The Portfolio Committee convened a virtual meeting to engage about the written submissions on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill [B2-2022] and consider the extension of the deadline for written submissions, as well as the way forward with processing, summarising and collating written submission. The Committee had received 392 submissions through the Google Online application form and 17 400 submissions sent to the dedicated email address, which brought the total to 17 793.
The submissions to the dedicated email address could be grouped into three categories. The first category were straightforward responses from individuals and organisations stating that they either agreed or disagreed with the Bill with no further comments. The second category agreed, disagreed or partially disagreed with a few paragraphs supporting their submissions. The third category consisted of substantial submissions. The Committee support staff were summarising and the submissions but would need extra staff to help with the process, as it was daunting.
The Committee granted a deadline extension for written submissions until 15 August 2022. It stated that proper communication must be in place in all languages, including Braille. It agreed that different communication platforms must be used to inform the public of the extension.
Written submissions on BELA Bill [B2-2022]: progress report
Mr Llewelyn Brown, Committee Secretary, said the deadline for the written submission was reached on 15 June and for later advertisement publications the deadline was 20 June. People could submit written comments via the Google Online application form and a dedicated email address. The Committee had received 392 submissions through the Google Online application form and 17 400 submissions sent to the dedicated email address, which gave a total of 17 793.
He said the Secretariat and the Committee Staff were in the process of summarising and collating the submissions and there might be a need for extra staff to help with the process, as it was lengthy and daunting. The submissions would be summarised based on who agreed or did not agree, or those who partially agreed with the Bill, as well as the issues raised. They would note which organisations or individuals requested to do an oral submission.
The submissions to the dedicated email address could be grouped into three categories. The first category were straightforward responses from individuals and organisations stating that they either agreed or disagreed with the Bill with no further comments. The second category agreed, disagreed or partially disagreed with a few paragraphs supporting their submissions. The third category consisted of substantial submissions with attachments.
There had been written and telephonic enquiries on whether there would be a deadline extension for written comments.
Ms Portia Mbude-Mutshekwane, Parliamentary Public Education Officer, explained that for the Google Online application form, 53% of the participants were from Gauteng, 21% from Limpopo, 10% from Western Cape, and the rest of the provinces formed the remainder. The overall response was 21% supported, 72% did not support, and the rest partially supported the Bill. She said an extension of the deadline would be recommended because critical stakeholders including schools and learners who used Braille would also need to submit their opinions on the Bill.
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) suggested the consideration of an extension of the deadline for the written submissions as the advertisement for the written submissions was released on 15 May, which was during school exams. Learners were unable to comment on the Bill due to their exams. An extension would allow them and their educators to have enough time to comment. It would be best to give them 30 days after schools reopen until 15 August.
Ms Sukers said this is a complex Bill, and new items had been added such as the lowering of the age for compulsory education. There was also a concern that the Bill enabled mandatory vaccinations and some changes had been added to that. Clarity was needed from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on that. If public comment was not thoroughly ventilated, concerns about the BELA Bill, which was already controversial, would increase.
Most schools and communities in rural areas were not aware of the Bill and it was not available in any other language besides English. An extension would give organisations an opportunity to translate the Bill into other languages as well as Braille.
Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) agreed that a deadline extension for written submissions for at least 30 days was necessary. Whether the extension should start immediately or after the schools reopen could be discussed.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) said that due to the past three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the education system in all its modalities needed to be relooked at. The written submission process should be reopened. Before the oral submissions begin in the provinces, a new Bill must be used because the current Bill was old as it was drafted in 2017 and was not compatible with the future,.
Mr E Siwela (ANC) supported the deadline extension for written submissions.
Mr B Nodada (DA) agreed that the deadline extension for written submissions was necessary. He received complaints about email submissions that bounced back and did not reach the Committee. He asked for a copy of the provincial breakdown of the responses to the Bill. The Committee must outline how the oral submission process would work for public participation.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) supported the deadline extension but it must be stated that it would be the last.
The Chairperson said that there was consensus on granting a deadline extension to the public. She was unsure how long the Committee staff would take to sort the submissions already received on their reasons for support or non-support for the Bill. She asked if the Committee would need to readvertise the submission deadline extension. The Committee needs to decide on the dates for the deadline extension.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) said there was consensus that the deadline extension should be until 15 August. The Committee would need to ensure that all languages, including Braille, are included on the call for submissions and that this reaches all corners of the country.
Mr Brown said he would have to seek guidance if the Committee would need to readvertise the deadline extension. He would email the provincial breakdown of responses to the Bill to the Committee as soon as possible. They would ensure that the 15 August deadline is communicated to the general public on the various platforms as soon as possible.
On the bouncing emails, the dedicated email was created on his computer and his Inbox reached maximum capacity overnight. He had received phone calls from Committee members about the bouncing emails and he managed to shift the received submissions to storage to make space for new submissions. Some emails may have needed to be resent due to the high volume of emails flooding his Inbox.
Ms Mbude-Mutshekwane welcomed the recommendation to extend the deadline for written submissions. As this was the first meeting after the initial deadline, the Committee would need to get a sense of what was happening with the written submissions. The summary report on the submissions would capture the gist of the public comments on the Bill, including support or non-support, concerns and questions raised, and if they wish to make an oral submission. The report would be made available to the Committee.
Mr Livhuwani Mahada, DBE Parliamentary Liaison Officer, replied that DBE senior managers were not present as they understood this meeting was to be the Committee deliberating on its own. He asked the Committee Secretary to enquire from Parliamentary Legal Services that is dealing with this Bill's legislative process to comment on the additional clauses on mandatory vaccination and the age for compulsory education.
Ms Sukers asked for a special session where the voice of the child could be heard during the public hearings. She also suggested an oral submission session for home education as it is a different modality and it would be important to understand it.
Ms Adoons noted the 15 August deadline was almost six weeks away and suggested the Committee agree on when the advertisement must be released. She asked what would happen to submissions that came after the 15 June deadline.
Mr Brown replied that the submissions received after the 15 June deadline were on record and were not lost. The Committee would have to decide whether to have a special session for the voice of the child and for home education when it is time for public hearings.
Ms Mbude-Mutshekwane referred to Parliament’s objective of public involvement and what the Committee had said in the meeting, saying the public must be allowed to make submissions. The fact there were submissions even after the deadline indicated the public interest in the Bill. The deadline extension would allow more members of the public to make their submissions.
Ms Adoons said the Committee agreed to the 15 August 2022 deadline extension and proper communication must be in place in all languages, including Braille, as well as different communication platforms must be used to inform the public of the extension. This will ensure that the public submit their views on the Bill in large numbers. The Committee also agreed that DBE would need to clarify the additional clauses in the Bill to the Committee.
The Chairperson said that the Committee would not be able to meet until Parliament resumes on 2 August. After today's meeting, the public will be informed that an extension is granted for written submissions on the BELA Bill until 15 August 2022.
Submissions made after the initial deadline of 15 June will also be allowed to be included. The Committee will have only six weeks after 15 August in the Third Quarter until the October constituency period. The Committee will have to work overtime to process the oral submissions because they do not know the number they will receive.
The Chairperson thanked everyone and adjourned the meeting.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.