In contrast to other committees of Parliament, the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings does not have specific department or entities falling within its portfolio and instead deals with Government Departments or entities to the extent that it has referred the subject matter of a petition or executive undertaking to a particular department or entity. Moreover, because the petitions and executive undertakings referred to the Committee cover a range or spectrum of issues, the Committee constantly finds itself dealing with a continuum of sectors, departments, institutions and entities.
At present, the Committee has two mandates or function, namely considering the petitions referred to it and scrutinising the implementation of executive undertakings referred to it.
Section 69 (d) of the Constitution provides that the National Council of Provinces (“NCOP”) may receive petitions, representations or submissions. What is more, Rule 103 (b) of the Rules of the NCOP stipulates that one of the general powers of all Committees of the NCOP is to receive petitions, representations or submissions from interested persons on institutions. The receipt of petitions in the NCOP in this sense, is further strengthened by the establishment of the Committee which is expressly or specifically mandated to consider the petitions referred to it. To be precise, Rules 147 to 150 of the NCOP Rules provide for the establishment the Committee and further stipulate that the core mandate of the Committee is to consider all petitions referred to the NCOP.
The mandate or function of the Committee, in this regard, is also reinforced by the following extensive powers and responsibilities:
- To refer the subject matter of a petition referred to it to the Executive or particular department or another administrative agency for further attention;
- To recommend to the NCOP any course of action it deems fit and proper; and
- To keep the petitioner informed of the decision or other course of action with regard to the petition and the reason thereof.
In summary, the Committee enables Parliament (via the NCOP) to constructively deal with petitions and further enhances Parliament’s role in the petitioning process. Put differently, the mandate or function of the Committee is to ensure that appropriate action is taken in respect of each petition accepted by Parliament and to take responsibility for ensuring the resolution of each petition that it accepts.
During the configuration of the NCOP Committees for the Fifth Parliament, the Committee was accorded the additional mandate of scrutinising and overseeing the implementation of executive undertakings made on the floor of the House, from time to time, by members of the Executive. Despite being accorded the additional mandate of scrutinising and overseeing the implementation of executive undertakings, the rules or guidelines enabling the Committee to fulfil this mandate have yet to be developed by Parliament and this has hampered (and continues to hamper) the ability of the Committee to fulfil this particular mandate. Notwithstanding the absence of such rules or guidelines, the Committee resolved, at the beginning of the Fifth Parliament, to be proactive around the development of rules or guidelines in relation to the mandate and accordingly developed and adopted a set of executive undertakings guidelines on 28 October 2015.
THE ROLE AND FUNCTIONS OF SELECT COMMITTEES
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) appoints a number of Select Committees to shadow the work of the various national government departments and to deal with Bills.
Because only 54 of the 90 NCOP Members are permanent delegates compared to the 400 of the NA, the Select Committees oversee the work of more than one national government department.
Select committees, and their subcommittees, meet whenever necessary and as determined in accordance with the Rules of the NCOP and the decisions and directives of the House Chairperson of Committees.
The select committees must report to the Council on matters referred to the committee on all decisions taken by it expect those concerning internal business
Composition in the select committees differ between whether the matter before the committee’s consideration falls under section 75 or 76 of the Constitution
Working in Committees allows Parliament to:
- Increase the amount of work that can be done
- Ensure that issues can be debated in more detail than in plenary sessions
- Increase the level of participation of Members of Parliament (MPs) in discussions
- Enable MPs to develop expertise and in-depth knowledge of the specific Committee's area of work
- Provide a platform for the public to present views directly to MPs, something which is not possible in a plenary sitting of Parliament
- Provide an environment for Parliament to hear evidence and collect information related to the work of a specific Committee
Rule 103 of the NCOP Rules (9th Edition) say that for the purposes of performing its functions committee may, subject to the Constitution, legislation, the other provisions of these rules and resolutions of the Assembly –
- Summon any person to appear before it to give evidence on oath or affirmation, or to produce documents
- Receive petitions, representations or submissions from interested persons or institutions
- Permit oral evidence on petitions, representations, submissions and any other matter before the committee
- Conduct public hearings
- Consult any Assembly or Council committee or subcommittee, or any joint committee or subcommittee
- Determine its own procedure
- Meet at a venue determined by it, which may be a venue beyond the seat of Parliament
- Meet on any and at any time, including –
- On a day which is not a working day
- On a day on which the Assembly is not sitting
- At a time when the Assembly is not sitting, or
- During a recess
- Exercise any other powers assigned to it by the Constitution, legislation, the other provisions of these rules or resolutions of the Assembly
THE DIFFERENT COMMITTEES OF PARLIAMENT
The National Assembly (NA) appoints from among its members a number of Portfolio Committees to shadow the work of the various national government departments.
Public Accounts Committees
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Public Accounts acts as Parliament's watchdog over the way taxpayers' money is spent by the Executive. Every year the Auditor-General tables reports on the accounts and financial management of the various government departments and State institutions.
Heads of government departments and institutions are regularly called by this committee to report and account for expenditure. The Committee can recommend that the National Assembly takes corrective actions if necessary.
The National Assembly has a number of internal committees that deal with matters affecting the running of Parliament. The Committees normally consist of senior Members of Parliament. The Rules Committee and its sub-committees deal with House rules, the budget of the House, support for Members, internal arrangements, and powers and privileges of members. Other internal Committees are the Programme Committee that plans the work of the Assembly, the Disciplinary Committee, and the Committee of Chairpersons.
The National Council of Provinces has its own domestic Committees. The Rules Committee and its subcommittees deal with the NCOP rules, the NCOP budget, parliamentary privileges, internal arrangements, international relations and delegated legislation. The Programme Committee plans the work of the NCOP and the Committee of Chairpersons make recommendations about the functioning of Committees and other NCOP forums.
Ad hoc Committees
Parliament or one of its Houses may appoint an ad hoc (temporary) Committee when a special task must be done. When the task is complete, the Committee is dissolved.
The National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces together appoint a number of joint committees, for example the Constitutional Review Committee.
The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence are statutory Committees. This means that they are established, by the Constitution or by an Act of Parliament, as well as in terms of the rules of Parliament.
The committees play a very important role in the process of building democracy and involving the public in the processes and activities of Parliament.
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