Petition Framework; Proposed Subcommittee Amendments to Joint Rules; Legacy Report

Joint Rules

20 March 2024
Chairperson: Mr A Masondo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee considered and endorsed a new Petitions Framework. The objectives of the framework are to provide a common definition for a petition across Parliament, develop a standardised approach to petitions, and ensure that all players understand the processes and their roles.

The Joint Subcommittee on Rules’ proposed amendments to the joint rules were discussed. They covered broad categories including: Rules relating to virtual and hybrid sittings; Rules relating to the Joint Committees;

Mediation Committee; Joint Tagging Mechanism (JTM); Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI); Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests; Bills referred back by the President; Time limits and Joint Rule 159.

Lastly, the Committee’s Legacy Report was presented and endorsed. The report highlighted the Committee’s activities in the 5-year period and areas that needed to be taken forward by the Seventh Parliament. It indicated that implementation of the state capture report will need ongoing attention of Parliament.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened the meeting, welcomed everyone and asked for the agenda to be flighted.

The agenda was adopted.

The apologies were tendered.

Mr M Dangor (ANC, Gauteng) noted the problem of two Select Committee meetings at the same time as this meeting, and those committees were considering important legislation.

The Chairperson noted the challenge and was sure it would get attended to.

Adv M Phindela, Secretary to the NCOP, said he would check if enough permanent delegates were present to form a quorum.

Minutes dated 1 December 2023
The Chairperson went through the minutes page-by-page.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) proposed the minutes be adopted as a true reflection of what was discussed.

Ms G Boroto (ANC) seconded.

The Chairperson considered the minutes as a true reflection of what transpired in the previous meeting.

Matters arising
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, said the last meeting reviewed the joint rules, specifically chapters one and two. The Joint Rules Committee (JRC) adopted those joint rules, which were subsequently adopted by the Houses, and therefore, we were mandated to proceed with this review. Today, we will present the other issues.

Consideration of proposals, re-proposed international relations policy and guidelines for Parliament
Mr M Ntombela (ANC), House Chairperson for International Relations, thanked the JCR for the opportunity to make an input with regard to the policy perspectives and operational guidelines in international relations. In carrying out this role, the Parliamentary Group for International Relations (PGIR) is guided by this policy for Parliament's involvement in international relations. The PGIR recognises there have been many developments both within the country and the international environment over time. This has resulted in the dire need to update this document to make it more relevant to assist the PGIR in facilitating the participation of Parliament with clear policy and operational guidelines. To this end, our submission is intended to bring the attention of the JCR to adopt the policy in principle, or note the policy and further to note the work that has been done by the PGIR in line with the review and further, the detailed work done for the attention of the seventh parliament.

The Chairperson noted the policy document was circulated amongst Members.

Mr H Papo (ANC) said the report should be adopted; not noted because I think that's why it's presented to the joint committee and the documents have been circulated before. We should indicate whether we're adopting because noting means that we're postponing everything to the Seventh Parliament, which is not the purpose of our meeting today.

The Chairperson said this route can be taken.

Ms Boroto moved that the document be adopted as a working document.

W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng) seconded the motion.
The Chairperson said the document has been adopted.

Parliament’s Petition Framework
Mr Xaso said the framework deals with the petition process of Parliament; hence it's called the petition framework for Parliament. Currently, the two Houses have different approaches to petitions, which is challenge number one. Secondly, the time it takes to process a petition is unacceptably long. We don't even have a baseline. But we do know that petitions are not uncommon to be in Parliament for years before they can be concluded. Therefore, this framework seeks to remedy that and devise a synchronised process to deal with petitions. We hope that is going to make a difference. It’s not a perfect intervention, but it is an intervention that is meant to assist the process.

The first part of the document deals with terms and definitions.

The next part deals with the purpose of the petition, which is to provide minimum standards for Parliament to regulate and streamline its petition processes to create a Parliament that is responsive to issues raised by members of the public for redress by Parliament. This framework seeks to integrate Parliament’s petition practices and processes, and the scope applies to petitions submitted to the Chairperson of NCOP and to the Speaker, in other words, petitions that are submitted to Parliament formally.  In terms of Parliament's approach to petitions, Parliament recognises that it exists in terms of the Constitution, and was established to represent the people. It further recognises that it must endeavour to open the doors of its political processes to ensure that the basic voices of the people are heard directly and that it responds to issues brought to its attention within available resources.

The objectives are to provide a common definition for a petition across Parliament, develop a standardised approach to petitions, and ensure that all players understand the processes and their roles. And also we are hoping that this will also assist in terms of monitoring and evaluation of processes.

We also speak here of a petitions office. We would like to indicate that we don't currently have a petitions office, but we do have capacity, which will need to be improved in the two Houses to deal with petitions. So when we say petitions process, we mean that the office that processes petitions, not necessarily a physical office on petitions, but that's a matter that we are we are discussing. The Secretary to Parliament (STP) has provided a great deal of guidance regarding this framework, as we present it today.

Regarding timeframes, the numbers work out to about 90 days, but of that 90 days, 60 days will be within the committee; the other days are basically for admin processes outside of the committee process after the committee has dealt with the matter, and, and before the committee has dealt with a matter. So the idea is that once a committee of Parliament receives a petition, it must process that and finalise it in a maximum of two months. So two months is not a minimum but the maximum amount of time that it has so that there can be a response. The response will not always show that the matter has been resolved. the response may mean that the matter has been referred to another body.

Mr Xaso highlighted the key things that will be done when a petition has come into the system. It will be received or acknowledged, and the petition must be qualified. We will validate the petition by looking at the scope of the petition and the scope in terms of the rules. And if we need additional information, we get that information. At that point, we will be able to say no; this petition is not right for Parliament to consider. Instead, it must go to a government department or another entity or a chapter nine institution or institutions supporting democracy because petitions that get into the system must be ripe for consideration by Parliament. In other words, all the other avenues should have been exhausted at that point. Once we have qualified the petition or validated it, it is referred to the relevant committee. members will be aware that currently, in the NCOP, there is a committee on petitions, but in the NA, that has not been the case. Up to now, the NA has believed that portfolio committees must deal with these issues. I must say that is a conversation that we're having. STP has introduced that conversation that we're having. Maybe in the seventh parliament, there may be a different approach that we propose in terms of how both Houses must process petitions. Once the petition gets into the committee system, then within 60 days, the petition must be finalised. We have put 14 days after the committee report because we understand some of the dynamics around business programming, but our target will always be to do that earlier than 14 days because we still think 14 days is long. But we must be mindful of programming dynamics that we sometimes grapple with. And, of course, after that programming process and a petition has gone to the House, is it necessary to go to the House? Not all petitions will go to the House. Other petitions will be dealt with by the committee and communicated to the members of the public who petitioned to Parliament. Others make it necessitate a House agreement, especially where particular recommendations are made to state organs on how they must respond to the issues raised in the petition, and therefore, it will go to the House. We are asking that this committee adopt this petition framework, and we implement it. Of course, it can always be improved when we implement it, especially in the Seventh Parliament.

Ms Boroto: I think a lot of work has been put into this document that we have to adopt, and with the affirmation that there will be improvements if needed in the seventh parliament. I would like to move that we adopt this document for petitions.

Mr Q Dyantyi (ANC) seconded the motion.

Second report of the Joint Subcommittee on Review of the Joint Rules on Revised Chapters 3, 4, 5 and Schedule B (13 March 2024)
Mr Xaso said he would just deal with the principles of the amendments.

The first part of the joint rules was adopted in December 2023. So these joint rules seek to incorporate some of the changes to the composition of the House components of the joint committees based on changes to the composition of both Houses. These rules also seek to update the ethics committee's work. But I must hasten to say that that part of this process is not yet finalised. The Ethics Committee is still processing the code. Hopefully, it will be finalised before we get to the end of this term. There are a number of joint sub-committees that were part of the rules. Those sub-committees are being deleted in these rules, e.g the Joint Subcommittee on Support for Members, which was replaced by the Members’ Support Forum, the Joint Subcommittee on Internal Arrangements, the Members Support Forum dealing with that, the Joint Subcommittee on International Relations, the PGIR is dealing with that matter, there was a joint subcommittee on the funding of political parties, there is no need for it at point, there was a joint subcommittee on delegated legislation. There was also a joint subcommittee for the oversight of security-related matters, but now we have the Joint Standing Committee on Defence and Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI). And there was a joint subcommittee on HIV and AIDS, but the health committees that are dealing with that. There was also a joint subcommittee on the parliamentary budget. A proposal must still be finalised for a multiparty budget committee that will deal with the budget, apart from the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament. The STP is dealing with that matter; therefore, at some given point, the Houses will establish that committee. We think that is an important structure that assists in the formulation of Parliament's budget. On the ethics committee, the code does not have to come to the joint rules committee, but the JRC needs to be aware of what is happening around the ethics code.

On point D, we are also aligning the joint rules with court judgments affecting Parliament's legislative processes. We're also dealing with issues around the joint tagging mechanism (JTM) and the issue of joint rule 159. There was a detailed debate on whether we should have that rule. The view ultimately was that we do need the rule. Of course, we must improve its implementation. It is there in theory, and it has not been complied with by the Executive in particular; therefore, the input is that we must not do away with it. But Parliament must make every effort to ensure that the Executive does comply with those rules. We have also clarified the issue of remitted bills. These are bills that were passed by Parliament but returned by the President on constitutional grounds. And we're trying to clarify that process so that it is done in terms of the law and the constitution. We are also working on making Parliament documents, the bills in particular, accessible to members of the public when we do public hearings so that we can provide clarification on those issues.

On the issue of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence - the Committee is empowered to initiate legislation, but not to process legislation within Parliament. And therefore, we needed to clarify that. But the joint subcommittee [on the joint rules] also believed that maybe the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill must be awaited before we can finalise some of the issues around that committee because it may just impact the functioning of that committee.

On the issue of the Joint Defense Committee, we were also of the view that the matter needs a considerable amount of time to process because the committees of Parliament need to go through the matter carefully because there is an issue of deployments. But there's also the issue of the committee membership, which is dictated by the interim constitution and that was never amended. And if you follow the transcripts of the interim constitution, you'll end up with a committee with about 37 or 40 members. And the sense was that it's cumbersome, but we can't just change it. So, the view was that the seventh Parliament must be seized with this matter so that it could clarify the matter once and for all.

We also dealt with issues during the first meeting of a joint committee. However, what is important about joint committees is that the Constitution envisages joint committees on bills. We know that that process is very challenging, but what we are doing in terms of these rules is complying. The fact that the mechanism is there does not mean it must be used. It can only be used when it is essential, or it is absolutely necessary for it to be used. Therefore, we are proposing the establishment of these committees to be ad hoc in nature, where there's a need to deal with a bill through a joint committee process. We're also proposing that the constitutional amendments that come through the system must go through the Constitutional Review Committee for input, even though there is no such requirement. Still, we think that because we have a Constitutional Review Committee, it must also have a voice, even if it means submitting to a process before Parliament. Lastly, we are proposing some procedures for the mediation committee because, currently, there are issues around the point at which the mediation committee begins. So we are clarifying that issue so that the term begins at the point the matter is referred to the mediation committee. We can go through the technical details, but the rules have been sent to the Members, and the joint subcommittee has looked at his rules in detail. Therefore, we are presenting them to this forum for adoption.

The Chairperson noted the range of issues addressed and the ultimate proposal that these joint rules be approved.

Mr Papo said the presentation accurately reflected what the joint rule subcommittee agreed to when it processed the recommendations. He moved that the joint rules be agreed to.

Mr Dyantyi confirmed that the joint subcommittee on the joint rules had a comprehensive discussion on these matters.

The Chairperson said the report was approved as presented.

Joint Rules Committee Legacy Report 2019-2024
Mr Xaso highlighted matters that could not be finalised in this Parliament. One of the issues is the language policy of Parliament. In the Third Parliament, or even before then, the policy was put in place, but it was never fully implemented. So, the Seventh Parliament should be seized on this matter. But I think we should be pleased that the Sixth Parliament dealt with the issue of sign language. And we think that that's a major achievement, a major milestone in implementing the Constitution. However, the issue of Parliament's language policy still remains a matter that must be addressed. So therefore, we say that the Seventh Parliament ought to be seized with this matter.

We also continue to improve our oversight mechanisms because we are also focusing on outcomes-based oversight. Therefore, the issue of the Oversight and Accountability Model of Parliament is a matter that must continuously receive the attention of the Joint Rules Committee.

The High-Level Panel On the Assessment of Legislation and The Acceleration of Fundamental Change did serve before the JRC, and the JCR referred it to various committees. We are not in a position to say that we have fully gotten a handle on the issues raised, and it's a matter that needs continuous attention to get proper feedback. Proper processes within committees ensure that all those issues raised are receiving the attention of Parliament properly.

The recommendations of the State Capture Commission served, in the main, before the Rules Committee of the NA, but I think even before the JCR, it's a matter that affects the whole of Parliament, not just the NA. And therefore, it’s a matter that Parliament must continuously monitor to monitor the implementation of the recommendations. Now, when we say implementation, we know that recommendations remain. Therefore, the issue of the state capture report, which is currently before Parliament, will need ongoing attention of Parliament. It’s a matter that we should not lose sight of as this body is the highest body in terms of the core business of Parliament. The legacy report is for noting, not adoption.

Mr Papo said the issues raised in the legacy report are quite clear. They need to be noted and included in the handover report.

Mr Dyantyi said the report raised a lot of issues, but one of the things they have not raised, which I think we must take as a lesson for the Seventh Parliament, they shied away from is the issue of functionality of the committee itself, both the subcommittee and the joint rules. We would have dealt with the matters that would have stood for long because of that functionality. So they have not even raised that issue, but I think it's important that the Seventh Parliament improves on it.

Mr Papo agreed that the functionality of the individual committees of the two Houses and the joint one needs to be improved so that we don't have things hanging for such a long time. And that involves mainly programming, ensuring that both Houses consider issues and that they come to the subcommittee and the joint rules. This committee is at the centre of management of the two Houses, and we cannot be very casual about how these committees are coordinated and managed. There has been good work, but we need to tighten up the overall management and coordination of the individual and joint committees. There's a lot you can lose if we don't…for example, we only approved the joint rules on sittings at the end of the term, whereas problems started to be experienced when we started the term. But because of this weak coordination, we could only deal with decorum at the end of the term. Also, ensure that when committees are scheduled, we don't have members sitting in other committees, so there is adequate participation, particularly chairpersons. He repeated the importance of this matter, as the two Houses could collapse if the rules were not attended to.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) said the report identifies five crucial legal issues for the JCR of the Seventh Parliament and all other instituted bodies and individuals involved. So, I just want to emphasise what Members already noted and that the Seventh Parliament must make sure that these five legacy issues become a priority for the Seventh Parliament

Mr Xaso conveyed remarks from the deputy speaker, who is struggling with his gadget. He wishes that this Committee should note that he has been doing some work as Deputy Speaker with the language services of Parliament, particularly Dr Gabriel, to deal with the constitutional compass on the issue of languages. So while the work is not yet completed, but work has been done there

The Chairperson noted this.

Mr Dyantyi moved that the legacy report be adopted.

Dr Koornhof seconded the motion.

The Chairperson said the report has been adopted.

The Chairperson thanked all participants for ensuring that this meeting took place and wished everybody well. The issues raised in this meeting were properly captured and will not be lost, especially in relation to the Seventh Parliament.

It was confirmed that the meeting was quorate from both sides of the NA and NCOP.

The meeting was adjourned.


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