MPs head back to Parliament this week for the final term. This session runs for 8 weeks and will be packed with activities. Some of the highlights include committee, oversight and legislative work; oral questions to the executive, NCOP Oversight Week and a review of the national budget.
In this preview we unpack some of the issues that will occupy the legislature with one proviso: all of what follows can be overshadowed and overtaken by unscheduled debates, statements and events.
Annual Report Season and Medium Term Budget Policy Statement
It's that time again when parliamentary committees conduct performance assessments of government departments and entities. The performance assessments will be achieved through the scrutiny of government departments’ and entities’ 2015/16 annual reports and financial statements. This will enable Committees to conduct an informed Budget Review and Recommendations Reports (BRRR) process. These reports may include recommendations on the future use of resources and are a critical part of Parliament’s engagement with the budget.
Later this month, the Minister of Finance will present the MTBPS to the National Assembly, together with the Adjustments Appropriation Bill and Division of Revenue Law Amendment Bill. The MTBPS outlines the economic context against which the 2017 budget is being formulated and sets out the spending framework for the next three years. It is an opportunity for government to modify expenditure and revenue patterns so that delivery is accelerated.
One of the criticisms about the annual report season is that the timeframes are very short and that meaningful public engagement on very important Bills does not take place. In order to address this, the finance committee was tasked to review the implementation of the Money Bills Act; however it has not concluded its work as yet and similar concerns are likely to be raised. Another issue to look out for is whether any party will try to make amendments to the adjustment appropriations bill – the DA tried unsuccessfully last year and will probably do so again this year.
MPs are expected to do some legislative lifting this term as there are 27 bills currently before the legislature.
Some bills interrupted by the constituency break will resume their path to becoming law. The major ones include the Higher Education Amendment Bill, Films and Publication Amendment Bill, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill, Refugees Amendment Bill, Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill and the Financial Sector Regulation Bill (also known as the Twin Peaks Bill).
Other leftover bills cover an array of issues, including whistle blowing, parental leave, plants and forests, border management, public service, land tenure, foreign service and liquor products.
The High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change will continue its series of public hearings. KwaZulu-Natal will get its opportunity on 19 and 20 October 2016. The remaining provinces will be covered later and next year.
Even with a packed schedule, lawmakers have set time aside to interview and recommend candidates for appointment to several statutory bodies – this includes the SA Human Rights Commission, ICASA Council and Public Service Commission. It remains to be seen if priority will be given to filling the post of Inspector-General of Intelligence and appointing a new NYDA board. Both vacancies have been pending for some time – the former position has been vacant for abut 18 months and the three-year term of the outgoing NYDA board ended in March 2016.
There are also some internal matters to be resolved, among them the finetuning of rules and procedures in both houses and the replacement of the long-serving Registrar of Members Interests.
Parliament suffered another defeat in the courts when the Supreme Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that its broadcasting policies and rules implemented during last year’s State of the Nation Address violated constitutional principles of openness. Parliament is studying the judgement before deciding on a course of action. This is the fourth major setback this year that the courts have handed to the national legislature.
Disruptions, adjournments, walkouts, finger-pointing, squabbles, forced removal of MPs and jousting are a common feature of the Fifth Parliament. All or most of this is guaranteed when the President appears in Parliament. At his last question time in the National Assembly, he complained about the abuse directed at him and said if Parliament was not interested in hearing him answering questions, then he should not be called. According to the programme, the President is scheduled to deliver his annual address to the NCOP this term and fulfill his quarterly obligation to the National Assembly.
There are new faces in Parliament following resignations and death. In addition, parties have shuffled their members around resulting in several MPs having to get used to new portfolios. It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, these changes will have.
Apart from annual reports, committees will deal with some serious and pressing issues, including the national minimum wage, SABC, performance of other SOEs, the economy, women’s rights, higher education fees, cybercrime, petitions and nuclear build programme to name a few.
The first two weeks will be intense because of the volume and length of meetings. We can expect an impressive array of cabinet ministers in the committee corridor during this time.
The highlights for week one include the presentation of Parliament’s Annual Report, a joint meeting on government’s 2017 fee support package for students from poor, working-and middle-class families and briefings on the nuclear build programme and audit outcomes of the state-owned companies.
Check this link to see the full schedule.
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