ATC180126: Study Tour of the Chief Whips’ Forum to Ghana and the United Kingdom from 16 to 26 January 2018
STUDY TOUR OF THE CHIEF WHIPS’ FORUM TO GHANA AND THE UNITED KINGDOM FROM 16 TO 26 JANUARY 2018
The decision to undertake a study tour to Ghana and the United Kingdom (UK) was informed by the fact that Parliament was in a continuous state of development, and members should therefore seek ways and means to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the work of the Whippery. It was hoped that the study tour would provide the Chief Whips’ Forum with an opportunity to learn from the experiences of the two Parliaments.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY TOUR
The purpose of the study tour was to enable the Forum to engage the two Parliaments on, amongst others:
- The relationship between the whips and other office bearers;
- The structure of the annual programme of the Parliaments, especially in relation to plenaries;
- How oversight over the Executive is exercised and, how in turn, the Executive accounts to Parliament;
- Mechanisms available to design, craft and oversee the budget of Parliament;
- The committee system, and how it is capacitated;
- Support given to members to carry out parliamentary and constituency work; and
- System used to determine the remuneration, tools of trade and human resource needs of members.
Furthermore, the delegation wanted to explore in detail the following issues with each Parliament:
- How chief whips and whips in Parliament operate; i.e. organisational responsibilities, institutional responsibilities and political management of the parliamentary programme;
- Relationship with the parliamentary administration;
- Relationship between parties in Parliament;
- Maintenance of decorum in the Houses of Parliament;
- Work of an MP, including support available in Parliament and constituencies; and
- Support for political parties and regulation of political party funding;
COMPOSITION OF DELEGATION
The composition of the delegation was as follows:
- Chief Whip of the Majority Party, Hon J Mthembu (Chairperson of the Forum and leader of the delegation);
- Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority Party, Hon D Dlakude;
- House Chairperson, Hon C T Frolick;
- Programming Whip, Hon F Bhengu;
- Chief Whip of the Opposition, Hon J S Steenhuissen;
- Deputy Chief of the Opposition, Hon M Waters;
- Chief Whip of the EFF, Hon F Shivambu;
- Whip of the EFF, Hon M Hlope;
- Chief Whip of the IFP, Hon N Singh;
- Whip of the NFP, Prof N M Khubisa;
- Whip of the UDM, Hon N L Kwankwa;
- Whip of the FF Plus, Dr C P Mulder;
- Whip of the ACDP, Hon C Dudley; and
- Whip of the AIC, Hon L Ntshayisa.
Two parliamentary officials, i.e. Ms Akhona Qina (International Relations and Protocol) and Mr Victor Ngaleka (NA Table), supported the delegation.
STUDY TOUR TO THE PARLIAMENT OF GHANA
Courtesy visit to the South African High Commission in Accra
Upon their arrival in Ghana on 16 January 2018, the South African High Commissioner to Ghana, Ms L Xingwana, in Accra, welcomed the delegation. It was agreed that the delegation would pay a courtesy visit to her office the following day.
On 17 January 2018, the High Commissioner and her staff briefed the delegation on the state of bilateral relations between Ghana and South Africa. She said that the bilateral political relations between the two countries were very good, with each country maintaining residential diplomatic missions in each other’s capital. There had been a number of visits by high-level delegations from South Africa to Ghana, including the following:
- Premier of the Gauteng Province, Mr D Makhura, from 28 to 31 May 2017;
- Premier of the Western Cape, Ms H Zille, from 6 to 10 August 2017; and
- Minister of Science and Technology, Ms N Pandor, together with the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr L Landers, from 21 to 25 August 2017.
According to the High Commissioner, Ghana was the second largest economy in the West African Region, after Nigeria. Its major sources of foreign currency included gold, timber, cocoa and oil.
There were about 100 South African companies participating in the economy of Ghana. These companies were prevalent in mining, retail, insurance, transport, tourism, banking, telecommunications, construction, franchising, manifesting, advertising, fishing, aviation and energy. She mentioned well-known names like First National Bank, Standard Bank, AngloGold, Gold Fields, MTN, Telkom, Woolworths, MultiChoice, Pick ‘n Pay and Shoprite. It was estimated that there more 100 South African companies operating in Ghana.
The Chief Whip of the Majority Party informed the High Commissioner and her staff that one of the reasons for the study tour was to learn from countries that have traversed the democratic road for many years considering that South Africa was a young democracy. Hence the decision to visit Ghana to learn from the experiences of the Parliament of Ghana. The second leg of the study tour would be a visit to the United Kingdom.
The High Commissioner informed the delegation that one of the biggest problems that they encountered in the course of their work was with visas. Many people applied for visas to visit South Africa, but when they get there, they do not want to return and it was difficult to track them down. They hoped that Parliament would help to tighten up this area of their work.
The High Commissioner committed the Deputy High Commissioner to accompany the delegation at all times during their visit in Ghana.
Meeting with Mr E Djetror: Director of the Table Staff of Parliament of Ghana
The delegation was initially scheduled to meet the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament on 17 January 2018, but was, however, informed that they would instead meet with Mr E Djetror, the Director of the Table staff. The meeting with the First Deputy Speaker was rescheduled for 20 January 2018.
The High Commissioner joined the delegation at the meeting with Mr Djetror.
Mr Djetror’s presentation focussed on the structure of the parliamentary programme, mechanisms available to exercise oversight over the Executive and the voting system in the House.
Form of government
The form of government in Ghana was a combination of the presidential and Westminster systems. The voters directly elected the President; however, constituencies elected members of Parliament.
The President was the head of state and executive powers were vested in him/her. The Constitution required the President to appoint the majority of members of the Cabinet from amongst the members of Parliament; however, their appointment was subject to the prior approval of Parliament. According to Mr Djetror, Presidents have avoided embarrassments in instances where it was apparent that Parliament might not grant approval, by simply withdrawing the impugned name before it was forwarded to the House or voted for in Parliament.
Election of Speaker
At its first sitting after an election, one of the first items of business transacted by Parliament was the election of the Speaker. Once the Speaker was elected, he/she vacated their seat if they were a Member of Parliament. Furthermore, a convention in Ghana was that the Speaker vacates any office that he/she holds in his or her party, although he or she may remain a member of the party. He stated that it was difficult to remove a sitting Speaker as it required a three quarters majority to remove him or her.
Parliamentary calendar, role of the Speaker and other office-bearers
The determination of the parliamentary calendar is rooted in the fundamental law of Ghana, i.e. the Constitution. Article 112 of the Constitution provides the Speaker with the power to determine where and when a session of Parliament would take place, subject to other provisions of the Constitution. It further states that a session of Parliament must be held at least once a year in such a manner that the period between the last sitting of Parliament in one session and the first sitting in the next session does not amount to more than twelve months. However, if fifteen percent of members of Parliament requested a meeting of Parliament, the Speaker was obliged, within seven days after receipt of the request, to summon Parliament to a sitting.
Although the Speaker had the power to determine when Parliament was convened, he/she took his/her cue from the politicians, especially the Leader of the Governing Party. In addition, informal consultations took place in order to sensitise the Speaker to the priorities of the politicians. These consultations took place at a Leadership Forum where the Speaker, the First Deputy Speaker, the Second Deputy Speaker, the Majority and Minority Leaders and their deputies, the Chief Whips of the Majority and Minority parties and their deputies met behind the scenes to agree on a programme for Parliament. Based on that agreement, the Speaker would then give notice of a sitting in the Government Gazette.
Mr Djetror explained that the Majority Leader, designated by his/her party, was the overall political head and spokesperson for his party or parties, in a coalition government. Similarly, the Minority Leader played the same role for the opposition party or parties, if in partnership with other opposition parties. The Chief Whips, both the Majority and Minority, played the same role as chief whips in the Westminster system, which was to ensure the attendance of their members in the House, ensure discipline and determine the participation of members in the proceedings of the House.
Structure of the parliamentary programme
During the discussions, it became clear that the interactions on the programming of the business of Parliament took place informally and operated more as a convention or parliamentary practice. Mr Djetror acknowledged that the informal nature of the consultations created administrative hiccups for the management of the processes by the administrative staff. The situation sometimes created tensions between the Speakership and the leadership of political parties, especially the governing party.
The delegation informed Mr Djetror that in South Africa, there are formal structures such as the Chief Whips’ Forum, which acts as a consultative body amongst political parties regarding the political management of the business of the National Assembly. In addition, the National Assembly Programme Committee made decisions regarding the programming of the business of the House.
The delegation was informed that in Ghana, the Business Committee, which was chaired by the Majority Leader, determined the business of each sitting of Parliament, and the order in which it must be taken without prejudice to the power of the Speaker to determine which matters may properly be introduced in the House at any time. The Business Committee was established in terms of Standing Order 160, and has twenty-one members, including the Majority Leader and his/her deputy, the Minority Leader and his/her deputy, the Chief Whips and their deputies, and other members.
Mr Djetror indicated that there was a process to review the rules of Parliament, and the status of this informal arrangement in respect of the parliamentary programme might be addressed by the rules.
In relation to voting, the Constitution provides that matters must be decided upon by an open vote except where Parliament is considering a bill amending the Constitution. Where voting is in relation to the election or removal of a person from office as provided for in the Constitution or any other law, voting is done through secret ballot.
Although there are facilities for electronic voting, they were not being used. The reasons were largely political.
Oversight over the Budget
In relation to the budget, Parliament exercised its power over the purse with regard to the budget of the state, including that of the Presidency, the Judiciary and Parliament. Oversight over the national budget was done through the portfolio committees of Parliament, including the Portfolio Committee on Finance. There is no committee dedicated to exercise oversight over the budget of the Presidency.
Oversight over the Executive
Mr Djetror informed the delegation that Ministers of State were required to answer questions in the House. The Business Committee determined the date by which Ministers were to appear before the House. The Ministers were expected to transmit their replies to questions, including questions for oral reply, before they appear in the House. If a Minister failed to appear on the date on which he/she was supposed to answer questions, the Constitution provided the House with the power to pass a vote of censure in the Minister. However, matters have not reached a stage yet where the House had to use this mechanism. The requirement was that the motion of censure in the Minister had to be supported by no less than two-thirds of the members present in the House.
Removal of President
Although the voters directly elected the President, he/she may be removed or impeached by Parliament. Article 69(1) of the Constitution regulates such a removal or impeachment process. It provides that the President may be removed from office if he/she:
- wilfully violated the oath of allegiance and the presidential oath or any other provision of the Constitution;
- conducted himself/herself in a manner which brings or is likely to bring the office of the President into disrepute, ridicule or contempt; or
- conducted himself/herself in a manner prejudicial or inimical to the economy or the security of the State.
It further provides for the removal of the President on the grounds of being incapable of performing the functions of his/her office because of infirmity of body or mind.
In order to trigger the process of removing a President, a written notice must be signed by no less than one-third of all the members of Parliament stating that the conduct or mental capacity of the President should be investigated on any of the grounds listed in clause (1) of Article 69, and it must be given to the Speaker. If the notice complied with the provisions of the Constitution, the Speaker must immediately inform the Chief Justice and deliver to him/her the written notice, copied to the President.
The Chief Justice has, after receipt of the written notice, to immediately convene a tribunal consisting of the Chief Justice as Chairperson, and the most senior Justices of the Supreme Court. The tribunal has to inquire, in camera, whether a prima facie case for the removal of the President has been made. The President is entitled during the proceedings of the tribunal to be heard in his/her defence by himself/herself or a lawyer of his/her own choice.
Where the tribunal has determined that a prima facie case for the removal of the President has been made, the findings must immediately be submitted to the Speaker and copied to the President. Parliament must, within fourteen days after the date of the findings of the tribunal, move a resolution whether or not the President must be removed from office. The resolution must be taken by secret ballot and must be supported by not less than two-thirds majority of all the members present in the House.
Furthermore, the Constitution provides for the investigation of the conduct of the President and other public officer-bearers by the Human Rights Commission of Ghana.
The other route, which the Constitution provides for the impeachment of a President, is by way of a commission of inquiry.
Mr Djetror informed the delegation that no President has ever been removed through these means.
In terms of the Constitution, a sitting President may not be prosecuted while in office, and may only be prosecuted three years after they had left office.
Meeting with the First Deputy Chief Whip of the Minority: Mr Ibrahim Ahmed
The delegation met with Mr Ibrahim Ahmed, the First Deputy Chief Whip of the Minority, on 17 January 2018. In the previous Parliament, whose term ended at the end of 2017, Mr Ahmed was the Second Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority, i.e. the governing party. He informed the delegation that he had been in Parliament for 10 years.
Leadership structure of Parliament
The Parliament of Ghana had 275 members, who were elected for a parliamentary term of 4 years. The Fourth Republic was now in its 25th year, and it has been running uninterrupted since 1993.
The leadership structure of the Ghanaian Parliament was as follows:
- First Deputy Speaker, from the Majority;
- Second Deputy Speaker, from the Minority;
- Majority Leader;
- Deputy Majority Leader;
- Minority Leader;
- Deputy Minority Leader;
- Chief Whip of the Majority;
- First Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority;
- Second Deputy Chief Whip of the Majority;
- Chief Whip of the Minority;
- First Deputy Chief Whip of the Minority; and
- Second Deputy Chief Whip of the Minority.
The Speakership was made up of the Speaker and two deputies. As indicated above, the Speaker relinquished his/her seat in Parliament, if he/she was a member.
The Speaker presides over Parliament and enforces the observance of the Standing Orders. He or she does not have a deliberative or casting vote, and is required to be non-partisan. A decision of the Speaker was not appealable on any point and was not reviewable by the House, except upon a substantive motion made after notice.
The First Deputy Speaker was elected from the governing party, while the Second Deputy Speaker was elected from the opposition. The Deputy Speakers do not relinquish their parliamentary seats, like the Speaker, after their election and continue to hold whatever offices they held in their parties.
The Majority Leader is elected from the political party that holds the majority of seats in the House. A Deputy Majority Leader assists the Majority Leader in the performance of his/her duties. The Speaker is required to consult the Majority and Minority Leaders on the business of the House and other important issues.
The Minority Leader was elected from the second largest political party in Parliament. Like the Majority Leader, a Deputy Minority Leader assisted the Minority Leader in the performance of his/her duties.
The governing party and the opposition designate the Chief Whips and their deputies for appointment by the Speaker, and they are the only whips in Parliament. In the parliamentary hierarchy, the Chief Whip is third in line after the Party Leader. He/she has two deputies. This applies to both sides of the House.
Excluding the Speaker, the leadership of the institution is equally split between the governing party/parties and the opposition.
Role of Chief Whips
The overall role of a Chief Whip was to manage his or her party’s participation in the business of Parliament, and to perform certain duties in relation to the proceedings of the House.
The Chief Whips also performed, amongst others, the following specific functions:
- arranging the business to be transacted by Parliament;
- moving major formal procedural motions in Parliament;
- ensuring the presence of their members in the House and their participation in debates;
- maintaining good working relations with the whips of other political parties;
- allocating seating places to members and members of the Executive in the House;
- monitoring the performance of members; and
- ensuring party discipline with regard to quorums in the House and committees.
To ensure discipline, the Chief Whips use the power to withdraw benefits. The benefits include being allocated to popular parliamentary committees or refusing to use a member’s specialised skill in Parliament.
The duty of the Chief Whip of the Majority is to ensure that government business is carried out, whilst the role of the Chief Whip of the Minority is to counter the government business or have their say on the matter.
It was the duty of the Chief Whip of the Majority to monitor the performance of members of the Executive on the floor. If a member of the Executive performed consistently poorly, the Chief Whip might inform the party leadership about his or her performance.
Mr Ahmed informed the delegation that the salary of the Chief Whip is higher than the salary of a Minister of the State.
With respect to capacitation, he said that there was a standing order, which provided that Chief Whips must undertake study tours to upgrade their law-making abilities and political management skills.
The office of the Chief Whip was allocated a budget which ranged between $30 000 to $35 000. Every Member of Parliament was allocated a research assistant, and the leadership was further allocated a secretariat.
Parliament made no provision for constituencies.
Language of proceedings
In relation to the language of proceedings, the Standing Orders provided that the proceedings of Parliament must ordinarily be conducted in English, except that a member may exercise the option of addressing the House in any of the nine local Ghanaian languages provided facilities exist in the House for its interpretation. As for now, the facilities do not exist. It is therefore incumbent on the speaker to provide the translation himself or herself, but there was a process to review the Standing Orders.
Electoral system and members’ dress code
Ghana does not operate on a proportional electoral system, and therefore time is allocated equally to both sides of the House.
In relation to dress code, a member could wear traditional attire or formal wear. Formal wear would be worn with a tie, and the objective was to promote traditional attire.
Visit to the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum
The delegation also visited the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park on 17 January 2018, both of which are located in Accra, the capital of Ghana.
The Park is built on a former British polo field, and is the place where President Nkrumah declared Ghana’s independence in 1957. It consists of five acres of land and houses a museum tracing the life of President Nkrumah. There are personal items on display, but the centrepiece is the Mausoleum. It is the final resting place for President Nkrumah and his wife.
President Nkrumah died of skin cancer in April 1972 at the age of 62 in Bucharest, Romania, where he had gone for medical treatment in August 1971.
He was buried in a tomb in the village of his birth, Nkroful, Ghana. While the tomb remains in Nkroful, his remains were transferred to a large national memorial tomb and park in Accra.
The Mausoleum is meant to represent an upside down sword, which in Akan culture is a symbol of peace. It is clad from top to bottom with Italian marble, with a black star at its apex to symbolise unity. The interior of the Mausoleum boasts marble flooring and a mini mastaba looking marble grave marker surrounded by river washed rocks.
The Mausoleum is surrounded by water that is a symbol of life. Its presence conveys a sense of immortality in respect of the name of President Nkrumah.
Meeting with the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament: Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu
On Saturday, 18 January 2018, the delegation met with the First Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu.
Decolonisation and independence
The Gold Coast, now Ghana, became a colony of Britain in 1867. President Kwame Nkrumah led the anti-colonial struggle of the Gold Coast for independence from Britain.
In 1950, President Nkrumah began a campaign of civil obedience that involved non-violent protests, boycotts, strikes and non-cooperation with the British colonial authorities. The colonial police often responded with violence. He was arrested and imprisoned, and while in jail, he smuggled letters out to his supporters giving them direction on the struggle.
In 1957, the Gold Coast obtained its independence and became the state now called Ghana, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to shake off colonial rule, inspiring liberation struggles in the continent. Kwame Nkrumah became its prime minister. It became a republic in 1960, and Nkrumah its first President.
Ghana became a one-party state in 1964. In 1966, President Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup.
Between 1966 and 1992, military rule was interspersed with civilian rule. There were five military coups in this period, which together amounts to 18 years of military rule. There were two periods of civilian rule in the same period, which add up to five years.
Since 1992, Ghana has been under civilian rule without interruption.
From military rule to democratic government
The First Deputy Speaker informed the delegation that after 11 years of military rule a new Constitution was approved in a referendum in April 1992. Presidential elections were held in November 1992 that resulted in the election of Mr Jerry Rawlings, leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), as President. The opposition contested the results and boycotted the parliamentary elections that were held in December 1992. The Fourth Republic was inaugurated on 7 January 1993. The relationships between the parties were very acrimonious at the time.
Improving relations among political parties
Since those acrimonious years, Parliament has sought to pursue consensus as a means of nation building. As a result, the House does not recognise parties. It simply refers to the party with the largest amount of seats in Parliament as the majority, and those in the opposition as simply the minority. The acrimony has noticeably changed over time.
Election of Speaker and Deputy Speakers
He also reiterated that the House elected the Speaker, and on his/her election, he/she vacated his/her seat. Then two deputy Speakers were elected by Parliament. One was elected from the majority and the other from the minority.
Freedom of speech
The Constitution and the Standing Orders provide absolute freedom of speech in debates and proceedings in Parliament. Freedom of speech may not be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside of Parliament. Article 116 provides members with immunity from proceeding for acts done by members in Parliament. The Constitution provides that no civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against a Member of Parliament in any court or place outside of Parliament for any matter or thing brought by him before Parliament in the form of a petition, bill or motion or otherwise.
A member was also protected from civil or criminal processes from any court or place outside of Parliament while on his/her way to, attending at, or returning from, any proceedings of Parliament.
Convening sittings of the House, party funding and oversight over the President
He informed the delegation that the Parliament usually had about 120 sittings a year. It was relatively easy for members to cause a sitting of Parliament to be convened. The Constitution only requires that 15 percent of members should sign a petition calling the Speaker to convene a sitting. The Speaker was obliged to convene a sitting within seven days from the date of receipt of the petition.
According to the First Deputy Speaker, a member who was elected on a party ticket, but who left his/her party must resign his/her seat and get a fresh mandate from his/her constituency.
With regard to party funding, the First Deputy Speaker indicated that there was no public funding of parties and there appeared to be no public support for such a move in Ghana.
The President does not appear before the House to answer questions. He accounted for the allocations made to his/her office through his/her Ministers. He noted that Parliament had the power to censure Ministers.
Visit to the Cape Coast of Ghana
On Friday, 19 January 2018, the delegation visited the Cape Coast Castle, which is one of about forty slave castles built on the 500 kilometre long coastline of Ghana between Keta in the East and Beyin in the West, by European traders. It was initially built by the Swedes for trade in timber and gold, but later used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Other Ghanaian slave castles include Elmina Castle and Fort Christiansburg. These were used to hold slaves before they were loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas. The “gate of no return” was the last stop before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
When trade in slaves became the principal item traded in Cape Coast, changes were made to the Cape Coast Castle, which included the building of underground dungeons that could hold as many as a thousand slaves awaiting export. Many European nations flocked to the Cape Coast in order to get a foothold in the slave trade. Business was very competitive and often resulted in conflicts. For this reason, the Cape Coast Castle changed hands many times during the course of its commercial history.
The underground dungeons were places of terror, death and blackness. Their conditions stood in direct juxtaposition to the European living quarters which epitomised relative luxury.
The Castle’s involvement with slavery eventually stopped when Britain banned slave trade.
When Ghana gained independence in 1957, the ownership of the Cape Coast Castle was transferred to the new government and subsequently to the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board. The Castle underwent considerable restoration work in the early 1990s, and is currently a well visited museum and historical site.
STUDY TOUR TO HOUSE OF COMMONS IN ENGLAND
Courtesy Visit to the South African High Commission in London
On 22 January 2018, the delegation paid a courtesy visit to the Office of the South African High Commission in London. The Acting High Commissioner, Mr G A Neswiswi, welcomed the delegation at South Africa House. He indicated that the office of the High Commission is responsible for the development, coordination and maintenance of South Africa’s bilateral relations with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. At the time of the courtesy visit to the High Commission, the position of the High Commissioner was vacant.
He briefed the delegation on recent political developments in the UK. The UK continues to face a period of uncertainty and complexity as they come to terms with the consequences of Britain’s vote five months ago to leave the European Union. The process of how and when the UK leaves and the nature of the post-Brexit UK-EU relationship remains significant unknowns.
The referendum was immediately followed by a snap election, which produced a hung Parliament. The Conservative Party negotiated a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to form a coalition government.
In December 2017, the government suffered a defeat in the House of Commons after members of Parliament voted for an amendment to the “Withdrawal Bill”, which, if passed, would give Parliament more say in the final decision to withdraw from the EU.
The United Kingdom and South Africa have had a long history, which includes a shared language (English) and cultural links, similar system of law and finance and a shared interest in promoting trade and a rules-based international system. There are also large numbers of South Africans living in the UK as there are large numbers of British citizens and people of British descent living in South Africa.
In 1997, the South African – United Kingdom Bilateral Forum was founded to promote South Africa - UK relations by serving as a forum for the two countries to meet on a bi-annual basis to enhance economic and political relations. Top government officials from both countries often meet through this forum to discuss matters of mutual concern. The last meeting of the Bilateral Forum was in 2015, and the next one is scheduled to take place in 2018.
The High Commission provides diplomatic services, including immigration services. It does not provide civic services. One of the problems faced by the High Commission relates to staff attrition due to posts being frozen. The unintended consequence of the freezing of posts has been the impact on the turn-around time for provision of consular services.
The delegation decided that it would visit the offices of the Department of Home Affairs to satisfy itself on the nature and quality of services it provided.
Meeting with Head of the Overseas Office: Mr Mathew Hamlyn
The first meeting of the delegation at the House of Commons, (the Commons) was with Mr M Hamlyn, Head of the Overseas Office, on 22 January 2018. Mr Hamlyn gave an overview of the Westminster Parliamentary System.
Overview of Westminster Parliamentary System
The House of Commons was the lower House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper House, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of the Westminster.
The major functions of the House of Commons were to scrutinise government business and pass budgets – functions also carried out by the House of Lords.
The Commons was an elected body consisting of 650 members, who were elected by constituencies in terms of the first-past-the-post electoral system and held their seats until Parliament was dissolved. The House of Lords is not elected.
The Speaker was the chief officer and the highest authority of the House of Commons and is required to be politically impartial at all times. On his or her election, the new Speaker was required to resign from their political party and remain separate from political issues even in retirement. However, he/she dealt with his/her constituent’s problems like a normal member. Speakers still stood in general elections. They were generally unopposed by the major political parties, who did not field a candidate in the Speaker’s constituency, this included the original constituency they were a member of. During a general election, a Speaker did not campaign on any political issues but simply stood as “the Speaker seeking re-election.”
The current Speaker was John Bercow, who was initially elected in June 2009. The Speaker represents the Commons at meetings with the Monarch, the Lords and other authorities. He/she chairs debates in the Commons Chamber, and has authority to make sure members follow the rules of the House during debates. This can include:
- Directing an MP to withdraw remarks if, for example, they use abusive language;
- Suspending the sitting of the House due to serious disorder;
- Suspending MPs who are deliberately disobedient – known as naming; and
- Asking MPs to be quiet so Members can be heard.
Management of the House of Commons
The House of Commons Commission governs and manages the House of Commons. It was made up of MPs, and was chaired by the Speaker. The Commission was responsible for the non-executive governance of the House, whilst the day-to-day management of the Commons was delegated to the Commons Executive Board.
In the last elections, in June 2017, the Conservative Party was returned to office as the largest party with 317 seats, but failed to achieve a working majority in the Commons. The Labour Party received 262 seats, the Scottish National Party 35, the Liberal Democrats 12 and other 24. There were 8 parties represented in the Commons, and one Independent MP. There were currently 208 women MPs, which represents 31% of the total number of members in the Commons.
The 2017 election resulted, therefore, in a hung Parliament. The Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party reached an agreement, which allowed the Conservative Party to form a minority government.
Although Parliament does not formally elect the Prime Minister, the position of the parties in the Commons was of overriding importance when it came to constituting a new government. By convention, the Prime Minister is answerable to, and must retain the support, of the Commons. Thus, whenever the office of the Prime Minister was vacant, the Queen appoints the person who has the support of the Commons, or who is likely to command the support of the Commons. Normally, the leader of the largest party in the Commons was appointed the Prime Minister, while the leader of the second largest party became the Leader of the Opposition.
The Commons may indicate its lack of support for the government by rejecting a motion of confidence or by passing a motion of no confidence. When a government has lost the confidence of the Commons, the Prime Minister resigned, making way for another member who could command confidence, or request the Queen to dissolve Parliament, thereby precipitating a general election.
By convention, all ministers must be members of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords. The vast majority of ministers however belong to the Commons rather than the Lords.
Holding the Executive accountable
The Commons holds the Executive accountable through questions to members of the Executive, including the Prime Minister. Other mechanisms used to hold the Executive accountable were debates and votes. The Prime Minister’s Questions Time took place once a week, normally for half an hour each Wednesday.
There were opportunities to question other members of the Cabinet. Questions should relate to the responding minister’s official government activities, not to his or her activities as a party leader or as a private Member of Parliament. Customarily, members of the governing party and members of the opposition alternated when asking questions. In addition to questions asked orally during Question Time, Members may also make inquiries from Ministers in writing.
Question time (on a rotating basis is to different government departments) has a fixed slot at the start of the sitting on Mondays to Thursdays.
Legislative matters, sittings of the House and time limits
With regard to the passing of legislation, bills may be introduced in either House, though bills of importance are generally introduced in the House of Commons. The Parliament Act ensures the supremacy of the Commons in legislative matters, under which certain types of bills may be presented to the Queen for Royal Assent without the consent of the House of Lords. Concerning money bills, the Lords may not delay a money bill for more than one month.
The sittings of the Commons were open to the public, but the House may at any time vote to sit in a closed session, which has occurred only twice since 1950. In general, the Commons sit for around 150 days a year as follows:
Monday 02:30pm – 10:30pm
Tuesday/ Wednesday 11:30am - 07:30pm
Thursday 09:30am – 05:30pm
[Some Fridays 09:30am – 02:30pm]
The Standing Orders of the Commons do not establish any formal time limits for debates. The time set for a debate on a particular motion is, however, often limited by informal agreements between parties. In the past, a debate used to be restricted by the passage of “Allocation of Time Motions”, which are more commonly known as “Guillotine Motions”. Alternatively, the House may put an immediate end to a debate by passing a motion to invoke “Closure”. The Speaker would, however, deny the motion if he or she believes that it infringes upon the rights of the minority. Today, bills are scheduled according to a Timetable Motion, to which the whole House agrees in advance, negating the use of a guillotine.
The House of Commons does not have a “Bureau, or Business” which arranges the parliamentary business. The business was usually arranged through what is termed “the usual channels”. The key to arranging the timetable was Standing Order 14 on the “Arrangement and Timing of Public and Private Business”, and particularly Standing Order 14(1), which states that “Save as provided in this order, government business shall have precedence at every sitting” subject to the scrutiny of the members of the House, especially the opposition. This enabled the government to ensure that its business can be dealt with in the House.
According to Erskine May, ‘the usual channels” in the Commons comprise the government Chief Whip and the Chief Whip from the main opposition party. However, there were others who were involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiation of the timetable. A wider definition of the usual channels might include:
- Government Chief Whip (a cabinet member);
- Opposition Chief Whip;
- Private Secretary to the Government Chief Whip (a civil servant);
- Leader of the House (a cabinet member); and
- Opposition Leader of the House.
There were regular weekly meetings of the key figures to discuss arrangement of business, and daily contact to deal with ongoing issues, but all of these discussions tended to take place on a bilateral basis. At the start of the week, the proposed business for the subsequent fortnight is agreed by the government “business managers” (Leader of the House and Chief Whip). Once agreed this is discussed with the Opposition Chief Whip and separately with the other opposition parties and may occasionally be amended in the light of comments. It is then shown to the Shadow Cabinet and announced to the government backbench members. Behind the scenes, the Private Secretary to the Government Chief Whip does much of the negotiation, and all discussions are bilateral. There is no forum where representatives of all the parties in the House discuss the business together, until it is formally announced.
Mr Hamlyn informed the delegation that there was a Select Committee for each government department, scrutinising three aspects:
- Policies; and
The Select Committees have a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence. They report their findings to the House, and the government usually has 60 days to reply to their recommendations.
The composition of select committees generally reflects the party balance in the House. The Committee on Selection has traditionally done the nomination of members to such committees. When there was a Government majority, the governing party would have a majority on all such committees. In September 2017, however, the House agreed to establish a new Committee, the Selection Committee. The House instructed the Selection Committee to give the Government a majority on public bills and delegated legislation committees that had an odd number of members. This was a consequence of the agreement reached between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party in 2017.
Some Select Committees had a role that cut across departmental boundaries such as the Public Accounts or Environmental Audit Committees. Depending on the issue under consideration, they could look at any or all the government departments.
If a division was called in the House while select committees were meeting, the meetings were suspended for the duration of the division.
Since 1999, the House of Commons has held debates in a parallel debating Chamber, known as “Westminster Hall”. The Chamber was used for debates on issues raised by backbench members, on select committee reports and on subjects selected by the Backbench Business Committee and on e-petitions.
If a division was called in the House during a Westminster Hall sitting, the sitting was suspended for the duration of the division and “injury time” was added at the end of the debate.
A member of the Panel of Chairs presides over sittings at Westminster Hall. In exceptional circumstances, a Deputy Speaker may chair a sitting.
Meeting with the Chief Whip of the SNC: Mr Patrick Grady
On 22 January 2018, the delegation met with Mr Patrick Grady, the Chief Whip of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the House of Commons. He was appointed to the position in June 2017. The SNP is the third largest party in the Commons, behind the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.
Scottish Parliament and the SNP
Scotland had a strong tradition of solidarity with the struggle against apartheid. One of the squares in Scotland was named after President Nelson Mandela.
With the establishment of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999, the SNP became the second largest party, serving two terms as the opposition. It gained political power at the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, forming a minority government. In 2011, it won a majority by 69 seats in the Scottish Parliament election, and went on to form its first majority government.
In the last election in 2015, the SNP won 63 seats out of 129 in the Scottish Parliament, but fell short by 2 seats from forming a second consecutive majority government. It remained the largest political party in Scotland, where it has the most seats in the Scottish Parliament. The party formed a minority government.
At the United Kingdom general election in 2017, the SNP underperformed compared to 2015 by losing 21 seats to bring their number of Westminster members down to 35. This has affected their representation in the select committees.
In the last referendum on Scottish Independence, the SNP campaigned for a yes vote in support of the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom. It lost the vote by gaining 45 % of the vote in favour of independence.
Business of Parliament
He informed the delegation that most of the power in the House lies with the governing party, and therefore it drives the business of Parliament. The Labour Party, as the second largest party, has a significant say in the processing of the business of Parliament. As the Chief Whip of the third largest political party, his role is to ensure the participation of his party and members in the business of the House.
As the third largest party, he participates at the “usual channels”, which are bilateral dialogues between the parties. The effect of that is that the system is more like a game of chess. As the smaller parties, they would be in favour of a more transparent and formal structure where decisions are made.
In June 2017, the House of Commons passed a resolution to give the Conservative Party a majority in the select committees. In this manoeuvre, it was supported by the DUP. The effect of that resolution was that the composition of committees no longer reflects the proportion of seats that the governing party has in the House.
As the third largest party in the Commons, they are guaranteed slots to ask questions during the Prime Minister’s Question Time and Questions to the Ministers. The procedure is that if there are fifteen questions to be asked, the responsibility of the Speaker is to ensure that there was a fair spread across parties, but the slots are split equally between the government side and the opposition side.
During divisions, the role of the Chief Whip is to ensure that members are informed properly about how they should vote and to check that all party members have voted.
Meeting with the Chair and Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on South Africa: Chair Roger Godsiff
On 22 January 2018, the delegation met with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on South Africa (the Group), which was led by its chairperson, Mr Roger Godsiff. The membership of the Group is drawn from both Houses. The meeting was joined by Peter Hain, a member of the House of Lords.
Purpose of the Group and strengthening relations
He informed the delegation that the purpose of the Group was to improve links between the United Kingdom and South Africa, and to provide a forum for discussion of South Africa in the UK Parliament. The Group was keen to discuss with South Africans matters of mutual interests.
It was their view that South Africa would be of importance to the UK when it leaves the European Union.
In the past they used to meet with the South African High Commission in London, but the last meeting was three years ago, in July 2015. The challenge has been that each time they had scheduled a meeting; the SA High Commission has cancelled on the eve of the meeting.
It was the view of the delegation that South Africa would need to strengthen ties with those who were advocating stronger links between the UK and South Africa, especially in the light of Brexit.
Mr Hain informed the delegation that he was a visiting Professor at the Wits Business School. While in Johannesburg, he met a group of ANC veterans who put him in touch with whistle blowers. The whistle blowers are all South Africans. They provided him with information, which seemed to disclose money laundering. He forwarded the information to the UK regulatory bodies.
The Chief Whip of the Majority Party informed the Group that the Commission of Inquiry, which was recommended by the Public Protector, has, after a long delay, been announced by the President. The announcement of the appointment of the Commission comes after the recent changes in the leadership of the ANC following the elective conference held in December 2017. The changes have created an enabling environment for the law enforcement institutions to do their work. He said that this would complement and strengthen the work done by the UK investigating bodies.
Mr Hain noted that a vibrant opposition and resurgent civil society would make sure that no government in power would be complacent.
Meeting with the Chairperson of the Petitions Committee: Ms Helen Jones
The delegation met the Chairperson of the Petitions Committee, Ms Helen Jones, on 23 January 2018. She was elected as Chair of the Committee in June 2017. She informed the delegation that the Petitions Committee was set up by the House of Commons to process e-petitions submitted to the website - petitions.parliament.uk. The Committee was made up of 11 backbench members from the Government and opposition parties.
Powers and functions of the Petitions Committee
The Petitions Committee can:
- Ask for more information in writing – from petitioners, the Government, or relevant people or organisations;
- Ask for more information in person – from petitioners, the Government, or relevant people or organisations (this might be in Parliament or somewhere else in the UK);
- Write to the Government or another public authority to press for action on a petition;
- Ask another parliamentary committee to look into the topic raised by a petition;
- Put forward petitions for debate in the House of Commons.
Rule requirements and processing of petitions
An e-petition has to ask for a specific action from the Government or the House of Commons and should be about something, which the Government or the Commons was responsible for. The mere submission of an e-petition did not mean that the Committee would be able to take action on every petition. It would use its judgement about which petitions to consider, and what action is appropriate for each e-petition. Petitions that did not comply with the requirements of the rules were not considered.
A petition needed to be supported by at least six people before it was published on the petitions site for other people to sign. An e-petition stays open on the e-petition website for six months.
If 10 000 petitioners signed an e-petition, the Government was required to give a response to the issue raised by the petitioners.
The Committee would consult the relevant select committee (formally or informally) before referring a petition, to find out whether the committee would be likely to take action because of the referral.
The Committee has the power to schedule a petition or petitions for debate in Westminster Hall on Mondays from 4:30pm, for up to three hours. The Committee would take into account the following factors when deciding which petitions should be debated:
- The number of signatures, with a presumption that a petition with 100 000 signatures or more should be debated;
- The subject has recently been debated or is likely to be debated in the near future;
- The Committee (or another parliamentary or government body) has decided to pursue the issue in another way;
- The subject is unsuitable for debate in Parliament;
- Topicality, including the breadth of interest among members;
- Whether the subject is likely to be debated in Parliament by other means.
In practice, this meant that most petitions with over 100 000 signatures were debated, whether in the Committee’s time at Westminster or otherwise. Other petitions, with fewer signatures, may be debated if they were topical and there was widespread support from members across the House for a debate.
The Committee would consider requesting time for debate in the main Chamber from the Backbench Business Committee in the following circumstances:
- A petition has reached a 100 000 signatures;
- There is evidence of interest from a large number of members, on a cross party basis;
- A clear point of debate has emerged, which would be suitable for a substantive motion; and
- The subject is not likely to be debated by other means.
In a case where a select committee was already inquiring into a subject matter of the petition, the Committee would refer the petition to the select committee.
Meeting with the Government Chief Whip: Mr Julian Smith
The Government Chief Whip, Mr Julian Smith, met the delegation on 22 January 2018. Mr Roy Stone CBE, Principal Private Secretary to the Government Chief Whip, accompanied him. He is a civil servant that acts as “the Usual Channels”.
Role and function of Government Chief Whip
The Chief Whip was generally a senior government minister who, if not a member of the Cabinet, would attend Cabinet meetings. The Deputy Chief Whip and a team of other whips supported him/her.
The primary role of the Chief Whip was to get the Government’s business through Parliament, and particularly to secure the Government’s majority in votes on its legislative and policy programs. The duties of the Chief Whip included:
- Keeping members informed of the forthcoming parliamentary business;
- Maintaining the party’s voting strength by ensuring members attend important debates and support their party in parliamentary divisions; and
- Passing on to the party leadership the opinions of backbench members.
The main tools of the Chief Whip to attain his/her goals were the management of the members’ attendance and the persuasion of recalcitrant members to vote with the government. This required that whips be good personnel managers. There was certainly an important element of carrot as well as stick in the way the Chief Whip persuaded members, including offering positions on popular select committees in return for loyalty in the division lobbies.
In order to minimise the need to persuade backbench members to support the government, the Chief Whip also advised the Cabinet about the likely acceptability of its legislative proposal to the parliamentary caucus. The Chief Whip not only operates as an important link between the government and the parliamentary caucus, he/she also provided a link between the government and the opposition parties and other important figures within Parliament. These relationships were often referred to as the “usual channels”.
According to Erskine May, the authoritative guide to parliamentary procedure, the Chief Whip:
“… is concerned with mapping out the time of the session, for applying in detail the Government’s programme for business, for estimating the time likely to be required for each item, and for arranging the business of the individual sitting. In drawing up the programme he is limited to a certain extent by the standing orders, which allot a modicum of time to private Members; and by statute law or standing orders, which require, or may require, certain business to be completed by specified dates; as well as by certain convention which make it obligatory upon him to consult the Whips of opposition parties, even to put down items for their selection. In carrying out his duties, he is directly responsible to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House. It is also part of his duties to advise Government on parliamentary business and procedure, and to maintain a close liaison with the Ministers in regard to parliamentary business which affects their departments. He and the Chief Whip of the largest opposition party constitute the “usual channels”, through which consultations are held with other parties and members about business arrangements and other matters of concern to the House”.
The “usual channels” operated in some of the following ways:
- Regular weekly meeting of the key figures to discuss the arrangement of business in the House;
- Daily contact among the key figures to deal with ongoing matters, agenda and timetabling issues;
- During the passage of legislation and other government business, discussions between the whips on both sides, the minister in charge of the business, and his or her opposition “shadow” may take place to resolve any difficulties that may arise with the amendment or when a vote will take and, if possible, deals will be done;
- Contact between the whips over various matters, such as paring in the Commons, and filling intermittent vacancies on committees.
Role of the Principal Private Secretary to Government Chief Whip
The Principal Private Secretary to the Government Chief Whip has an important role in facilitating communication between the Government Chief Whip and the other office holders who make up the ‘usual channels’. As a Civil Servant, the Principal Private Secretary was a unique post within Parliament and the government. The holder acts as a non-partisan deal broker between the government and the opposition parties, although officially he works for the Government. The responsibilities of the post were:
- Provide support to the Chief Whip to enable him or her to fulfil her or his role of timetabling and securing the passage of Bills through the House of Commons and successfully completing the government’s legislative programme;
- Offers support to the Chief Whip as a Government Minister, in his or her responsibilities to Parliament;
- Acts as channel between the government and opposition parties to arrange parliamentary business;
- Coordinates and monitors the proceedings in the House on a daily basis; and
- Provide advice and guidance to Ministers and Departments on the government’s legislative programme and associated parliamentary procedures.
A notable feature of the post of Private Secretary to the Chief Whip is the length of service of previous office holders. Since the creation of the post in 1991, there have only been four Private Secretaries. The current incumbent, Mr Roy Stone, has held his position since 2000, i.e. he has been in the position for almost 18 years.
Meeting with the Chief Whip of the Opposition: Mr Nick Brown
The delegation met Mr Nick Brown, the Opposition Chief Whip, on 22 January 2018. Mr Brown was appointed the Government Chief Whip when Mr Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in 1997, and when Mr Gordon Brown took over from Mr Blair. When the Labour Party was in opposition in the 1990s under Mr Brown, he was asked to be the Chief Whip. He has been the Chief Whip of the Labour Party since then. When Mr Jeremy Corbyn took over the leadership of the Labour Party, he was appointed the Chief Whip.
He has been either a Deputy Chief Whip or a Chief Whip for the last 30 years.
Role and function of Chief Whip of the Opposition
The primary role of the Chief Whip of the Opposition was to ensure that it has opportunities to have its say on the Government business. Otherwise, the duties are the same as that of the Government Chief Whip. It is to manage the participation of the party in the business of Parliament.
He is also a member of the “usual channels”. That means that he was the Chief Whip to be consulted by the Chief Whip of the Government regarding the arrangement of the business of the House.
In terms of the rules of the House and parliamentary conventions, the composition of the committee of the House reflects the size of the party on the floor of the House. Where there is a government majority, the governing party would have a majority in the committees. However, because the governing party failed to get an absolute majority in the last elections, it and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) passed a resolution in the House that gives the Conservative Party a majority in the select committees. The Labour Party had done something similar when it formed a minority government.
The opposition has lesser leverage than the governing party to keep members of the caucus in line. The governing party could dispense patronage; threaten members with the possibility of fresh elections if government fails. However, as Chief Whip of the Opposition, he has to appeal to reason, reporting a rebellious member to the leadership of the party at the appropriate time.
In the House of Commons, the quorum is 40 members out of a membership of 650 for a decision to be taken. The calculation of the quorum includes the Speaker.
Visit to the London office of the Department of Home Affairs
The delegation visited the offices of the Department of Home Affairs in London to satisfy itself of the nature and quality of services it provided. The Counsellor for Immigration Services, Ms B Nkanyana, met the delegation and indicated that the services of the Department included receiving applications for immigration and civic services at the South African High Commission in London. The office services South Africans and foreign nationals who wish to visit or migrate to South Africa for various reasons.
In the South African national elections held in 2014, the United Kingdom processed 70% of South African citizens who had registered to vote outside of South Africa. The United Kingdom therefore processed amongst the highest number of South African voters outside of South Africa. There were more than 100 000 South Africans on the voters roll. Over the years, the number of South Africans who have made the UK a permanent home has also increased. There has also been an increase in the number of UK citizens who wish to migrate to South Africa. Despite these changing trends in settlement patterns abroad, there has not been a review of the structure and personnel of this section of the DHA in order to assess its ability to meet current service delivery needs.
13 + (3)
The above figures reflect only applications that complied with the immigration requirements of the UK. Those applications that do not comply with the requirements are not included in the above figures as they are returned to the applicants. The 2017 staff complement reflects the current personnel employed at the office. Although there are 16 staff members in total, three locally recruited staff members have been on long sick leave for various reasons, which leaves them with 13 staff members to service the public consistently.
The official working hours are from 08:30 to 17H00, Monday to Friday. Members of the public are served from 08:45 to 12:45. In reality, the office serves the public up until 14:30 or 15:30, depending on the number of applicants in the queues at 12:45.
Often, officials work unpaid overtime in order to keep up with the demand. This can be attributed to the high rate of sick leave being taken by staff and mistakes being committed during the processing of applications.
In order to manage the annual and long leave, officials are requested to take leave in block periods. This arrangement has the effect of creating a crisis in the office if a staff member falls sick in this period. The consequences are unfinished projects such as the moving of files from 15 Whitehall (offices of DHA) to South Africa House in order to create space for 2018 files. The average files per year is 23 000 files.
Unmonitored backlog files
Some of the applications sent to the Head Office were returned based on further requirements that were needed. Officials usually contacted the applicants, but only once, and file the application until they receive correspondence from the applicant.
Follow-ups on such applications were not consistently done due to lack of capacity. This creates a challenge as applicants labour under the false impression that their applications are being processed. The consequence was that the image of the South African High Commission and that of the Republic were tainted.
There were requests that new staff be recruited to follow-up on previously opened files. Alternatively, consideration should be given to hiring contract workers to work during peak periods or based on projects, e.g. the disposal of documents.
Telephone not fully staffed
One of the challenges was that there were no locally recruited personnel dedicated to fully respond to telephone enquiries. The function is currently shared amongst five locally recruited personnel who have other primary responsibilities. They were also required to assist at the counters as and when there were shortages which reduced even further the capacity of those that were required to respond to telephone enquiries.
The office was still using a manual telephone system that was incapable of indicating to the caller that the line was still engaged. This is then misconstrued that no one was available to answer telephone enquiries.
To deal with this problem, they were proposing that consideration be given to outsourcing through a call centre and the installation of a system that could send text messages to the public to either emails or cellphones. The system could also allow the processing of applications online.
Disposal of files
She informed the delegation that old files have not been disposed of for many years, which has been identified as a security risk. Efforts to deal with the matter have been reported to both the Departments of International Relations and Cooperation, and Home Affairs.
Sick leave applications were high and the assumption was that employees were using sick leave in order to rest from the work pressures, which leads to the office having to reprioritise functions and leave other important duties unattended, such as back office work and answering of emails and phones.
As a solution, it was proposed that two vacant funded posts be filled. They further proposed that work study be conducted in order to take an informed decision on the establishment that is required for DHA services in the UK.
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