Establishment of Oversight Committee on Auditor-General; Downsizing all Parliamentary Committees

Joint Rules

14 October 2005
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Meeting report

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY RULES COMMITTEE
14 October 2005
ESTABLISHMENT OF OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE ON AUDITOR-GENERAL; DOWNSIZING ALL PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES

Chairperson:
Ms G Mahlangu-Nkabinde (NA Deputy Speaker)

Documents handed out:
Ms Hogan’s proposal on Oversight Committee on the Auditor-General
Memorandum: Proposed Reduction of Committee Membership
Written complaint by Mr Jayendra Naidoo about reference to him in the Assembly[email
docs@pmg.org.za]
Summary of decisions from this meeting (see Appendix)

SUMMARY
The Committee discussed the establishment of an Oversight Committee on the Auditor-General. The proposals contained in the document of Ms B Hogan (ANC) were agreed upon. It was decided that all Committees would be downsized to 13 Members each: the ANC would have eight Members; the DA would have two; the IFP would have one; and one position each would be left for two of the smaller Parties. It was also agreed that the smaller Parties would operate as a cluster represented by three Whips. Some of the busiest Committees, such as the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and the Portfolio Committees on, Justice and Education, would retain 17 Members. Exceptions would be decided on a case-by-case basis. The Chairperson stated that this recommendation could be revisited at a later stage if Parties were dissatisfied.

The Committee also dealt with a few minor technical issues following the recent floor-crossing. Members agreed that the reference in the Constitution to the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ would be passed on to the Joint Rules Committee for urgent review. The National Assembly Speaker was mandated to set up a task team to deal with the complaint by Mr Jayendra Naidoo about a reference about him in the Assembly.

MINUTES

Oversight Committee on the Auditor-General
Mr A Nel (ANC Deputy Chief Whip) felt that the Oversight Committee on the Auditor-General needed to be separate from any other committee in Parliament. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, the workload of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) was already very heavy. Secondly, the core function of SCOPA was to look at the reports of the Auditor-General, whereas this Committee should be overseeing the function of the Office of the Auditor-General and conflation of these roles would lead to unnecessary complications. It was proposed that a Standing Committee on the Auditor-General should be established, consisting of 13 Members. The functions of this Committee would be broadly in line with the demands of the Public Audit Act (No 25 of 2004).

All Members present agreed that the Committee was desirable. Mr Ellis (DA) felt that 13 Members was the correct size, taking into account the current number of Parties.

Mr J Jeffrey (ANC) agreed. The issue of skills was up to the Parties and was not appropriate for this Committee to decide. Mr Ellis asked whether the Committee should provide guidelines. Mr Nel pointed out that these were contained in the document.

Mr C Mulder (FFP) asked how the 13 Members would be composed with regard to Party representation and asked if this composition would have more general application across all Committees.

Composition of all Parliamentary Committees
Mr Nel proposed reducing the size of all Committees from the present average size of 17 Members for three reasons. Firstly, Members should belong to as few Committees as possible in order to allow them to correctly function and master their topics. Secondly, clashes from membership in different Committees would be minimised, and so the problem of quorums could be addressed. Thirdly, although the level of administrative and research support had improved, if Members were stretched across fewer Committees, the existing support could be used more effectively.

It was proposed that the number of Committee Members be reduced to 13. The document by the Chief Whip’s Forum on downsizing Committees suggested two proposals. The first gave the ANC eight Members; the DA two; the IFP one; leaving one position each to two of the smaller Parties. The second proposal gave the ANC seven Members; the DA two; the IFP one; and three positions left for the smaller Parties, with not more than one to be taken by each Party.

Mr Nel said it had to be accepted that it was not possible for all Parties to be represented on all Committees. The Rules of Parliament allowed any Member at any time to attend or participate in a Committee meeting, although that did not allow that Member to vote. He recognised that certain Committees were currently bigger due to workload or particular Party interest, such as SCOPA, Justice and Education. The proposal was to retain 15 Members for these Committees. Exceptions would also be accommodated if there were compelling reasons, but this would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Ms S Seaton (IFP) asked whether the size of the Rules and Joint Committees would also be reduced. Mr Nel answered that these committees should be examined on individual merit.

Mr P Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) proposed that for the larger Committees, 17 Members would be a preferable limit. Some Committees were currently functioning well at that size and the capacity developed should not be disturbed.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) agreed as she wanted greater flexibility and choice for the smaller Parties regarding on which Committees they could be represented.

Mr Mulder stated that in the past, specific agreements in exceptional cases had worked well. The Committee should proceed with 13 Members as the general rule. All Members had the opportunity to vote on the matter in the National Assembly ("the House") if they were not on the Committee itself.

Ms Seaton suggested that problems would be alleviated if smaller Parties were allowed greater access to information.

In reply to a question asking if this proposal would affect the composition of Joint Committees, Mr Nel said that it would. The feedback from Chairpersons was that Joint Committees had been struggling to achieve the necessary quorums, so the downsizing should help them.

The Chairperson summarised that the Committee was agreeing to reduce the size of Committees to 13 Members and commented that this could be revisited at a later stage if Parties were dissatisfied. She asked which of the two proposals for composition Members preferred.

Ms Seaton favoured the proposal that gave the ANC have seven Members to allow greater representation to smaller Parties. Ms Dudley agreed because of the huge increase in the number of Parties.

Mr Nel supported the proposal that gave the ANC eight Members as a general rule to ensure there were no quorum problems. This also provided a more accurate reflection of proportional strength of the Parties. Existing Committees of 13 Members, such as the Joint Monitoring Committees, used this composition.

Ms Dudley asked whether a third proposal could be considered: that each Committee be comprised of 14 Members, eight of whom would belong to the ANC and three of whom could be available to the smaller Parties.

Mr Nel proposed the Committee pass the proposal as it stood, as the priority was to enable Members to keep up with their workloads.

Mr G Doidge (Parliament Chairperson of Committees) asked whether the Parliamentary Rule that a Member could attend any meeting, should be changed to allow them to vote.

Mr Nel said this would leave voting open to unacceptable influence. A "burning issue" would result in too many MPs attending the Committee session in question. The relationship between the main body of Parliament and the Committees should not be forgotten. The Committees processed the issues, and votes could be cast in the final instance at the National Assembly.

Dr G Woods (National Democratic Convention) said there was no choice but to accept the ANC proposal as it had broad support. problems arising could be brought up later.

Mr Nefolovhodwe wanted assurance that those attending but not voting would be sent the necessary and relevant documentation to allow them to participate.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee had agreed to accept the proposal that gave the ANC eight Members in the general composition of Committees.

In response to a question asking if minority views would be reported. Mr K Hahndiek (Secretary to Parliament National Assembly) answered that there were specific Rules provisions stating that minority views should be reported with regards to Bills, but that it was up to the Committee to include what it considered appropriate in its own report.

Mr Nel stated that on the issue of documentation, a system should be put in place so all Members could access all information. This system should be on the internet. The Chairperson said that Mr Doidge would work on a proposal on this subject.

Allocation of Party Whips
Mr Nel presented the proposal on the allocation of Whips. The smaller Parties would be clustered and represented by three Whips. There had been no disagreement among those at the Chief Whips Forum about this. The Forum had felt that a greater number of Whips was needed, particularly because the current situation gathered smaller Parties into politically incongruous groups. The Chairperson said this was an important issue but not for discussion at this meeting.

Ms Dudley said it was a bad idea to cluster small groups together with opposing political views. She proposed each Party have their own Whip and that the limited resources be spread proportionately between them.

The Chairperson stated all were agreed on the current proposal. There was an urgent need for small Parties to meet to discuss this.

Other issues
The proposed change to the sequence of Parties for Members’ Statements (as necessitated by the floor-crossing) was presented. Members agreed that this would be for a trial period until the end of this quarter. The proposal was that instead of 14 minutes, there should be 15 minutes dedicated to this. The ANC would have six; the DA would have three; the IFP would have two; and smaller Parties would share the remaining four among themselves.

Mr Hahndiek commented that a new Parliamentary Rule would be needed to accommodate this.

Mr Ellis asked what would happen if a Party did not use its allocated time. Mr Nell said that if there was an unused opportunity, the ANC would be granted the time. If they did not use it, the time would be allocated to the DA, then the IFP, and so on.

In answer to a question about whether the order in which the smaller Parties were listed in the document was relevant, Mr Mulder said that the sequence of Parties had been decided by agreement between them.

Mr Masithela stated that the sequence of questions was related to this. The decision rested with the Chief Whip’s Forum, although in practice it would be the same as the Member Statements.

Mr Nel introduced the question of the application of Parliamentary Rule 66. This had arisen after a request by the Auditor-General and recent critical media comments around the person and Office of the Public Protector. The Chief Whip’s Forum was concerned that some of the criticism went beyond the limits of fair interaction and began to undermine the Office. A task team had been put together to develop the discussion on dealing with the Public Prosecutor and Chapter Nine institutions in general.

Mr J. Sibanyoni and Mr T Masutha were prepared to present on this issue but it was decided that the matter was still a work in progress and further research should be reported back at a later date.

Ms Seaton raised the issue that the Constitution referred to the ‘Leader of the Opposition’. The smaller Parties had problems with this wording.

Mr Nefolovhodwe agreed. The issue needed to be resolved soon as media reports seemed to suggest that only one opposition Party was present.

The Chairperson said there was general agreement that this should be referred as an urgent matter to the Joint Rules Committee, despite reservations from Mr M Ellis (DA, Deputy Chief Whip of the Opposition) and Ms C Botha (DA, House Chairperson: Internal Arrangements).

Mr Hahndiek brought up the request by Mr Jayendra Naidoo for a response to a remark by a Member. He said that the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliaments and Provincial Legislatures Act, No 4 of 2004 provided that this should go to the Standing Committee on Powers and Privileges. As this did not yet exist and the matter needed to be dealt with urgently, the Rules Committee had two options. It could mandate a task team itself or ask the NA Speaker to set up a task team. Mr Nel supported the proposal that the Committee mandate the Speaker to set up a task team.

Mr Nel then raised the issue of accommodation in Parliamentary Villages. Current legislation was specific on who was allowed to stay in such accommodation, and this was being reviewed. He asked if interim measures could be put in place as some flats were currently standing empty and the facility was not being optimally utilised.

Mr Ellis expressed concern that interim measures could become permanent arrangements. Ms Seaton supported interim changes and felt preference should to be given to Members over support staff.

The Chairperson stated that these were not matters for this Committee and would be better handled by the Presiding Officers.

Mr Mulder asked about the new seating arrangements in the House. The Chairperson stated that this was a matter for the Chief Whip’s Forum to decide.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

 

Appendix:

This summary is provided by the NA Table staff member, Mr M Xaso.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY (NA) RULES COMMITTEE

SUMMARY OF DECISIONS

  1. Establishment of Oversight Mechanism: Auditor-General (Item 4 on agenda)
  2. Agreed:

    1. A separate Standing Committee to be established, the committee to consist of 13 members.
    2. Its functions to be broadly those contained in the Public Audit Act, namely to oversee the functions of the Auditor-General.
    3. Same formula as with other committees to be used for party representation.
    4. Subcommittee on the Review of Rules to draft Rule amendments based on proposals submitted by the ANC which were adopted as a framework.
    5. Proposed Rule amendments by the Subcommittee to be presented to the Speaker and circulated to parties and then put directly to the House for adoption.
    6. Parties to take into account the issue of skills requirements in appointing members to the Committee.
    7. Recruitment of secretary to the committee to start immediately.
  3. Issues arising from floor-crossing (Item 5 on agenda)
    1. Composition of committees

 

 

Agreed:

 

 

    1. The number of members on portfolio committees to be reduced from 17 to 13 as follows: ANC 8, DA 2, IFP 1 and smaller parties 2.
    2. In regard to other committees other than portfolio committees, composition to be decided on merit.
    3. Smaller parties to meet and report back to the NA Rules Committee with motivation if there is a need/request to increase the membership of certain committees, in which case previous attendance records should also be provided.
    4. Committee documentation

    5. All information on committees (committee documents) to be electronically available (on website).
    6. House Chairperson Mr Doidge to look into proposals in this regard and report to the Speaker on how best this can be implemented.
    7. An updated parliamentary programme also to be available on website.
    1. Allocation of whips

 

 

Agreed:

 

 

    1. Total number of whips to be 47 with ANC – 34, DA – 5, IFP – 3, UDM – 1, ID – 1, Smaller parties – 3.
    2. Current formula for the allocation of whips to be reviewed by the Chief Whips’ Forum (CWF), taking into account concerns raised by parties in this regard, and report back to the Rules Committee.
    1. Sequence of parties for members’ statements (and questions)

 

 

Agreed:

 

 

    1. Based on Chief Whips’ Forum’s task team proposal, the number of statements to be increased from 14 to 15 and ministerial responses from 5 to 6. As a consequence, 2 additional minutes to be added to ministerial responses.
    2. A trial period to be allowed for the new arrangement, the new order to be as follows: ANC – 6, DA – 3, IFP – 2 and Smaller Parties 4.
    3. Rotation of smaller parties to be decided by the smaller parties.
    4. If a party does not use its slot, the Presiding Officer to start at the beginning of the sequence until 15 opportunities are utilized (as is the current practice).
    5. Sequence of questions to be determined by the Chief Whips’ Forum.
  1. Legacy Issues (Item 6 on agenda)
    1. Application of Rule 66
    2. Work in progress

    3. Report by Speaker on monitoring of replies to questions
    4. Report was given on behalf of the Speaker that she would engage with Leader of Government Business (LOGB).

    5. Report by Speaker on failure of state departments to submit annual reports in compliance with the Public Finance management Act

 

 

Report was given on behalf of the Speaker that she would engage with LOGB.

 

 

  1. Recognition and role of the leader of the opposition–Progress report (Item 7 on agenda)
  2. Issue of contradictions in title of leader of opposition between the Constitution and the Rules is still under consideration by the Subcommittee on Review of Rules. NA Table is also conducting research on the issue of recognition of leader of the opposition.

    Agreed:

    Appropriateness of the title "leader of opposition" to be referred to the Constitutional Review Committee for consideration.

  3. Request by Mr Jayendra Naidoo to have response to a remark by a member recorded. (Item 8 on agenda)
  4. Agreed:

    Speaker to establish a Task Team to assess the matter and advise her accordingly.

  5. Report on referral to subcommittee on Review of Rules (Item 9 on agenda)
    1. Governance model and revised role of Rules Committee
    2. Report was given on behalf of the Speaker that the Governance model would be tabled in the House for adoption and the matter of Rule amendments would be referred to the Joint Subcommittee on Review of Rules for consideration.

    3. Proposed Rule changes: House Chairpersons

 

 

Report was given on behalf of the Speaker that the matter of Rule amendments had been referred to the NA Review of Rules Committee for consideration.

 

 

  1. Parliamentary villages (additional agenda item proposed by Mr Nel)
    1. Matter of accommodation for staff in parliamentary villages referred to the Parliamentary Oversight Authority for consideration.
    2. Mr Nel to make a submission on the matter to the Parliamentary Oversight Authority.

 

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