DBE Annual Performance Plan (postponed); BELA Bill: public hearing concerns

Basic Education

14 March 2023
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Basic Education

Since the Department of Basic Education Annual Performance Plan (APP) presentation arrived the day before the meeting and the APP was tabled in Parliament only on the day of the meeting, the Committee made the decision to postpone its consideration to the following week despite the Ministry and DBE being in attendance. The Committee agreed the budget process was far too important to consider without being properly informed.

The Committee discussed the ongoing Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill public hearings. Opposition members objected to Department officials being allowed to speak at these meetings as the public hearings should be a neutral forum. The public should be allowed to voice their views without being influenced. The Bill was a highly contested one and the integrity of the process should be protected. However, the Chairperson and others noted that Department officials should be able to comment on the Bill as citizens of South Africa and parents of school learners. On the other hand, Members of Parliament should remain neutral despite represent different political parties with different views about the Bill.

Also discussed were the public comment postcards and submissions that were delivered in boxes to the public hearing venues and whether this bulk delivery should be permitted at hearings. The Committee would seek legal advice on this.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the Minister and Deputy Minister. The consideration of the DBE budget process was meant to start today but the document has only been tabled today. Normally, there is a ten-day window to consider this so there has been no opportunity to consider the budget presentation which needs to speak to South African citizens, particularly the education sector. The Minister, Deputy Minister and the Director General are in attendance to present the budget but the Committee should comment if it is okay to proceed with the budget presentation.

Discussion on postponing APP briefing
Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that the Chairperson is raising an important matter as the budget, strategic plan and the APP must not be taken lightly. The presentation was received yesterday morning while the Committee was away attending to the North West public participation on the BELA Bill. This hindered the Committee’s engagement with the presentation and prevented proper preparation. He proposed that the meeting be postponed to allow Members to interrogate the presentation and to make an informed decision about the budget. The Chairperson also highlighted that the APP was tabled in Parliament only today. He proposed meeting in 10 days' time on Friday 24 March, noting that Tuesday 21 March is a public holiday.

Mr P Moroatshehla (ANC) said that Mr Letsie is raising an important point that cannot be ignored. The presentation was only provided yesterday and the APP was only tabled today in Parliament. Therefore, he seconded a postponement of the meeting.

Mr B Nodada (DA) said that they do not mind the postponement, and wanted to ask about the timeline not wanting to be pressured to go through the report and prepare the views. He also said that they would be comfortable doing it next week, also noting that there is a public holiday. This type of documentation needs to be provided way ahead of time, as there are a lot of things that need to be gone over and prepared for the inputs. If this meeting is to be postponed, can the time not be wasted and go over other issues like the BELA, considering that every weekend the Committee is always out in different provinces?

Ms N Adoons (ANC) supported the postponement. She proposed that the Chairperson postpone the meeting to the evening of Wednesday 22 March. This is because some Committee members serve on other Committees that sit next week Wednesday. She pleaded humbly for the evening.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) supported the meeting be postponed possibly to be held on Wednesday next week to get everything done well in time.

The Chairperson said the Committee suggests the postponement of the meeting. She thanked the Minister, Deputy Minister, DG and their staff for coming to the meeting. There are procedural issues that cannot be taken for granted; it is a budget process, and therefore the Committee's concerns can be understood. She allowed the Ministry and Department to leave the meeting. She will ask permission from the Chair of Chairs to hold the meeting on Wednesday. If held on Wednesday, it has to be at night probably at 7pm.

BELA Bill public hearings: concerns by Members
The Chairperson asked Mr Nodada what he would like to raise the points he made in his letter about the BELA Bill public hearings.

Mr Nodada noted that there are briefing meetings for the BELA Bill ahead of the public hearing and sometimes those are not the appropriate platform to raise some of the issues. He thanked the Chairperson for the response she provided on 10 March in writing. Some are some observations that are reoccurring, and it is important to raise them and they need to be addressed as some of the implicated parties are DBE district directors. There is a continual communication issue as the Department sends out messages that are misleading as to who can attend the briefing workshops and secondly the messages contain wrong information. This is problematic as it curtails the true reason for public participation and this needs to be raised with the Department. These same people participate as if they are politicians whereas they are administrators. It was the Department’s proposed Bill that was being processed and yet there were district directors that participated yet they caused some of the challenges. The Committee want this process to be a success and he is only raising this concern as it needs to be addressed with the Department.

Mr Nodada said that the BELA Bill comes from the Department and it will be defended by the Department so it can go through. But the public needs to be allowed to apply its mind without any influence as that could be problematic. Based on the response he received, there are some issues with the public comment postcards that are not satisfactory. He will respond in writing on this issue so as not to waste time. To the Committee generally, there is a need to ensure that this process is not influenced in a certain direction. The public can articulate themselves without being made to feel that they need to say certain things to appease certain people.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said she reiterated the points made by Mr Nodada and appreciates that the public hearings are a reflection of South Africa. As leaders and Parliament, the whole of South Africa is addressed in the meetings. The concern about the public hearings is that the Department is allowed to interpret the Bill. The Committee and not the Department is Parliament. Therefore it should be the Committee that interprets and hear people's engagement with the Bill. This process needs to be maintained despite how hard it can be. The rules of the Parliament do apply in the hearings and she commends the Chairperson for keeping calm in certain situations. The role of the Department needs to be managed appropriately as it is extremely political for an administrator to stand up and make those statements. The Department cannot tell the Committee and the public how to interpret the Bill.

Mr Moroatshehla said that they are on a mission to conduct public hearings as a Portfolio Committee and the Bill is coming from DBE. Parliament as represented by the Portfolio Committee has arranged for the Department to accompany them. Committee members are representatives of different political parties and they may misrepresent the Bill as it is not theirs. What harm can be done when the owners of the Bill are allowed to interpret the Bill without undue influence? Any interpretation is to ensure that ultimately there is a proper product for the benefit of all persons. If it is seen that the interpretation is for the benefit of particular people at the expense of others, that is when the Committee would go wrong. As the Committee belongs to different political parties, each person may have their way of interpreting the Bill. Even though it is insinuated that the Department is for some and against some, they are better able to provide the interpretation than the Portfolio Committee as it is likely that the Committee would fight amongst themselves.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that the public hearings are a result of this democratic institution which allows citizens of South Africa to say their views on a particular Bill presented to them. These will be contested ideologically from various personal perspectives, individual optics and probably party-political views. However, it should not be considered that this process should be devoid of such at any location. The Bill that is being canvassed across the country and will be contested due to the diversity of views. It is improbable to limit people not to comment on the Bill – based on their occupation. When coming to a participatory process, an individual’s right must not be prejudiced. When a director speaks as a parent of a learner, they cannot be prejudiced based on their occupation. They have to listen to the citizens of this country without discrimination. The views of individuals cannot be buffered in a public hearing by asking if they have filled out a form that seeks to determine statistics. Running these public participation sessions without prejudicing anyone is to be applauded. The Committee is against people who want to influence the views of others. The Chairperson has been fair in allowing everyone to state their views without fear of prejudice. There will be contested views, opinions and ideological leanings on the Bill but they cannot be prejudiced. Citizens of South Africa are allowed to contribute to the law-making process. The Committee should allow the process to unfold as it is as the Committee may not seek to censor certain views because they do not like those views.

Ms Adoons agreed saying that the Committee is conflicted. During the hearing some Members got down from the stage to meet the public. She asked if those Members were influencing the process. The Chairperson is on course with how she is running the hearings and is fair to everyone. Members must not allow their individual feelings to suspect foul play when certain outcomes do not favour them. As Mr Yabo said the Bills are contested; this hearing process is for members of society and the community. The Committee is not meant to choose who can participate or not. She asked why the Committee is supposed to interpret the Bill – as there would be chaos and the work they have done would collapse.

Ms Sukers said that the Committee, not the DBE, are the lawmakers when they listen to the public. Every Committee member has their leanings and positions and for that there is sensitivity and maturity of understanding within the Committee. The Committee is united and confident in the way the Chairperson leads and the integrity of the process is not questioned. The Parliament legal advisor should empower the Committee and advise on the protocols that need to be adhered to in a public hearing. As leaders, there should be sensitivity when talking about incidents around the type of language and aggression used towards people. Members have an understanding and respect for each other’s political positions but the issue is about the integrity of the process and how political statements are managed. She brought up the added issue that her constituency felt unwelcome and threatened in the hall they attended last week. The DBE offered interpretations and the advocate regarded it as a fallacy saying people cannot have partial support but are told to support or not to support. Is the DBE willing to have these interpretations binding in court? If not, they should not speak.

Mr Nodada appreciated the Chairperson's maturity in granting the opportunity to ventilate concerns. If the Department is called to clarify, the representative must be able to clarify. The clause about alcohol in the BELA Bill was misinterpreted, and clarity was requested but no one clarified it. People must not unduly influence people in a certain direction as was the case with Mr Ndlebe [DBE official]. It is important to safeguard the process so it does not fall flat at the end and then it is challenged. He wants the Chairperson to take it in that spirit; it is not about influencing political views. Everyone in the Committee has political views; these are ventilated in private and public. However, when they are representing Parliament in a public meeting this must be avoided.

Mr Nodada said he wanted to check from whom the boxes of comment postcards and flyers were delivered because if they come from one sender, it must be taken as one submission. There is a lot of information that is coming from schools about those flyers and who they come from. The rules must be the same for everyone. If the flyers were submitted as a group, they should be taken as one. He wanted to put this on the record in front of everyone to ensure the rules are the same for submissions or comments on the Bill. The process has to be safeguarded and that is why the issues are raised in this meeting and resolved rather than in public.

Mr Yabo said that there is a trend in the public hearings. There are people who come to the public hearings to submit bulk numbers of comment forms. This issue was addressed before but he would like the Chairperson to make it a standard opening statement that people cannot submit in bulk. One person must fill in one comment form and identity themselves and the table staff is not to accept the submission for another person expect in special circumstances such as disability. The submission by one person on behalf of others taints the process.

The Chairperson said that she tried to allow everyone to speak and thanked Members for their commitment over the past three weekends at the public hearings for the work they had done and the professionalism they had shown. This Bill is very emotional for Committee members as well – but maturity was shown by them.

She had chaired the two first meetings in Limpopo and they try to be fair to every citizen. The Department of Basic Education owns the Bill, and two advocates gave a briefing on the Bill. All the groups were allowed to present at the hearing and they wanted Adv Misser from DBE to respond to issues needing clarity – as the right person to respond – not the legal person from Parliament.

The Chairperson said Mr Ndlebe was asked to speak by her as he was the DBE official on the podium. Mr Ndlebe stated that he was not in support of two clauses. When asked, if he supported the Bill, the person was confused, and an intervention was needed by someone from DBE. People are able to say if they support the Bill but do not support parts of it. The people who own the Bill must be held accountable and clarify. This Bill has been engaged with before and received much opposition that took the process to court. The truth is that the Committee is made up of different parties with different mandates, and it is not right for a Member to tell the constituency what to say.

The Chairperson pointed out that there was no objection when at the public hearings, the ACDP party members rose and said they are busy with an abortion bill and asked for support. There is nothing wrong with that as you need to mandate your constituency in a particular direction. They have been very fair by allowing any input as we want everyone to have a voice. Should Minister Angie Motshekga as the custodian of the Bill want to speak at a public hearing podium, she would be allowed to speak. A public hearing invites everyone irrespective of who they are, even officials of the Department. They are citizens of South Africa, even the district directors. Only the MPs do not express their views. The Members would want to favour their mandates but when that does not happen, they must surrender to the process. As emotional as it is, Members must rise above this.

Two provinces have been done and it has been proposed to change the hearing start time due to the likelihood of finishing late due to the people interest in the hearing. travelling to the next destinations. The Chairperson appealed to the Members that on Friday 17 March they start at 2pm and on Saturday and Sunday at noon. She proposed that the distribution of food be stopped and they rather offer fruit and water as the food processing can be chaotic and there is not enough. The ANC and opposition members sometimes come out of public hearings without being satisfied. There are a lot of racial issues around these hearings which require everyone to be mature.

Mr Nodada suggested that if someone is confused if they are in support or not in support of the Bill, they should say so themselves. People need to be offered that option and not influenced in a certain direction. Clarifications need to be given as required.

In reply to the Chairperson's proposals, Mr Nodada said if the hearings are starting earlier, they need to end earlier and not be extended in order to make time for travelling. He also noted the accidents of colleagues that happened the two preceding weekends. What is the challenge around budgeting for people that mobilise to the venue with the help of Parliament, the provinces and districts? He reminded the Chairperson about the clarity he wanted about the public comment postcards and the principle around their submission.

Ms Sukers supported the time proposals for safe travel, especially in rural areas. She noted her objection to the fact that DBE has had five years to advocate for the Bill and that public hearings are not the platform to advocate for the Bill. It is not up to DBE officials to stand and tell the public "how to vote". Parliamentary legal advisors are there to advise on parliamentary procedure as the Bill is now with Parliament. She requested that the ACDP’s objection be noted that DBE officials cannot speak in their official capacity. It objected to the Department advocating and soliciting support for a Bill in a public hearing.

Ms Adoons supported the Chairperson's proposals. The food distribution must be done as community members enter.

Mr Moroatshehla supported the time proposal and for the change in food and its distribution upon entering to avoid havoc at the end of the hearing. The Portfolio Committee allows views to be aired whether they are different or not and that is appreciated. When people do not understand, the Chairperson will be asked to clarify. The Bill has more than fifty clauses. People need to communicate if they accept a clause or not; the same if they agree with the Bill or not.

Mr Letsie accepted the proposal of moving the meeting timeslots due to travel concerns. He supported changing food to fruit and water to accommodate more people within Parliament's budget. The suggestion of distributing food upon entering eliminates queues. Department employees will be told not to speak at hearings due to Department officials not being allowed to speak. Teachers, principals and school governing bodies (SGB) are in the system and understand the challenges posed by the current legislation, therefore they must be allowed to speak. In Free State, Members of the Provincial Legislature spoke on the Bill and rejected it and that was not objected to as they were probably speaking as parents. Restrictions must be on the Members of the location that attend and want to speak in the hearings. This disagrees with Ms Sukers that officials must not be allowed to speak.

Mr Yabo said he is grateful that in the two accidents that happened to the support staff, no one was harmed fatally. It is appreciated that the Chairperson has taken the initiative to ensure safe travelling hours. The proposals are supported and he welcomed stretching the thin food budget to try to cover everyone who attends the hearing.

The Chairperson said they would respond to Mr Nodada's questions but they do not have the answers ready at the moment. There is agreement on many issues in this hearing process and will move forward on the issues they are in disagreement with. The Committee is going to Mpumalanga this weekend and Members have confirmed who is going. On Friday they will be a preparation committee meeting for information on what is happening. Parliament is expected to have public education units in the areas that must eliminate these tension and mobilisation issues. As the Committee moves through the provinces one can expect more attendance and engagement at the public hearings. The process needs to be finished.

The Committee adopted the 7 March meeting minutes.

The meeting was adjourned.


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