The Week Ahead: President, SASSA, Farm Murders, Legislation, Oversight & More

March 13, 2017 (1 week, 4 days ago)

It’s a big week in the National Assembly chamber with the President making an appearance, MPs debating hot button issues and commemorating Human Rights Day.

The President's oral question session on Thursday is the high point of the parliamentary week. He is required to answer questions of national or international importance once per term in accordance with the annual parliamentary programme. The questions are sifted and published beforehand in a process involving the Speaker, to ensure that only questions satisfying the set criteria are put to the President. Four supplementary questions, arising from the reply to a question, are allowed. It is a rare opportunity for legislators to interact directly with the President. The supplementary questions, in particular, show whether the President has a sound grasp of issues and is able to think on his feet. The questions touch on a variety of topics and there are a couple of spicy ones in the mix.

Since the start of the Fifth Parliament, the President's appearances have been punctuated by a familiar pattern: interruptions, walkouts, unparliamentary language, sniping and forcible removal of MPs.

Beyond this, brace yourself for some heated exchanges during the debate on farm murders and the discussion about SASSA grants. Both are scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

Debates and Discussions are an opportunity for MPs to have a dialogue about government policy, proposed new laws and current issues. It allows MPs to voice the concerns and interests of their constituents and voters. It is meant to be a dynamic style of discussion, in which MPs generally respond to the points made by other speakers rather than reading out formal, set-piece speeches – though this is seldom upheld.

Farm murders are a divisive topic in South Africa. Some say that farmers are under attack while others believe the subject is being overstated. The FF+ has long called on the government to do something about this and even asked the United Nations forum on minorities to refer farm murders and "human genocide in South Africa" to the UN Secretary General for investigation. While its motion was originally denied, Parliament has finally acceded to the first farm murder debate.

Will the social grants be paid on time? The IFP proposed a discussion on SASSA grant payment crisis and the steps taken to deal with the matter. More than 17 million people rely on the grants and a failure to resolve the issue will have devastating consequences for them. The Constitutional Court requested urgent clarity from the Department and Sassa on the matter. There are reports of an agreement between SASSA and Cash Paymaster Services for the delivery of social grants after March 31; however there is uncertainty about the terms of this agreement, including the costs and timeframes. There have also been calls for the Minister to be fired. When it comes to issues, they don't get more bread and butter than this.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of minor parliamentary rareties. First, the NA will endorse the names recommended by the Communications Committee for appointment to the SABC interim board, which can only serve for a period not exceeding 6 months. The recommended board members are: Krish Naidoo, Mathatha Tsedu, John Matisonn, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule and Khanyisile Kweyama. Second, it will consider the request of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services to amend other provisions of Magistrates’ Courts Act. The latter will give the committee the authority to trigger the formal process of amending the law.

Other plenary highlights include legislative work, motions and a debate on 20th Anniversary of the Constitution and Human Rights Day titled: Celebrating 20 years of the Constitution and Human Rights

Over in the NCOP, the main highlight will be the Deputy President answering oral questions on Wednesday. He will be probed about a mixture of internal and external issues. These include: national minimum wage agreement, SANAC’s aim to reduce gender-based violence, violence against foreign nationals, plans to rescue the chicken industry and withdrawal from the ICC.

The upper House is also slated to deal with motions, consider international agreements and debate Human Rights Day.

Bubbling in the background, there are media reports that Minister Muthambi has written to the Speaker to indicate she will take the Ad Committee's SABC Inquiry report on judicial review. The report, which was formally adopted last Tuesday, recommends that President Jacob Zuma reconsider Muthambi's suitability to continue leading the department. Expect to hear more on this.

Parliament will on Tuesday receive a high level delegation from the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Nigerian Parliament proposed the visit for the two sister legislative institutions to discuss matters of mutual interest and to strengthen existing diplomatic relations between the two countries, particularly in the context of recent violence against foreign nationals.

There’s lots of action in Committee-land, with a few Cabinet Ministers set to make appearances. Everything from detailed lawmaking, to executive scrutiny, to internal reports, to big-picture policy will be under the microscope. Here is a rundown of the highlights:

On Monday, the Ad Hoc Committee responsible for Filling Vacancies in the Commission for Gender Equality will begin interviewing 20 candidates over two days. Members of the Committee agreed that findings from the security vetting and qualifications verification process will be interrogated during the interview process.

On Tuesday, the joint finance and trade and industry committees will hold public hearings on transformation of the financial sector. During the debate on his SONA, President Zuma said government remained committed to diversification and transformation in the financial services sector to ensure new players are brought on board, instead of a small group of companies controlling the market. In January Yunus Carrim, Chairperson of the Finance Committee, told Business Day that there was a need for the sector to be transformed. According to the programme, 43 entities and persons have confirmed that they will be making submissions. Two full days have been set aside, with a possibility of a third day being added to accommodate others.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will appear before SCOPA to discuss the social grants crisis. This is to clarify National Treasury's position and understanding of the current contract negotiations with Cash Paymaster Services and to assure the public that social grants will be paid on April 1, 2017.

The Department of Energy and PetroSA Board will brief legislators on the forensic report relating to PetroSA’s impairment and its turnaround strategy. The Portfolio Committee on Transport has resolved to establish an inquiry into governance challenges at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa. The Committee is expected to discuss the terms of reference of the inquiry.

Other noteworthy meetings include a colloquium on Waste Management, the state of health services for mentally ill patients in the Free State and Limpopo, the National Food and Nutrition Security Implementation Plan, the Department of Basic Education's Rural Education Recruitment Strategies and foetal alcohol syndrome.

On Wednesday, SCOPA will continue to flex its muscles and this time Transnet will be given an uncomfortable time as it tries to explain irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure

On the same day, SAPS and IPID will give legislators an update on the implementation of the Farlam Reccommendations. The Minister of Police will also give a briefing on the firearms amnesty.

In between, there's some high-powered law-making to be done this week - on land tenure, traffic fines and offences, government revenue, land expropriation and enhancing court orders.

View the full schedule here.

*This summary is based on the schedule as it is published on Monday morning. The programme is subject to frequent updating so the link above needs to be checked daily to confirm the programme for the day.

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