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SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
22 August 2007
CHILDREN’S AMENDMENT BILL: COMMITTEE DISCUSSION ON WAY FORWARD
Chairperson: Ms T Tshivase (ANC)
Children’s Amendment Bill [B19B-2006]
Audio recording of meeting
The Committee met to discuss the way forward with the Children’s Bill. Public hearings had been carried out in some provinces, but not in all, and the question arose whether there was a need to hold further public hearings in those provinces not previously visited. The Committee had departed from its usual practice, had travelled to the provinces and had also visited the rural areas in particular. Some Members felt that there should be hearings in all provinces, indicating that some people may have been excluded because they could not travel. Others were of the view that this Committee had satisfied the constitutional requirements, and had given sufficient notice, expended substantial sums and had a good understanding of the public’s concerns, pointing out also that the Bill had been ongoing and in the public eye for a number of years. There were cost constraints and time constraints also to be considered, and if further hearings were held then the Bill could not be discussed before the end of the year. The general comment was made that at some future date the Committee could have a broad discussion over how it should be conducting public hearings and whether the advertisements in the press were sufficient, or if radio and TV messages should not also be used more extensively.
Members, having debated the matter, finally agreed that the Committee should at this stage take proactive steps to ask the Parliamentary researchers to prepare a full summary of submissions, grouping these with reference to the clauses of the Bill. Any submissions not already copied to the Committee should be sent through to Members. In the meantime the Chairperson would also ask the State Law Advisors to give their opinion as to whether it would be necessary to hold public hearings in the remaining provinces. National Treasury needed to brief Members on the cost implications, and the Committee must also hear submissions from the Departments of Labour and Provincial and Local Government. The Department of Social Development would finally be asked to give its responses to the submissions.
Children’s Amendment Bill: Deliberations on procedures
The Chairperson informed the meeting that the public hearings had already been carried out and that there seemed to be sufficient input from the ground to enable the Committee to proceed further.
Mr K Morwamoche (ANC) expressed that this meeting should be looking at the issue of whether to hold public hearings for the remaining provinces. He urged the Committee that it follow the Constitution properly in terms of addressing those provinces that the Committee did not visit during the previous public hearings.
Adv T Masutha (ANC) explained that in its planning, the Committee had looked at the entire process of the public hearings, so as not to duplicate what the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) had already done. IT was on this basis that the decision was taken that certain areas would be prioritised as these were the areas the NCOP had not reached. Secondly, it must be remembered that usually the public hearings were held in Cape Town, and everyone had to travel to Cape Town. In this instance, they were arranged differently, and there was representation of people from different provinces at the various centres where hearings were held. Venues and dates were published in the media well in advance. On the question relating to procedures, he had assumed that immediately after the submission deadline date, the Committee section would liaise to cluster issues according to different sections and to summarise them. There had not been any interaction with the research unit and therefore this work seemed not to have been done. For future reference, this needed to be mentioned, although he did not know how the Committee wanted to handle the submissions.
Ms M Gumede (ANC) agreed with Mr Morwamoche that there were constraints in terms of participation in the public hearings.
Mr Morwamoche expressed that he still stood by his earlier point even though Adv Masutha had explained his viewpoint. He informed the Committee that there was no provision in the Constitution that the Portfolio Committee should rely on the NCOP to conduct the public hearings to cover for both committees.
Ms H Bogopane-Zulu (ANC) understood that the Committee was supposed to cover nine provinces. But the Committee must remember that this Bill had been in parliament for 9 years already. She expressed her view that if all provinces did not get the same type of public hearing then there was no point in having a public hearing at all. She also urged members to read the documents as soon as they were sent through and study them properly and make submissions, to avoid the hold up of the process.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu felt that the Committee must take a resolution at this meeting whether it would be holding public hearings in the remaining provinces, and if so, to find the resources to carry them out.
She added that there was also the need to resolve how long the Committee must work on the bill and who needed to be consulted, and if the Committee should have finished the Bill by December 2007. In terms of the submissions she wanted a document that summarised specific issues raised, dividing these submissions so that Members could more easily decide what submissions were relevant to and might give rise to the need for amendment of specific clauses of the Bill. She would also like to see the type of responses received and who responded, so that the Committee would be able to see how many people spoke about any given issue. She would also like for the Committee to view all the direct transcripts of the conversations and submissions, and submissions received from children themselves.
Ms C Dudley (ACDP) reminded the Committee that the matter of public hearings had been brought up before in previous meetings, in light of other incidents that happened. She urged the Committee to pay proper attention to the public hearings and felt that it was better to add to what the Committee had already done rather than take it away. She expressed that the Committee might have opened itself up to problems due to not covering all provinces.
Participation of “the poorest of the poor”
Mr B Solo (ANC) expressed that it was not the intention to do away with the previous public hearings process although some new approaches might have been adopted. He referred to Adv Masutha’s comments about the non-government organisations (NGOs) that had followed the Committee everywhere to each public hearing. He urged that their attendance should not derogate from the fact that the poorest of the poor had never been introduced to the process, and therefore did not form part of it. He therefore felt that there was still a need to go out to the poor communities. However, he was not sure that the past methods were really reaching these communities. The poorest of the poor did not read the Sunday Times or other newspapers where the Committee was placing advertisements. They might watch TV or listen to the radio, and the Committee should look at using these media to reach them and to gain their understanding.
Mr Solo expressed that there had not been any difference in their experience in Umtata, where NGOs were also dominant. He knew that the legislators had a budget for public participation. He was also aware that in the Municipal Systems Act there was an obligation on municipalities to promote public participation. He urged that the Committee needed to adapt to the change, share some ideas and take advice on this matter, and then place it as a specific item for discussion. All spheres of government had an obligation to promote civil participation in order to avoid the confusion caused by the media misinterpreting facts or misreporting certain issues.
Ms Gumede said that public hearings were usually dominated by old people or direct stakeholders. She suggested that the relevant people to approach were the Chiefs because they had control of the rural areas, dealt directly with the communities and were recognised by them.
Diminished Committee Resources
Adv Masutha advised that the Committee should note the points presented already carefully. He continued that perhaps it was good to evaluate the committee’s performance from time to time, but it was also important to be realistic. He stated that he understood that the Committee’s budget was finished and therefore urged for consideration of these constraints.
Adv Masutha asked the Committee to extend a special thanks to Ms Bogopane-Zulu for her brilliant coordination of the public hearings. He agreed with Mr Solo that there was a need to explore more ways of publicising public hearings and mobilising support. However, perhaps Ms Bogopane-Zulu could elaborate further on the extremely difficult logistical exercise of trying to contact everyone. There was a need to match the desire to be totally all embracing with the constraint in resources. This Committee could certainly convey to Parliament that if it really wanted to make the parliamentary processes extensively participatory, then it must pay attention to the issues of resources and capacitating the communities. The Committee went into the rural areas precisely because they wanted to force the NGOs to follow it there. The NGOs needed to demonstrate their willingness to go into those areas in order to demonstrate, and to answer the concerns that they were not cutting out rural communities, although they might find it more convenient to operate near urban areas. He was not worried about the fact that Cape Town was omitted from the public hearings, as the Constitution allowed the Committee to go anywhere.
The Way Forward
Adv Masutha agreed that the Committee must decide how to proceed. First it would have to clarify with parliament how soon they would be able to collate the input from submissions and public hearings, because the Committee had a constitutional obligation to consider every single submission made. This would only be practicable if the information was organised in a systematic way. The Committee needed to look at some time frames.
Mr B Mkongi supported Adv Masutha, and suggested that the Committee needed to do two things. Firstly, this meeting needed to take a resolution on the way forward. Secondly, that decision must address specifically whether to complete public hearings in provinces or conduct a national and final public hearing in Cape Town. He said that he was raising this possibility to cater for shortages of resources and time. He did not think that this meeting should discuss a strategy how to organise public hearings, nor how to deal with the media. He proposed that this meeting adopt Adv Masutha’s proposal, and ask the parliamentary researchers how long they would need to collate the information from the submissions. Secondly he believed that that a final public hearing be called in Cape Town, to finalise all matters and ensure that the Bill could be finalised this year. Everything that the Committee should do must be in the best interest of the children.
Mr M Skosana (IFP) believed that there was a need to look at the resources to see if anyone one else needed to cover the expenses. He encouraged the Committee to be aggressively proactive and also urged that it try to streamline the process.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu requested the Committee to take a decision on what it wanted to do, and in particular whether to follow Mr Mkongi’s suggestions. She believed that the Committee must proactively request the information from Parliament, giving them a deadline of next Wednesday. The Chairperson could decide how to proceed on the public hearings.
Adv Masutha clarified that while the system of parliament stated how and where to conduct public hearings, it was at the discretion of each Committee to determine whether public hearings should even be conducted. Not every piece of legislation needed a public hearing, and this would depend on the nature of the law being discussed. This Committee did decide to have public hearings and he believed there had been sufficient hearings so far. Therefore the Committee had decided the question of whether or not to hold hearings, and had held them, and had also decided how to go about them, which it had implemented. He believed it was now necessary to look at the information that came out of the hearings. He noted that the rules required that if public hearings were held, then there must be at least 6 weeks notice by advertisement in the media. The advertisements to date had cost R72 000, and this had included advertisement in community papers, translation and other expenses. He believed that if more public hearings were to be decided upon, they would only be able to be concluded at the end of the year and the Committee would not have a chance to do any work on the legislation itself.
Adv Masutha therefore called upon the Committee to be realistic and think forward on this issue. He urged the Committee to consider the public hearings duly conducted and concluded, and said they should now move on to collation of the submissions and consideration of them. He suggested that the research unit of parliament should be given at least two weeks to process and organise the information. He suggested that the next meeting should focus on the issue of resource provision for the legislation. He reminded the Committee that before the last recess there was discussion as to whether the word “may” or “must” should be used in the Bill when referring to provision of resources. The Committee would have to get input from National Treasury in order to formulate these clauses, and this matter should be discussed next week.
Ms H Weber (DA) agreed that if the complaints and concerns of people had been covered sufficiently, then the Committee should proceed as Adv Masutha suggested. There had been a lot of input already and people had had ample opportunity to have their say.
Ms Dudley agreed with Ms Weber, but mentioned that there was a way to get around the 6-week deadline should the Committee wish to hold hearings. She would not like to suggest that they should or should not be held, but noted that those from the Western Cape might have felt excluded as they were not able to travel to other provinces.
Mr Solo urged that the Committee must conclude the matter. He agreed with Adv Masutha and Ms Weber.
The Chairperson asked if there was general support for Adv Masutha’s suggestion.
Mr Skosana indicated that he supported Adv Masutha too. However, he expressed his concern that some people might not have understood the legal terminology. He would propose that the submissions be collated now. If these seemed to indicate a need to go to further provinces, then the Committee could still decide to do so at that stage. He agreed that the Committee should set up an agenda for the next meeting.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu proposed that the Committee should try to find a unanimous view. She suggested that the Chairperson should ask the legal advisors whether it was in order that not every province had been visited. That answer should be with the Committee by next Wednesday. The collation of the submissions should be called for and completed by 5 September. Any of the submissions listed but not yet copied to all members must be circulated, as well as the submissions made by Departments.
Mr Solo agreed with both proposals put forward by Ms Bogopane-Zulu.
Ms I Direko (ANC) commented that Ms Bogopane-Zulu had put forward suggestions that ensured ‘hurrying slowly’, and agreed this was the way for the Committee to go.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu then proposed that at the meeting on 29 August the legal opinion on visit to all provinces should be discussed from 09h00 to 09h30. The Committee could then take a resolution whether there was a need to visit the remaining provinces. The National Treasury must then address the Committee on the costing of the Bill. At the meeting on 5 September, the Committee should receive the collation of the submissions, and should also discuss the matter with the Departments of Labour and Provincial and Local Government. On 12 September, the Committee should engage with the Department of Social Development and go through the Department’s responses to the submissions.
Ms S Rajbally (MF) informed the Committee that she had initiated an inquiry into why meetings did not happen on Fridays as it was a normal working day.
Other Committee business
The Chairperson advised that the National Development Agency (NDA) had invited Members to visit their projects at Mpumalanga on 27 August. The Committee would visit Stellenbosch on the 7th September.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu informed Members that she had received letter of apology to the Committee from a Professor from the University of Pretoria who had verbally abused some of the Committee Members during a visit. She would circulate copies.
The meeting was adjourned.
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