The Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture convened a virtual meeting to consider a request by the Western Cape for an extension for processing the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill).
The Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture convened a virtual meeting to consider a request by the Western Cape for an extension for processing the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) – the province requested an additional month. The Eastern Cape was said to have made a similar request. There was disagreement amongst the Members on the length of the extension. The Chairperson suggested allowing for a two-week extension for the public hearings process. Some Members felt two weeks was inadequate and unreasonable and urged the Committee to allow for sufficient time for public participation. They also argued that the vastness of some provinces should also be considered instead of applying a blanket amount of time for public hearings. They were concerned that some provinces had not yet indicated the dates for their public participation processes. They urged that such an important Bill not be rushed. Other Members disagreed noting the provinces have had the Bill since November 2023, there was a national framework for all provinces and the Bill needed to be finalised before the end of the Sixth Parliament. These Members said the was a tendency for the Western Cape to request extensions and the whole process could not be delayed because the Western Cape did not start on time – they said it could be a delay tactic as seen with other bills. The parliamentary legal advisor was also of the view the time allocated to public participation was reasonable and justifiable. The meeting ended with the resolution that the two-week extension was sufficient and showed the Committee’s commitment to public participation.
The Chairperson greeted Members of the Committee and others on the platform and declared the meeting open.
The purpose of the meeting was for the Committee to deal with the requests sent from different provinces. The Eastern Cape had made a request for extension to process the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill and the Western Cape similarly made the same request asking for an additional month.
The Chairperson suggested giving another two-week period for the public hearing process. He proposed the following timeframes:
By 29 February, provinces will have concluded their public hearings;
Oral submissions will be made to the Select Committee on 6 and 7 March;
On 13 March, the Committee will engage and deliberate on the BELA Bill;
On 20 March, the Committee will be receiving the Department’s responses to the submissions received;
On 27 March, the Committee would be dealing with the negotiating mandates on the Bill;
On 17 April, the Committee would be dealing with the provinces’ final mandates and finalise the Bill.
At this stage, 26 organisations and three individuals were due to make oral submissions on the Bill to the Committee.
Based on the above, the Chairperson suggested extending the public participation process for two weeks. And that would make 17 April the day for the finalisation of the Bill. He was uncertain about the Western Cape's request for a nearly two-month extension. Given that MPs were uncertain when elections would occur, he did not think granting such a request would be prudent. He emphasised that the Committee obviously still needed to ensure adequate public participation during this entire process.
Committee’s deliberation on the request
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) noted the Chairperson’s input on the extension request of the Western Cape.
She indicated that if one listened to the recording of the discussion at the Western Cape provincial legislature, it is evidently clear that the entire Committee was unanimous that the province needed more time. As the province was to conduct 12 public hearings, one week simply would not be sufficient for planning. Additionally, the entire Committee in the Western Cape was in agreement that the NCOP should give a one-month extension. She cautioned the Select Committee that it should allow the public sufficient time to engage in public participation, acknowledge and speak on the Bill, and raise concerns.
She flagged it as a grave concern that the dates for the public participation of three provinces were still outstanding when she asked about them. For instance, considering the vast landscape of the provinces, planning for public participation is especially an issue. A one-week extension for the Northern Cape and Western Cape was unreasonable.
She thus requested the Committee and the Chairperson reconsider their positions. She maintained that a one-month extension was reasonable and should be granted as the Committee needed to ensure due diligence on the Bill.
The Chairperson corrected himself that he had meant to say a two-week extension earlier.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) disagreed with Ms Christians and the request from the Western Cape. The Bill had been referred last year in November, so in her view, every province was supposed to have conducted public hearings. She totally could not support a one-month extension request and indicated that the Committee should stick to the two-week extension.
Ms E Nkosi (ANC, Mpumalanga) supported Ms Ndongeni’s proposal to adhere to the two-week extension. She highlighted that Members and provincial legislatures had to undertake the public participation process. The Select Committee had to ensure the Bill was passed before election time. Those provinces that were lagging behind should speed up the process.
Mr E Njadu (ANC, Western Cape) supported Ms Ndongeni and Ms Nkosi’s views. He pointed out that the Committee should holistically view the extension issue. All provinces have started the process at the same time since last year. There is a national framework which set out the compliance processes for all provinces.
Ms Christians pointed out that there was a misconception based on other Members’ inputs. This meeting was convened to discuss the timeframe. Thus, it could only be right and fair if the Committee could go back and review the extension. There are already three provinces that are somewhat delayed in the process. Structurally-wise, two provinces were problematic which were the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape. If the Select Committee had the dates of all provinces, it would be a different ball game. One of the concerns during that meeting of the Western Cape was that the Department did not go through the Bill clause by clause when it was presented and the committee was very unhappy with that. If the provincial committee in the Western Cape had to go back and request that, that opportunity should have been granted.
Ms Christians further pointed out that the Select Committee cannot base its decision making on when the ending of a term should be. The Committee should not rush this Bill simply because the term of Parliament is coming to an end. By doing that, it would be doing a disservice to the Department of Basic Education, to the public and schools in the country.
Thus, she maintained that two weeks are insufficient for the Northern Cape and Western Cape to conclude the public hearings.
The Chairperson reminded Ms Christians that the BELA Bill is a national bill, not a Western Cape one. Thus, the Committee has to look at the whole of South Africa as a country. The Committee cannot delay the whole process simply because the Western Cape did not start in time.
Mr I Ntsube (ANC, Free State) agreed with the Chairperson that the Bill is a national bill. He was confident that the Committee had allocated sufficient time for public participation. In the case of the Western Cape, two weeks should be sufficient in his view. An extension of two weeks shows the Committee’s commitment to public participation.
Then, he pointed out that there is a growing tendency from the Western Cape that it always requests for extensions when a bill is near the final stage of finalisation such as the NHI Bill. He described it as a delay tactics.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) questioned if the Committee should base a decision on the upcoming national election as no one knows the actual date of the election as yet. He suggested that the Committee look at the programme, which would give a sense of whether it is valid to grant the one-month extension.
Mr Bara said that whether two weeks would be sufficient or not is another issue. The more pertinent question is if a province is able to manage to do the work within those two weeks. If not, he believed that giving a longer extension would be the correct solution.
In addition, Mr Bara concurred with Ms Christians’ on the vastness of some province which rendered it necessary for a longer extension. He urged the Committee to look at the actual programme.
Ms Nkosi commented that giving a one-month extension is not right. She fully agreed with Mr Ntsube that it became a tendency for the Western Cape to delay the national programmes.
She disagreed that the vastness of a province should be a valid cause for a one-month extension.
She emphasised that the work that this Committee had started would be better be concluded by the very same committee.
The Chairperson concurred with that view and indicated that the Select Committee had complied with the legislative requirement of the six-week cycle and had further given an extension. The Committee cannot treat the Western Cape in any way different as if it was not part of South Africa.
Mr Njadu interjected and urged the Committee to be realistic. It cannot have programmes that are open-ended without the specific dates and deadlines settled. By giving an extra two weeks, the Select Committee is already accommodating all nine provinces including the Western Cape. Having said that, he felt that the discussion had been exhausted and reiterated his support for the extension to be granted for two weeks.
The Chairperson continued and said that the Select Committee had to conclude the whole process by 17 April, when provinces gave their final mandates. All provinces have had sufficient time as the process began last year in November. It was not the Select Committee’s problem that the Western Cape decided not to do anything during that period. He agreed that the matter was exhausted and did not note any valid reason to render the one-month extension necessary. He described the request from the Western Cape as ridiculous if that word was too harsh.
The Chairperson then asked for the legal opinion of a parliamentary legal advisor on the matter.
Ms Phumelele Ngema, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, drew Members’ attention to rule 176 of the NCOP. In her view, from a legal perspective, rule 176 supersedes the six-week cycle requirement. There has been consideration of all reasons including holiday time and the opening of schools. She was of the view that the time which was allocated to the public participation process was reasonable and justifiable.
The Chairperson noted the legal input and added that the Select Committee also went out of its way to include oral presentations in the process.
Ms Christians requested the specified dates be flighted for Members.
Ms Nkosi and Mr Njadu requested the dates be sent to Members.
The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
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