The Committee received a progress update from the administrative team responsible for collecting comments from the public on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill.
The Committee's content advisor reported that they had so far received 18 000 submissions, but due to a shortage of manpower had processed only about 5 000 written submissions. They reported that from the processed submissions, there was a clear rejection of the Bill by stakeholders. They had also received several requests for oral submissions from a number of other stakeholders.
The Committee questioned the team over the methodology used in processing the applications and the reason as to why the processing of submissions was taking so long. The Members welcomed the opportunity to listen to oral submissions from stakeholders, and agreed to meet in-person for the next few meetings.
The Committee adopted its Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) and minutes tabled before it for consideration.
The Chairperson said that the last time the Committee had met, there had been agreement to advertise to the public that the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA) was open for public comment. The team responsible for administering that exercise would be presenting before the Committee on the progress so far.
Draft report on BELA Bill
Ms Portia Mbude-Mutshekwane, Committee Content Advisor, said that what would be presented would be a working draft, as they continued to process the written submissions as received.
Her presentation would provide a brief overview of the report regarding how far they had reached with the processing of submissions on the Bill and the recommendations to be considered when the Committee deliberates on the Bill.
So far, they have received approximately 18 000 written submissions, which have been submitted via email, hard copy or Google forms. The Bill, in essence, sought to amend the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act of 1998. The public comments they had received so far had been from civil society groups, legal advisors, parents' associations, education trade unions and community-based structures. Concerns had been raised over the extended powers of the heads of departments as a source of discontent.
The proposal to increase criminal sanctions for parents that kept children out of school, with an increased penalty of six to 12 months, was also not welcomed. There was also a proposal to review the quintile system over the funding system, which was also a concern. Parents of children on home education felt that little to no consultation or research was conducted.
In processing the applications, they employed a qualitative and quantitative methodology. Of the 18 000 written submissions received, 17 542 were emails, one was a hard copy, one was a video and 549 were on Google forms.
She said that other stakeholders had requested to make oral submissions, but so far, they had processed 5 465 of the submissions received. Overall, from the submissions already received and processed, the majority did not support the Bill, with some rejecting it in its entirety. The responses, however, did not reflect the view of the entire public majority of those who were yet to submit their comments. There had been many email submissions that seemed to have similar wording or phrasing.
Lastly, she indicated that they had received several requests from groups calling for an opportunity to make oral submissions. They were awaiting confirmation from the secretariat on where an in-person meeting would be held.
The Secretariat confirmed that they were three rounds of meetings yet to happen at which they hoped to conduct oral submissions.
The Chairperson indicated that the Committee would have to meet physically for the next few meetings to properly engage with the submissions regarding the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill.
Dr W Boshoff (FF+) said he would not want to debate the presentation because it was a summary of what had been submitted to the Committee. There was a well-orchestrated opposition to the Bill, which might not reflect what was happening with the public at large. He sought confirmation as to whether the physical meetings where the Committee would be hearing oral presentations on the Bill would be hybrid, or strictly physical. The Bill was a highly emotive one that needed to be handled responsibly.
Mr B Nodada (DA) asked that the Committee be supplied with the 130-odd written submissions so that the Committee could look at the qualitative arguments and the quantitative ones. He asked what the role of the Parliamentary legal team was in advising how the Committee should move with the Bill going forward.
He said there would be a need for the Committee to invite specific stakeholders to give guidance beyond the role of the parliamentary legal team. He wondered whether all the groups listed were going to be given a chance to present orally.
Ms A van Zyl (DA) asked whether the submissions could be processed more quickly.
Ms N Mashabela (EFF) questioned how far and wide the quantitative inputs were. Did the public views reflect the locations of people in terms of rural townships and urban communities? In her view, rural areas were often left out of consideration, so she wondered what steps were being taken to reach the rural areas. It would therefore be hasty of the Committee to conclude that the submissions were a true report of how ordinary people really felt regarding the Bill. She called for a rerun of the public comment process, as she felt that the rural areas had not been properly engaged.
Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) said that the Bill’s provisions mentioned several stakeholders, and she wondered whether the Committee could summon such groups for clarification on issues, or whether that was for the legal team.
Ms N Adoons (ANC) said there might be a need for the team processing the submissions to be beefed up so that they could process them as quickly as possible.
Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said processing of the oral submissions would provide the Committee with the opportunity to identify the major stakeholders. Noting that Members of the Committee came from different political groupings, he cautioned that the meeting may not be the right time for Members to show open signs or start critiquing the Bill, which had already gone through Parliament.
Mr E Siwela(ANC) supported the proposal that the Members meet physically and that the team handling the written submissions should be beefed up. He asked what percentage of the email submissions they had received had the same wording or phrasing.
Ms Mbude-Mutshekwane said that there were members of the legal team present in the meeting who would clarify their role while collecting and processing the submissions.
She described the methodology employed in the processing of submissions, and said they had looked at the responses and measured that there were a number of comments representing different views, which indicated that the team was handling data in terms of quantifying and measuring it. There were also lengthy email submissions which they had formatted on MS Word for the format to bring out the substantive issues. They also looked or had to develop explanatory notes on the draft report extracted from the written submissions.
Regarding the Committee being supplied with the details of submissions received, as requested by Mr Nodada, she said that in her opinion that disclosure would amount to violating the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) involving the privacy of the participants which, in their advertisement, they had assured the public they would protect.
Regarding whether the team could try to improve the speed at which they were processing the submissions, she said that they were currently understaffed, which was the reason for the delay in processing the submissions. It was not for lack of trying.
She acknowledged that a majority of South Africans had not yet submitted their comments on the Bill.
Mr Llewellyn Brown, Committee Secretary, said that the venue chosen for the in-person meetings also had hybrid capabilities. For those who may want to submit their comments orally but did not form part of the list that had so far been scheduled to present, he said that permission had been sought to allow the Committee to have additional meetings so that all stakeholders who wanted to make oral submissions would be heard.
Mr Madimetja Kekana, Committee Researcher, said that all policies and bills were subjected to checks on whether they were financially viable. He assured Members that even after the Bill was further amended, the same would be subjected to public comment as well as the same checks.
He confirmed that the delay was due to the team being short-staffed while also performing parallel duties but promised that the team would try and improve the speed at which they were processing the applications.
Mr Dennis Bandi, Unit Manager, Committee Support Services, Parliament, said that as committee management, they were providing the team with the needed support. He assured the Committee that he would try to find additional manpower to enable the faster processing of the submissions. The Committee’s inputs were highly valued and would assist the team in reinforcing the recommendations they already had. The idea of public comments was to go to all provinces and bring the public hearings closer to where the public was.
Ms Phumelele Ngema: Parliamentary Legal Services, clarified the issue of their role, stating that they were understaffed, hence the reason why they were unable to be at all the public hearings or meetings. However, they had made a concerted effort to follow up on the meetings they had missed, or tried to attend all of them. She stressed the importance of properly facilitating the public hearings through public awareness, ensuring that their Committee was involved with the people.
She confirmed that regardless of any prior engagement or processes that had been done, after the public comments exercise was conducted, Parliament would still engage on its own on the BELA Bill even if it duplicated what had already happened. She confirmed that a socio-economic impact assessment (SEAIS) report had been done on the BELA Bill, which could be provided to the Committee.
The Chairperson said they had used every method possible to ensure that the public was aware of the Bill while inviting them to comment. The Bill was the first one to be handled by the Committee.
Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on the performance of the Department of Basic Education for the 2021/2022 financial year
The Chairperson went through the report page by page and invited comments from the Members.
Mr Nodada said that there had been a State of the Nation Address (SONA) remark that would be relevant to the Committee which should be reflected in the report regarding school infrastructure. There had been a proposal that the DBE conduct research and study of the previous cohort of the matrics to determine whether those learners had joined the university ranks or had got jobs, which did not appear in the report. The report should also reflect the fact that Umalusi and the South African Council for Educators (SACE) had yet to respond to the written questions submitted to them for response.
The Chairperson said that the corrections would be noted.
Mr T Letsie(ANC) moved the adoption of the report.
Ms Adoons seconded the motion.
The Chairperson declared the report adopted.
Minutes of meeting on 18 October
Ms Adoons moved the adoption of the minutes.
Mr Letsie seconded.
The Chairperson declared the minutes adopted.
Minutes of meeting on 25 October
Ms Adoons moved the adoption of the minutes.
Mr Letsie seconded.
The Chairperson declared the minutes adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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