New Term: Annual Report Season & MTBPS

Oct. 2, 2017 (2 months, 2 weeks ago)

MPs head back to Parliament this week for the final term. This session runs for 9 weeks and will be packed with activities. Some of the highlights include Committee, oversight and legislative work, oral questions to the Executive, debates, a Joint Sitting, Taking Parliament to the People, NCOP Provincial 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 (MTBPS)

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’ 2016/17 annual reports and financial statements. This will enable Committees to compile an informed Budget Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR). These Reports may include recommendations on the future use of resources and are a critical part of Parliament’s engagement with the budget.

One of the regular criticisms about the annual report season is that timeframes are very short and meaningful public engagement on very important Bills does not take place. In order to address this, the Finance and Appropriations Committees were tasked to review the implementation of the Money Bills Act. During hearings on the Bill, critics reaffirmed this criticism highlighting that Committees needed time to apply their minds, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) and other advisory bodies needed time to do substantive analysis and the public needed time to absorb details and make representations. The Joint Committee has not finalised its work so the usual problems will persist for a little while longer.

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 2018 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. Another thing to look out for is whether any party will try to make amendments to the Adjustment Appropriations Bill – the DA tried unsuccessfully for the past few years and will probably do so again this year.

Legislation

MPs are expected to do some legislative lifting this term as there are 39 Bills currently before the legislature.

Some Bills interrupted by the constituency break will resume their path to becoming law. The major ones include the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill and Refugees Amendment Bill.

Other leftover Bills cover an array of issues, including critical infrastructure, parental leave, plants, traffic fines, marine, traditional matters, border management, public service, land tenure, cybercrimes and cybersecurity, foreign service and liquor products.

The Ad Hoc Committee on the Funding of Political Parties is working at a quick pace to establish legislation that will regulate the public and private funding of political parties. The Committee has invited the public to make written comments on the Draft Political Party Funding Bill by 16 October, and plans to finalise the Bill by the end of November. All of this could be scuppered following a recent high court judgment which declared that the PAIA is unconstitutional insofar as it did not allow for the disclosure of information on private funding to political parties. Parliament is studying the judgment and its implication on the Bill and the work of the Ad Hoc Committee.

National Treasury will table a Special Appropriation bill to recapitalise SAA with a R10bn bailout. This will be met by a chorus of opposition.

The High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change is expected to publish its final report during this term. The Panel – which was a recommendation of the Fourth Parliament - conducted its work through public consultations across the country which included public outreach and other research processes such as calls for submissions, provincial outreach and public hearings.

State of Capture Investigations & other inquiries

There is pressure mounting on Parliament to fast track its investigations into state capture.

Earlier this year, the Portfolio Committees on Home Affairs, Mineral Resources, Public Enterprises and Transport were directed to investigate accusations of state capture linked to alleged emails involving a number of Ministers. While no specific deadline was set for the submission of the outcome of these investigations, the Committees were urged to begin with the work and report their recommendations to the House urgently.

After initial complaints, confusion and false-starts, Parliament has given the assurance that Committees will “receive comprehensive legal and support services to carry out their inquiry into allegations of state capture at state-owned enterprises”.

Meanwhile, the DA has asked Parliament to establish a single parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee on state capture by no later than the end of October; otherwise it will go to court to force it to do so.

Besides this, the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry has resolved to hold a Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the acquisition of 1 064 locomotives by Transnet. This decision followed its discussion with the state-owned transport manufacturing company regarding localisation.

The Standing Committee on Finance and the Ministry of Finance are heading towards a potential collision about the extension of the term of office of the Chairperson of the Board of South African Airways. The Ministry has indicated that the decision is legally sound but the Committee has referred the matter for legal advice. This will be dealt with in the first week after the recess break. Scopa intends to call KPMG to clarify its conduct and to justify why it should continue doing business with the state. In addition, the finance committee will hold a scheduled meeting with the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) to report on progress on its investigation into the conduct of KPMG and Deloitte. Beyond this, the National Assembly referred the DA’s request to initiate proceedings for Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s removal from office to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.

Question Time with the Executive, Oversight Week & Debates

The NCOP’s Oversight Week is scheduled from 3 to 6 October.

The NCOPs Taking Parliament to the People Report event will happen in the Eastern Cape from 20 – 24 November. Last year, the NCOP met with people in that area and this year’s event is a report back on all commitments and undertakings that were made.

Questions to the Deputy President will happen in both Houses during the term. Ministers in the Social Services, Governance and Economic Clusters will appear in the respective Houses to answer oral questions.

There will be more debates and one of the interesting ones is about the relevance and effectiveness of provinces and district municipalities in our system of government.

Domestic Issues

There are also some internal matters to be resolved, among them the fine-tuning of the joint rules of Parliament.

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.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests set 29 September 2017 as the last day for disclosure of Members’ interests for 2017. It’s seldom that all MPs stick to this deadline so it will be interesting to monitor if any extensions are granted.

The first two weeks will be intense because of the volume and length of meetings so there will be no easing in. We can expect an impressive array of Cabinet Ministers in the Committee corridor during this time.

See full schedule here.

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