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Meeting reportMEMBERS’ LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS: SELECT COMMITTEE
26 October 2007
NEW PETITION MRS JJC THOMPSON, RESEARCH ON PETITIONS AND PRIVATE MEMBERS LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS, PROPOSED STUDY TOUR: DISCUSSION
Chairperson: Mr F Adams (ANC, Western Cape)
Documents handed out:
Application for hosting a workshop on Petitions
Comparative study on international petitions
Letter from Mrs JJC Thompson (nee Coetzee)
Draft Programme Select Committee on Legislative Proposals Term 4 2007
Audio recording of meeting
The Committee was unable to get a quorum and therefore did not take any final decisions on the matters discussed at the meeting. It briefly discussed issues around quorums, and agreed to seek permission to hold a meeting on a Wednesday from 17h00 to 18h00 to take a decision on the matters discussed in this meeting, as also on other outstanding issues.
The Committee tabled the research papers on private members’ legislative proposals and petitions and asked Mr Moseki to make recommendations as to the most suitable country to visit for a study tour. The preliminary indications were that Germany’s model seemed to be the best. The Chairperson then summarised that the NCOP rules on petitions were vague and there was a need for a workshop to get clarity on the issues, with a view to improving the rules, increasing public awareness and reaching provincial consensus on how petitions should be approached. It was proposed that application be made to host a workshop on the issues in January 2008.
The Committee had received a letter from Mrs JJC Thompson, forwarded by the Chairperson of the NCOP, which did not really take the form of a proper petition. Mrs Thompson had raised diverse issues, but the letter was largely incoherent and it did not appear that she had approached appropriate institutions, nor exhausted her legal remedies. The Parliamentary Legal Advisor was asked to draft a written recommendation as to how best to handle the matter.
A decision would be taken on the following Wednesday on these and other issues.
Issues around quorums
The Chairperson noted that more members were needed to form a quorum, but the meeting proceeded in the hope that more would arrive shortly
Mr A Moseki (ANC, North West) commented upon the capacity required, and noted that the Committee, if it was to deal with matters, would need to put aside specified time slots just to deal with these matters.
The Chairperson noted that the Committee was to hold a workshop to discuss the issues with a view to putting them in Rules. The Rules of the NCOP were very vague as to how the committee should work. He and the Parliamentary Legal Advisor had struggled to find exactly what the rules were, as they were very vague. On the issue of quorums, for instance, the meeting could proceed irrespective of the number of members present. However, it would need a quorum of five to take a decision. If the Committee was considering a constitutional amendment, a certain number of members from a specified number of provinces must be present. The difficulty was to distinguish whether the Committee, in its meeting, was debating a question or taking a decision.
Adv Zoraya Adhikarie, Senior Parliamentary Legal Advisor, clarified that a decision emanated from a question, as questions must be asked in order to reach a decision. Everything must be decided. A question must be asked to illicit a decision. In a question put to the committee for decision, then there must be at least five members present, and then there were additional criteria for certain types of decisions.
The Chairperson noted that there were still not enough members for a quorum; only two provinces were represented.
Mr M Mzizi (IFP, Gauteng) said that as much as he would like to have contributed on the subject he unfortunately did not have the minutes, which highlighted Mr Moseki’s point that the members of the Committee were already stretched in their obligations. He agreed with the comment that a decision was a conclusion reached after consideration of questions. He pointed out that the problem with trying to reach a quorum on this occasion was that Members were supposed to be attending a concurrent meeting concerning the Auditor General. In regard to the constant difficulties in getting a quorum, he suggested that a message be sent out requesting all Members of this committee representing provinces to be present, as there was a backlog of matters needing to be voted on. If they could not be present at normal meeting times, then they must attend after hours.
Adv Adhikarie added that sometimes other committees would deliberate on the issues, then distribute a summary to those Members who had not been present, and a short lunchtime meeting was arranged just to get votes on issues deliberated at meetings where there had been no quorum.
The Chairperson agreed the Committee should run through the agenda, make recommendations, and then write a letter to the House Chairperson to ask whether the Committee could meet for an hour on Wednesday or Thursday after proceedings.
He noted that he had also written to the House Chairperson to get permission had been granted to change the meeting times, so that they ran from 09h00 to 10h30 on Fridays, so that members could still catch connecting flights.
The programme had been put before members so there was still time to adopt and finalise it.
Proposed Study Tour
The Chairperson noted that the Committee had, when researching the issue of Private Members’ Legislative Proposals and petitions, looked at the systems in the United Kingdom (UK). This appeared to have the best system for Private Members, but not for petitions. After further research was done, it appeared that the systems in Germany were also working well.
Mr Mzizi thought that when using countries for the purposes of comparison, it was important to look not only to Great Britain, but also to Australia, Germany, Canada, and the United States.
The Chairperson asked Members to look at the research papers, and asked Mr Moseki to look at the proposals as to suitable countries for a study tour in respect of petitions, which seemed to be Germany, as its model seemed to be the best.
Application for hosting a workshop on Petitions
The Chairperson pointed out that In South Africa, the only province that had any guidelines was Gauteng. The rules were very vague as to how the NCOP could deal with petitions. The National Assembly would deal with special petitions. The Constitution dealt only broadly with the issue, stating that any member of the public may petition the NCOP. However, it did not specify what the situation was with a public petition. The Rules Committee of the NCOP had decided not to confine this committee to special petitions or public petitions and was also broad in its statement that the NCOP could deal with “petitions” in general and Private Members Legislative Proposals. For these reasons the Committee was giving consideration to holding a workshop on the issue, in the last week of January, in all likelihood to be held in Gauteng This workshop would attempt to get clarity on how to deal with public petitions and special petitions, and to reach uniformity rather than being subject to provincial guidelines, that of course only applicable to the provinces.
The Chairperson said that even in the case of the Gauteng guidelines there was no provision made for matters affecting national confident, and the Premier could not override the petitioner. There was doubt as to whom people in the national sphere must petition - the President, the Minister or Parliament.
The Chairperson summarised that there was a need to define the rules for petitions. A book that was brought out two years ago only dealt with legislative proposals. After the workshop and after the study tour this Committee should probably also propose to the Rules Committee that it should draft guidelines for people on how to deal with petitions. The workshop would include input from a Constitutional law expert, the Committee’s legal advisor, and all Provinces, since the provinces must obviously have a say, and provincial rules should not be in conflict with any rules drafted as a result of the workshop.
Mr Mzizi noted that the NCOP rules did have something to say on petitions of members, but he considered that this Committee should also revisit those rules, if it could do so. He was not sure whether they were firmly enshrined. From the petitions already tricking in, it seemed that there was a need to widen the scope to include the public in a broader sense, because they were representing the provinces, and to look also to the question of appeals.
Mr Mzizi had looked at all the petitions, and noted that some from Gauteng were addressed to “the Speaker” – there seemed to be some difficulty in distinguishing between the Speaker of the NA and the Chairperson of the NCOP. If a petition were to deal with issues around provincial services, then the Chairperson should, in his view, be presenting the petition to the Provincial Parliament, and calling for a meeting between the provincial and NCOP representatives, together with the petitioner, to try to find a way forward.
The Chairperson pointed out that all seemed to be agreed that the workshop would discuss how to deal with petitions. Arising out of that a user-friendly document should be prepared to heighten public awareness and to set out the procedures, and then the Committee should publicise it to make the public aware of how to submit petitions – this might even be done by going on a road show to the provinces, and could involve the human rights bodies. The programme for 2009 should include the issues and deepen the debates in Parliament. His concern was around the cost of the workshop, and that was why he was suggesting Gauteng as a possible venue.
It was resolved tha17h00 to 18h00 on Wednesday afternoon so that the full Committee could approve, adopt and finalise the matter.
Petition from Mrs JJC Thompson (nee Coetzee)
Adv Adhikarie noted that this petition had been forwarded to the Committee by the Chairperson of the NCOP.
The petition, set out in the form of a letter, was unfortunately completely incoherent. The petitioner was claiming that she had been tortured by Stellenbosch University, objected to the termination of services of a police officer, and claimed that those defying safety measures for toxic waste were committing culpable homicide, treason, genocide, and pre-meditated murder. She made reference to family members, and claimed that she was advised by a prosecutor to “sue the Constitution of SA”, President Mbeki, husband and brother for “making (her) life viable to onslaught from terrorists”. Adv Adhikarie said that this type of petition would not normally even reach the appropriate Committee in the National Assembly, as the Speaker could rule whether it qualified as a petition, but it was referred to the Committee in terms of the differing rules of the NCOP.
The position with any petition was that the Committee would firstly look at whether the person had exhausted all other remedial avenues, and whether there were other appropriate institutions that were mandated to deal with the issues raised.
She would therefore suggest that the Committee should write to the petitioner and direct her as to how she should be approaching the matter. It could not simply be assumed that the petitioner was not of full mental capacity. In respect of the various issues, her letter could be referred to the appropriate institutions. This was not really a petition, and the Committee was not empowered to take the matters further. In view of the lack of coherence, Adv Adhikarie would not think that there was any point in calling the petitioner to come and clarify the issues before the Committee.
Mr D Worth (DA, Free State) fully supported the points made. The letter was incoherent and did not make sense.
Mr Mzizi took the point, but suggested that at the same time this petition had been directed to the highest authority, and as a matter of principle perhaps it should not be simply referred on. He made the point that although a petition could be worded as coming from an individual, that individual could be representing the community at large. He cited an example of an individual petition forwarded to him at MP of the province, from which it was clear that the community was supporting the call for a mass meeting, and when he asked the community it confirmed that it was fully supportive of the individual’s petition. This petition raised national issues of toxic waste and environmental hazards. He suggested that perhaps this Committee could notify the relevant environmental authorities that a problem had been reported, and that it should be investigated.
Mr Moseki agreed that the letter was incoherent and agreed that the Committee should refer the letter to the relevant institution that could best deal with the matter.
The Chairperson asked Adv Adhikarie to formulate a recommendation for the Committee for consideration at the next meeting. He did not think it was entirely appropriate just to refer the matter to the Portfolio Committee or a body dealing with Environmental Affairs, because it also talked about culpable homicide and genocide.
The matters were deferred for a final decision until the following Wednesday.
The meeting was adjourned.