce the Report as it emanated from a particular Office and not from a political party. She asked whether Mr Cassim would introduce the matter. Mr Van der Merwe said the IFP had also assigned Mr Cassim to speak on behalf of the party. The Speaker asked for the matter to be adjourned until the problems were resolved, including the functioning of the Office of Chair of Committees and added support to committees, because it would be difficult to channel support through party spokespersons. She added that until the whole question had been resolved, the matter had to be left in abeyance.
It was agreed that:-
- Staff should provide written reports on the issues they are expected to report on.
- The Speaker and Ms Pandor will report back on committee budgets.
- Those chairpersons who are not available for interviews should provide written recommendations to the Office of the Chairperson of Committees.
- The grant of 1.8 million dollars would be used to strengthen and upgrade committee support as well as research.
- The policy considerations be held in abeyance until the question of party spokespersons had been resolved.
4. Members' resignations (Item 5 of Agenda)
Mr Hahndiek said that it was agreed at the last Rules Committee meeting that resignations should be addressed to the Secretary or the Speaker and, thereafter, processed through the normal channels. He referred to a document from the Legal Services Office (Annexure 5), which deals with the question of party lists and so forth.
The Speaker urged parties to look at the document from the Legal Services Office, as it was very important. She wanted parties to particularly focus on the last section of the document. which addressed the question of how long a party could have a seat vacant. In her view it was important to look at this issue since there were constitutional issues that could arise. She added that a Rule in this regard might not be necessary, but a practice should be established in Parliament so that if the matter ends up in court it is not seen as arbitrary. A proper practice was needed in Parliament.
She asked parties to look at the matter if they had not already done so, to avoid problems in future. Mr Van der Merwe said that what could be considered to be a "reasonable period" depended on each particular case, for example, 60 or 90 days. He further said that according to his experience a party could delay the appointment of the next member on the list until the list was changed by the party.
Mr Andrew raised two points relating to the document at hand, firstly, the question in Paragraph 7 of the Legal opinion which dealt with the flexibility of the system. He said that what was suggested would create difficulties for Presiding Officers, given the example cited in the document concerning a misunderstanding that a member's party would be re-deploying him/her to a provincial legislature. He was of the view that the criteria should be more stringent. An alteration should be allowed only in cases of absolute error.
Mr Andrew's second point on the document was broader. Although he had not read the entire Constitutional Court judgement on crossing the floor legislation, his understanding of the ruling was that from the 2004 elections onwards all the transitional arrangements would disappear completely and that there would be a void, unless Parliament created something. He said that the challenge would be to look at the broader issues such as a new set of rules for Parliament or to replace the Constitutional Schedule that would disappear in 2004. He further mentioned that the Electoral Task Team appointed by Cabinet and which was chaired by Dr Van Zyl Slabbert was due to report on 11 November and presumably this item would be one of the topics they would cover because it related to legislation, the Constitution and elections. He therefore asked the meeting 0 look at this issue in a more comprehensive manner.
Mr Jeffery said the meaning of "Reasonable period" was contained in Schedule 6 and, therefore, it was not up to parties to define a reasonable period. The Secretary to Parliament should remind parties about vacancies on their party lists and request them to fill these vacancies. He added that if parties were going to decide what a reasonable period was to fill a vacancy, then the law (i.e. schedule 6) would have to be amended. He requested that the matter stand over until the next meeting to give parties an opportunity to study the document from the Legal Services office. If possible, parties to come up with policy proposals on the issue.
The Speaker agreed with Mr Jeffery. She further said that the point raised by Mr Andrew went beyond the issue at hand, but members did not have to wait as there might be aspects that could be dealt with in terms of policy. A decision could then be taken as to whether it was legislation or rules that were required. She urged parties to Wok at the matter and it would be revisited. If the task team had to deal with it, then that would be a different matter. She said that the available Constitutional Court judgement did address what should be regarded as a "reasonable period" and she asked parties to also look at the judgement. She added that there could be cases, which could arise in the next 18 months, and decisions would have to be taken.
Mr Cassim said that it would be desirable to have a properly pre-planned resignation farm prepared by the Law Advisers to ensure that when a resignation was to be submitted all the relevant aspects were clear (e.g. from which time or moment the resignation became effective). A standardised form would be easier to implement than when such resignation letters were written by individual members, without due regard to all the things that needed to be taken care of.
The Speaker suggested that the Secretary's Office should produce guidelines on the existing practice. She said that members should have enough responsibility to write out resignations but guidelines would assist. She said that in terms of the current laws, a member had to resign the seat in person before there was a vacancy, because although a member appeared on the current party list, he/she was still an individual incumbent of the seat and when the party removed the member from the party, then the seat automatically became vacant. The party, however, could not force a member to resign or inform the Speaker that a particular member was no longer a member of that party. The principle was that a member had to submit his/her resignation in person before a vacancy occurred.
Mr Hahndiek mentioned a technical point that a lot of members thought that if they wanted to leave at the end of the month they had to resign with effect from the 30th "With effect from" means that on the 30th one is no longer a Member of Parliament and this had caused some confusion. Members are now saying that they will no longer be a member as from the first day of the next month.
The Speaker asked that the technicality raised should be incorporated into the guidelines that she requested from the Secretary's Office. The guidelines would be particularly useful for new members arriving in 2004.
It was agreed that-
- Resignations should be addressed to the Secretary or the Speaker.
- Parties to look at the document from the Legal Services Section, particularly the last section which deals with vacancy periods and put forward proposals.
- Secretary to remind parties of any vacancies on party lists and to remind them to fill such vacancies.
- Parties to study the Constitutional Court judgement with regard to a "reasonable period".
- Secretary to produce guidelines on the existing practice for submitting resignations.
5. Powers and Responsibilities of Structures of Parliament, including possible conflict between the PFMA and the Rules (Item 6 on Agenda)
The Speaker referred members to the relevant document and also the IFP's letter (Annexure 6.3). She said that although it was agreed that the PFMA did not directly apply to Parliament, staff had been made aware that it would apply in practice until such time that new legislation was introduced. She added that Parliament should abide by general practice and law. She enquired as to whether parties had looked at the document, and when none of them responded, she registered concern as to the necessity for scheduling meetings and sending out documents when members did not consider them, and items were simply deferred from one meeting to another.
Mr Van der Merwe said that his party had seen the document but had not considered it.
Mr Chauke said that the ANC had discussed the document but did not have concrete decisions on the matter.
The Deputy Speaker took the Chair and said that in view of the absence of decisions from parties on the matter, the item could not be discussed further.
It was agreed that-
- Parties should consider the documents from the Legal Services Section and the IFP's letter.
6. Delayed reply to Questions (Item 7 on Agenda)
The Deputy Speaker referred members to the subject and asked for their views on the issues raised in Adv. Bakker's letter (Annexure 7.1).
Mr Ellis said that his party was also concerned about this matter and had written a letter to the Speaker expressing the same sentiments raised in the NNP's letter.
Adv. Bakker explained that there were several Departments who were always on time with replies to questions but there were delays experienced with certain Ministers, and he felt that something had to be done to address this issue. He added that Departments don't provide reasons for the delays, even when his party makes enquiries. His party was of the opinion that something needed to be brought into the Rules, which would provide a mechanism to deal with questions that were not answered timeously.
The Deputy Speaker agreed that Adv Bakker's complaint was a valid one and said that the Office of the Speaker could look at a mechanism to address the complaint as she thought that it might not be necessary to have a Rule on the matter. The Speaker would report on this mechanism at the next Rules Committee meeting.
Mr Ellis said that there were concerns, especially from the DP, that unless there were Rules there would always be loopholes found. A rule might be the only solution to this matter
The Speaker suggested that there needed to be a system where members and staff drew attention to where Questions have not been answered. Currently, there was no effective system to follow-up. Presiding Officers could then write to particular Ministers. She suggested that a Rule should be avoided and a practice should rather be put in place. She asked members to allow the POs to put a follow-up system in place.
Mr Chauke said that his party had identified that there was no system in place to monitor the answering of questions. His party agreed with the proposal to put in place a system with timeframes, to monitor the answering of questions by the Executive.
It was agreed that-
- Speaker's Office to look at developing a system to deal with questions not answered timeously.
- Speaker to report on system at next Rules Committee meeting.
7. Auditor-General's Report on Financial Support to Political Parties (Item 8 on Agenda)
The Deputy Speaker referred to Annexure 8.1 and said that the document had been circulating for quite some time.
The Speaker said that the document had been referred to the Chief Whips' Forum and, because there had been no reply from the Forum, the current document would apply until such time that parties indicate that a particular practice was not acceptable.
Mr Nhleko said the document in the package was not the same as the one which the Forum had discussed.
The Speaker apologised and said that there was a Draft 3 of the 12 June but that she had not seen it. She asked for clarity on the matter, particularly regarding the status of the two documents.
Mr Ellis said that Mr Doidge had chaired a Sub-committee of the CWF and that the document in the package was not the one the CWF had agreed on. He said that the CWF did reach consensus on a document which should be brought to the Rules Committee.
The Deputy Speaker asked that the document on which consensus was reached at the
CWF be circulated and that the matter would be discussed at the next NA Rules
It was agreed that:-
- The document agreed to at the CWF to be circulated among parties.
- The matter would be discussed at the next Rules Committee meeting.
8. Problems with language of amending Bills (Item 9 on Agenda)
The Deputy Speaker referred members to the subject and invited comments.
Mr Hahndiek said that there was a late document which was circulated on 21 October with an opinion from the Legal Services Office which supported the problem identified in the point of order raised in the House and suggested that the way to resolve this would be to amend Joint Rule 222.
The Deputy Speaker said that since the document was a fairly recent one, she wanted members to have sufficient time to look at it.
It was agreed that:-
- Parties should consider the document and if within two weeks there were no problems received, then this issue could automatically be referred to the Rules subcommittee to look at and if parties had a problem, then the matter could be brought back to the Rules Committee.
9. Executive procedure for ratification and Deposit of Instruments (Additional Item)
The Speaker said that a lot of documents, which had been ratified by Parliament, had never been deposited by the Executive, and somehow got lost in the system. She tried to resolve the issue by formulating a very detailed procedure, which included letters from the POs to the Minister concerned. She said that she would be writing to the Executive indicating the procedure and would try to monitor that instruments were indeed deposited. She indicated that this case had surfaced because in one instance a foreign government wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs indicating that South Africa had not ratified a certain agreement, yet Parliament had ratified it 2 years before. She added that this was a procedural issue and did not need a Rule because it concerned Executive action. If any committees received requests from Ambassadors as to why certain agreements had not been ratified yet then the POs needed to be informed. The Chair of Committees should advise the chairs that they need to advise the POs o~ such requests. The Speaker explained that in the past the Secretary would write to the President alerting him to a particular Committee report which had been adopted by the House, and the Presidency would file it. She said that at present a specific resolution of the House, stating that this agreement had been ratified (i.e. pulling it out of the Committee report) is communicated to the relevant Minister. She said that it was a procedural matter but it was important to avoid a situation whereby she, as the Speaker, wrote to other Parliaments asking them to ratify certain agreements when South Africa had not yet ratified them.
Mr Jeffery wanted clarity on whether this matter was for information only. He added that Parliament could request the Minister of Foreign Affairs to report on which instruments had been deposited by the Executive.
The Speaker said that some issues could be followed up with some Ministries but the difficulty was the manner in which South Africa functions because at the moment not all international agreements were referred to Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rather, line function Ministers referred them to Parliament. This has been the practice of the Executive. Parliament has not said to the Executive that they can't do it. She said that a follow-up with the Office of the Leader of Government Business could be done and Parliament could ask a Minister to advise when an instrument had been deposited. That could then be published in the ATC.
Mr Masutha said that when the Report on the Abuse of Children was being drafted by the Committee concerned, one issue arose around the fact that Parliament ratified the African Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child but at that time a copy of the actual Instrument seemed not to have been included in the documents from Parliament. There might be a situation where the authentic version of an Instrument is not formally included in the documents of Parliament. Mr Masutha said that Parliament should ensure that the authentic version of an international Instrument is gazetted so that the public is aware which Instrument is in fact authentic. The problem could arise where there was more than one version of a ratified international Instrument. He added that Departments sometimes extracted international Instruments from the Internet. He added that the issue of ensuring that the authentic version of an Instrument was ratified in Parliament, was an issue that needed to be looked at.
The Speaker said that until now what had been happening was that when a Minister tabled a document to be ratified by Parliament, it was assumed that it was the correct document. Parliament could not assume responsibility to verify the authenticity of the document.
It was agreed that:-
- Speaker would write to the Executive to indicate the procedure followed by Parliament with regard to the ratification of international Instruments.
- Parliament to monitor Instruments deposited by the Executive.
- The Chair of Committees to inform chairs that they should inform the POs, should they receive requests from Ambassadors as to why certain Agreements had not been ratified.
10. MONEY BILLS (Additional Item)
The Speaker said that money Bills are referred to the Finance Committee, but because some of them include a lot of sector specific information, she requested that they be dealt with by the Finance Committee but that they also be referred to the relevant Portfolio Committees. She referred specifically to the Gas Regulation Levies Bill. The Bill was referred to the Finance Committee which was requested to consult with the Minerals and Energy Affairs Committee. The Report that is tabled, however, has to come from the Finance Committee as it is a money Bill. The Speaker said that she would like Chairs of Committees to follow the correct practice and procedure applicable to money Bills which she bad just outlined. The sectoral aspects are accommodated by also referring the money Bill to relevant committees.
She asked Mr Doidge to confirm that there were no problems in the understanding of the procedure she had outlined. Mr Doidge confirmed that the issue was discussed at the last Committee of Chairs meeting. The Speaker added that sometimes chairpersons of committees meet and then suggest that a Bill should be referred to a particular committee. Alternatively, a Minister would say that he/she wants a Bill to move quickly through the Parliamentary structures and then suggests to which committee it should be referred. These approaches could not be condoned, precisely because they were money Bills.
It was agreed that: -
- Money Bills would be referred to the PC on Finance and relevant PCs to accommodate sectoral aspects, but the PC on Finance would have to report on all money Bills.
The meeting adjourned at 12:20.
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