After a low key week, Parliament has scheduled a busy programme in the main chambers and committee corridor. There is only four weeks left before the legislature takes an extended break ahead of the local government elections, but there is still plenty of legislating, oversight and scrutinising, and set piece battles in prospect.
In the National Assembly, the main plenary event will be the debate on the Presidency's budget vote scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. In his speech, the President is likely to talk about his administration's priority areas, make new announcements and give an update on special projects. In addition, he is expected to build on SONA so the economy will feature prominently in his remarks. As with previous appearances, this will be a robust encounter with the President having to defend a wide range of charges, such as the performance of various departments and entities, his appointments, the size of the cabinet, his overseas travel, legislation he is considering and his office’s spending. This is also his first appearance in Parliament since three big court judgments went against him and his government – Nkandla case, Al-Bashir case, Spy Tapes case. All this means is that there is plenty of fodder for the opposition and the knives will be out.
One of the peculiarities of our parliamentary system is that there is no parliamentary committee that oversees the Presidency. According to the IFP, South Africa is unique among parliamentary democracies throughout the world and the party has repeatedly asked that this anomaly be corrected. Previously, the IFP leader has stated that “while the budgets of every Government Department are pored over and questioned before we come here to express our agreement or disapproval, the Presidency's budget is presented as a fait accompli, and we rise in this House with scant capacity to debate what is being spent, where it is being spent and how it is being spent”.
Elsewhere, the Ministers responsible for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, International Relations and Cooperation, Environmental Affairs and Human Settlements will deliver their budget speeches on Tuesday. This will be followed by the Ministers of Finance and Social Development on Wednesday and their colleagues in charge of Communications and Sport and Recreation on Friday.
Over in the NCOP chamber, delegates will also be occupied with policy debates for a number of budget votes. Other business includes consideration of assorted bills, statutory instruments and reports.
There is some very significant Committee action this week and most of it has to do with legislation. Here is a run down of the highlights:
On Tuesday, the provinces will present their Negotiating Mandates on the Expropriation Bill. The provincial legislatures have spent the last few weeks holding public hearings across the length and breadth of their provinces to solicit comments on the proposed law. The Bill seeks to provide for the expropriation of property for a public purpose or in the public interest, subject to just and equitable compensation. It also grants a general power to the Minister of Public Works to expropriate for purposes connected with the execution of his or her mandate, which includes the provision and management of the accommodation, land and infrastructure needs of the state.
The Standing Committee on Finance continues its deliberations on the Financial Sector Regulation Bill. Once operational, the Financial Services Board will become the Financial Services Conduct Authority, with a mandate to regulate the market conduct of all financial institutions including banks.
In March, the National Credit Regulator briefed lawmakers on the state of South Africa’s credit market. The meeting highlighted an alarming statistic: about 10 million South Africans are over-indebted and owe R1.63trn. MPs asked the regulator to establish a “debt forgiveness programme”, which would reprieve lower income groups and target reckless lending. Today's meeting will be an introductory discussion on the issue in preparation for the engagement with the regulator.
The Select Committee on Land and Mineral Resources is expected to finalise and adopt the Performing Animals Protection Amendment Bill.
On Wednesday, the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings will consider 3 reports for adoption. The first is a petition on the alleged failure by the TRTC to pay pension monies and severance packages to former employees subsequent to its liquidation. The second is a petition against ill treatment of the petitioner’s daughter whilst admitted at Groote Schuur Hospital and Khayalitsha District Hospital. The last petition wanted the intervention of the NCOP in the upgrades of roads and construction of bridges in certain parts of the Eastern Cape Province.
After a year of stalling, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill was finally removed from the parliamentary byways in February when it was reclassified and referred to the National House of Traditional Leaders for consideration. Legislators will discuss the submissions made by this body. The mining sector, financial industry and outside investors have been anxiously waiting the passage of this bill.
The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training is getting closer to passing the Higher Education Amendment Bill. At its last meeting, the committee agreed on all clauses with the exception of the following:- Clauses 1, 16, 25, 26, 28, where the DA lodged objections, and clause 37, where both the DA and EFF had objections. The Committee is reaching a stage where compromise is likely to take a backseat to a majority view.
Last week, Ms Cheryllyn Dudley (ACDP) briefed her colleagues on her Private Members Bill. The Labour Laws Amendment Bill seeks to provide for parental leave, adoption leave and commissioning parental leave. It also provides for the payment of parental benefits as well as commissioning parental benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. During their initial remarks, MPs raised questions about the costs of the Bill on the state, UIF, companies and its impact on productivity. The Parliamentary Legal Advisor will offer his/her opinion on the Bill.
On Friday, National Treasury will brief MPs on the 2016 Appropriation Bill. The Subcommittee on the review of the National Assembly Rules has scheduled another meeting. The process seems never ending as the legislature is continuously confronted by new issues that come up.
See the full budget debate schedule here.
See the full meeting list schedule here.