Oversight and Accountability Final Report by Parliamentary Task Team

Joint Rules

18 March 2008
Chairperson: Ms B Mbete (Speaker: National Assembly); Mr M Mahlangu (NCOP Chairperson)
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Meeting Summary

The Task Team on Oversight and Accountability provided an overview of its Report to the Committee. The Report proposed an oversight and accountability model aimed at enhancing Parliament and entrenching democracy. Notably, it identified the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Oversight and Government Assurance Committee, to consider and deal with broader, transversal and cross cutting issues. Members enquired about the research institute, Parliament’s role in trade agreements and the time period for the Executive to respond to questions.

The Committee adopted the Report in principle.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks by Task Team
Mr Kopeng Bapela, Co-Chairperson: Task Team on Oversight and Accountability Model, presented a model that would advance Parliament in terms of mechanisms to oversee the executive and all organs of state. Contrary to perceptions that Parliament in South Africa was weak, recent findings released by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) proved that it was doing well when compared with its counterparts around the world. To buttress this analysis, it was pointed out that Canada had expressed interest in studying Parliament’s oversight committee system, while other African countries were also considering emulating some of Parliament’s other systems. Mr Bapela emphasised that Parliament should be encouraged by this acclaim; however he was mindful that the institution still needed to improve in many areas. He remarked that Parliament could only develop mechanisms and provide support systems for such mechanisms; however the parties in Parliament were responsible for ensuring quality and content. There was a general acknowledgment that Parliament needed to allocate more resources to committees and to provide support for parliamentarians.

By way of background, he recalled that this process began in 1999 when Parliament commissioned Prof Hugh Corder, from the University of Cape Town Law Faculty, to research its oversight capacity. His report was delivered to this Committee, upon which an ad hoc committee was established to consider the recommendations in the report. The Task Team was then set up in November 2004. It conducted extensive research to identify the model to be developed, and routinely briefed the Committee on its progress over the years. Finally, he noted that South Africa had inherited the Westminster system. He argued that this system should also be reviewed as Parliament transformed itself.

Report by Task Team on Oversight and Accountability
Mr Bapela outlined the constitutional precepts guiding the vision and mission of Parliament and the composition and mandates of the institution. Secondly, he defined Parliament’s oversight and accountability roles as mandated by the Constitution. In addition, he summarised the existing parliamentary oversight and accountability mechanisms and practices.

The Report introduced several new mechanisms to further strengthen accountability and oversight. It proposed that the rules be amended to allow committees of a House that were clustered for oversight and legislative work to report jointly on transversal matters. It suggested the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Oversight and Government Assurance Committee, to consider and deal with broader, transversal and cross cutting issues. It further recommended that an Oversight Advisory Section be developed to provide advice, technical support, co-ordination and tracking of issues.

The remaining amendments focused on maximising current mechanisms, appointing ad hoc committees and extending the timeframe for a response by the Executive. The procedure for the amendment of money bills, co-ordination amongst the spheres of government on oversight and increasing the capacity of committees and Members were also included in the latter portion of the Report.

Discussion
The Speaker thanked Mr Bapela for his comprehensive presentation. She observed that extensive discussions had been held on this subject and invited Members to comment.
 
Ms M Mentor (ANC) congratulated the Task Team, and remarked that the Committee had arrived at a point where it could finally adopt the model after many years of debate. Nevertheless she wondered whether Parliament should consider having an institutionalised research entity.

Mr S Tsenoli (ANC) contended that a more robust research presence was required in Parliament.

Mr Bapela clarified that chapter 7 of the Report addressed the concerns raised by the Members.

Ms Mentor observed that the proposed mechanisms afforded Parliament the opportunity to oversee compliance on international agreements. However, she was concerned that this did not extend to trade agreements.

The Chairperson reminded the Committee that this issue was a raised in a study commissioned by Parliament. She also indicated that this issue was raised sharply by SADC.

Mr I Davidson (DA) raised two issues. Firstly, he voiced concern about the extension of the timeframe for the Executive to answer questions. Secondly, he enquired what sanctions would be imposed on the Executive if they persistently failed to respond to questions.

Mr Bapela believed that 21 days were sufficient for the monitoring and tracking of questions to the Executive. He added that mechanisms could be developed to cater for situations were the Executive ignored questions asked by parliamentarians. One suggestion included the naming and shaming of the relevant member of the Executive.

Mr B Skhosana (IFP) echoed the sentiments of his colleagues and congratulated the Task Team. Also, he advised that the resourcing of Members should be a priority.

Ms G Mahlangu-Nkabinde (Deputy Speaker) acknowledged the hard work done by the Task Team. She expressed happiness that the Report gave Members the tools that they needed. She stated that conventions and protocols were brought into Parliament for ratification. However, the reporting by the state to the United Nations was left entirely in the hands of government. There was no mechanism that allowed parliament to scrutinise these reports and determine whether the conventions remained relevant.

The Chairperson recognised that a lot of time, energy and thought had gone into the Report. She mentioned that a number of issues, which were raised in the Report, were discussed in other documents. As a result, she advised that the Report be adopted in principle, and that it be correlated with other documents.

Mr Bapela remarked that all the comments were useful, and agreed that other documents need to be looked at.       

Mr Bapela listed all the people who participated in the process, and thanked them for their participation.

The Chairperson proposed that the Committee adopt the Report in principle, on condition that today’s discussions were taken into account.

The Committee unanimously adopted the Report in principle.

The meeting was adjourned.

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