Review of Parliament 2021

15 Dec 2021 (9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Review 2021

2021 was another eventful parliamentary year. With the year done and dusted, we review some of the legislature’s activities and highlights from this period.

COVID-19

The virtual/hybrid Parliament continued with most MPs working remotely and others from the precinct. Although the virtual Parliament is limiting and imperfect, this “new normal” enabled the legislature to fulfil its essential function during the second year of the pandemic.

Scrutiny of government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was a big focus as MPs used a range of oversight tools to probe and get answers. Lawmakers were apprised about the state of preparedness for the third and fourth waves, the validity of COVID-related data, vaccine acquisition and rollout, special audits on COVID-19 expenditure and more.

We consolidated all COVID-19 related meetings and events here.

Election of new Speaker

President Ramaphosa’s August Cabinet changes impacted Parliament. The Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), three Committee Chairpersons and two other MPs joined the Executive and had to be replaced.

The NA elected former Defence Minister Novisiwe Mapisa-Nqakula as new Speaker on 19 August with 199 votes to DA MP Annelie Lotriet’s 82. The election took place via a secret ballot and the EFF did not take part in the process. In her maiden speech, Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula pledged to ‘foster greater cooperation’ between parties, even though the opposition vehemently opposed her nomination.

Section 25 Review process

The Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill – developed to allow for expropriation without compensation - did not pass as it did not receive the required 267 votes. Only 204 MPs voted in favour of the Bill and 145 against it.

The vote was a culmination of legislative work which commenced in February 2018 when the NA adopted a motion proposed by the EFF, with amendments by the ANC, that the Constitutional Review Committee investigate mechanisms through which land can be expropriated without compensation. Read more here.

Plenary Sessions

There were 61 plenary days on Parliament’s calendar this year.

Among others, a notable plenary event was the 28 May debate on the 25th anniversary of the Constitution, which saw MPs reflecting on the historic document. The just over two-hour debate brought both Houses in a joint sitting wherein MPs outlined successes, challenges and limitations of the supreme law, and took stock of the journey travelled thus far.

Aside from the annual debates to commemorate Youth Day, Africa Day, Women’s Day and 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, some of the noteworthy debates were on:

  • 23 February- Debate on urgent matter of national public importance (Chief Whip of the Opposition): Rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination plan for South Africa [NA]
  • 27 May- Debate on Urgent Matter of National Public Importance (Ms N J Adoons): Bullying amongst learners in schools [NA]
  • 17 November- Debate on Teenage Pregnancy: “Taking decisive measures to deal with teenage pregnancy and the rape of young girls in our communities” [NCOP]

Throughout the year, the NCOP prioritised ministerial briefing sessions, which presented the Executive with opportunities to update Council and served as a platform for both national and provincial perspectives on issues.

Committees

Committees are the power centers of Parliament as, beyond legislative work, they play a crucial role in monitoring and reviewing the actions of the Executive.

The latter half of the year was quite jam-packed as Parliament has to rejig its programme due to the municipal elections.

1189 committee meetings were held this year.

In the National Assembly, the Portfolio Committees on Justice and Correctional Services, and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, held the highest number of meetings: 70 and 66 respectively.

Parliament’s watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) sat 44 times and was at the forefront of tackling errant SOEs and departments. This included engagements with the following entities: Eskom, UIF and Compensation Fund, PRASA and DPWI.

In the second week of July 2021, the country experienced unprecedented levels of unrest and destruction of public and private property. These acts of violence started in KwaZulu–Natal and spread to parts of Gauteng. More than 300 people died.

The ripple-effect was enormous with infrastructure destroyed, supply chains disrupted, food security threatened, racial tensions inflamed and the country’s reputation and investment taking a knock.

It is against this background that Parliament had to respond and it did so on many fronts. Several Committees convened meetings to receive updates on the situation and how government plans to respond to this. In addition, many undertook oversight visits to assess the extent of the looting and its impact. The Legislature also established inquiries and scheduled debates to get a better understanding what happened, why it happened, what lessons can be learned and what support is being provided.

On 1 December, the Portfolio Committee on Police decided to delay conducting its parliamentary inquiry into the unrest. The Committee resolved to wait until the investigations by the South African Human Rights Commission and the independent presidential panel had concluded their work, after which the Committee’s inquiry would follow accordingly. Read more here.

The Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy resolved, in principle, on the terms of reference that will guide an inquiry on allegations of corruption and malfeasance during the process of appointing preferred bidders in the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Purchase Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP), as well as the ill-fated Karpowership deal. The inquiry is scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2022, and will proceed for a period not exceeding 120 days. The Committee indicated potential witnesses will be identified and invited to the inquiry.

Following President Ramaphosa’s decision to split the human settlements, water and sanitation portfolio into two distinct portfolios with their own Ministers, the National Assembly followed suit and established two separate committees to oversee the separate government departments.

This also resulted in committee membership changes, with six new chairpersons elected.

Legislation

When it comes to the number of bills passed, it has been an unremarkable year. 21 were passed and this is fewer than last year’s 24. Out of these bills, nine were money bills linked to the main and supplementary budgets.

37 Bills are currently before parliamentary committees, 33 with the NA and four with the NCOP. Amongst others, these include the Employment Equity Amendment Bill; Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill; and the Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill.

In September, President Ramaphosa returned the National Land Transport Amendment Bill to Parliament due to reservations about its constitutionality.

The Portfolio Committee on Health is currently processing the National Health Insurance Bill, the first piece of enabling legislation for Government’s ambition to implement universal health coverage. The Bill was introduced to Parliament in August 2019 and over the course of this year, a total of 22 public hearings were held on the Bill.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is making its way through Parliament following its introduction late last year. The Bill outlines possession rules for cannabis users at home and people who wish to cultivate the plant. It also introduces new offences and provisions for people who previously received a criminal record for cannabis possession.

The aforementioned Bills will resume their path to becoming law in the New Year.

A noteworthy milestone was the unanimous passing of the three Gender-Based Violence Bills in early September that, when signed and assented to, will hopefully change the landscape in terms of how government departments, law enforcement and the courts deal with cases of violence against women and the vulnerable. DA MP Werner Horn said passing the Bills concluded "a parliamentary process that was, with good reason, a testimony that parties and Members from different sides of the aisle can work together to strengthen a legislative framework in order to assist society to deal with one of its gravest ills". Echoing the same sentiments, ANC MP Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen believed these Bills will go further in the protection of the most vulnerable in society and promote and contribute to a safer society.

The Expropriation Bill has made headway in the National Assembly legislative pipeline. Minister Patricia De Lille introduced the Bill to Parliament in October last year and Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure MPs spent the better part of this year crisscrossing the nine provinces to gather views from people on the ground.

Parliamentary Questions

Parliamentary questions are a visible and popular parliamentary mechanism, which ensures the accountability of the Executive. Of late, MPs have been incessantly calling for better accountability when it comes to answering Written Questions by Members of the Executive.

As at 10 December, a total of 2873 written questions were sent to Ministers by NA MPs since the beginning of the parliamentary year. 2467 replies were received.

In early September, the National Assembly approved a Mechanism on Delayed Replies to Questions. The system includes the Speaker writing to the defaulting Ministers and the Leader of Government Business quarterly, reporting those Ministers to the Rules Committee, and in the case of continued default, a reprimand from the Speaker in the House. Finally, the Speaker may escalate the matter to the Leader of Government Business as a formal complaint. It was agreed that the National Assembly wait to see the impact of these sanctions before taking more extreme steps.

On 19 October, the Speaker wrote to 25 members of Cabinet whose replies to questions were delayed. Seven of the 25 Cabinet members had responded to the Speaker’s letter which requested reasons for the delay. See ATC.

PMG Research: Assessing Effectiveness of Questions for Executive Reply

Register of Interests

The Code of Ethical Conduct and Disclosure of Members’ Interests prescribes that Members of Parliament must disclose their registrable interests within 60 days of the opening of Parliament. MPs were sworn-in in May 2019 and after a lengthy delay, the 2019 register was only published in July 2021. The 2020 register was published in November 2021.

In both instances, there were late and non-disclosures and Parliament had to issue sanctions against MPs.

The Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interest has appealed to MPs to treat the disclosure process with the seriousness that it deserves and emphasized that the disclosure of financial and other registrable interests is the foundation upon which the public is able to hold Members of Parliament to account.

Impeachment matters

In mid-March, the National Assembly passed a motion to establish a Section 194 Inquiry against Public Protector Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane. In July, the Committee on Section 194 Enquiry decided its draft programme – the inquiry intended to wrap up its work and table its recommendations to the House by mid-January 2022. However, owing to legal wrangles emanating from an August High Court ruling which found fault with two of the rules for the impeachment of Chapter 9 heads, the work of the inquiry is still yet to commence. (Parliament lodged an appeal against the judgement and order to the Constitutional Court and the matter was heard in early November)

In early September, Speaker Nosiviwe-Mapisa Nqakula received a letter from the Judicial Service Commission recommending that Parliament impeach Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. The matter was referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services for processing. The Committee is expected to consider the procedural aspects before reporting to the National Assembly, where a two-thirds majority is required for removal.

Appointments

Following due processes, Parliament filled vacancies at the SA Human Rights Commission, Information Regulator and the NYDA. The Portfolio Committee on Police also interviewed candidates for the Critical Infrastructure Council.

Notably, the appointment process of a new Inspector-General of Intelligence is currently underway. The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence has published a list of 10 shortlisted candidates with a request for public comment by 5 January 2022.

Petitions

Citizens can get redress and assistance through petitioning Parliament. Thirteen petitions were sent to Parliament this year, a bulk of them relating to service delivery concerns in municipalities around the country.

Turnover

Regrettably, Parliament mourned the deaths of eight MPs during the course of the year. Seven also resigned and new Members were sworn-in as replacements (three are still yet to be replaced).

Security concerns in the precinct

The safety and security of legislators came into the spotlight mid-November after DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone’s office was broken into. Burglars entered the office, apparently using keys, and ripped light bulbs out of the ceiling, broke cupboard locks, and made off with expensive items, Mazzone told the National Assembly’s programme committee on 18 November. During the meeting, MPs emphasized the need for security to be beefed up urgently, as issues of security were not new. The Speaker gave assurances MPs she would personally ensure the matter was resolved urgently.

Fire in Parliament

A fire broke out at Parliament' Old Assembly building in March, affecting certain areas including several upper floor offices and committee rooms.

Launch of Parliamentary Institute

The launch of the South African Parliamentary Institute – a day before the legislature drew to a close – was an important milestone. According to Parliament, the institute will provide “capacity development programmes, production of quality research and knowledge management for Members and legislative sector officials. It will also provide advice and technical assistance to committees and office bearers in the legislative and policy related matters”.

Zondo Commission

The national legislature was put in the spotlight early into the year when the then Speaker Thandi Modise appeared before the Zondo Commission and in her testimony admitted it was regrettable that Parliament woke up to the reality of state capture only belatedly. The House Chairperson also admitted that Parliament’s oversight function was not properly funded.

The year ahead

Parliament has released the draft 2022 Parliamentary Programme. Some of the highlights include oversight and legislative work, the State of the Nation Address (SONA) (10 February) and the ensuing debate, questions to the Executive, the Budget Speech (23 February), and committee work. It is still to be seen whether the online/hybrid system will continue next year given continual calls particularly from opposition benches that Parliament should open up and the moratorium on the number of Members allowed in both Houses be lifted to allow for all MPs to participate in the work of Parliament both in chambers as well as committees.

The Zondo Commission Report is likely to include findings and recommendations for the legislative body. Acting Chief Justice Zondo is expected to hand in his final report to President Ramaphosa on 1 January 2022.

Parliament has a June 2022 deadline to finalise the Electoral Amendment Bill and will be working flat out to meet this. As per the Constitutional Court ruling, the Bill must make provision for the election of independent candidates in national and provincial elections.

We asked political party whips to reflect on the year passed and the year ahead. We only received 2 responses at the time of publishing:

“Despite the challenges brought on by the Covid pandemic, the DA is impressed that Parliament has managed to find its feet to work around the complexities of getting members together to do the work of Parliament. The work of holding the executive to account and our mandate of performing oversight was still able to continue via virtual and hybrid means. While the use of virtual platforms has been effective to an extent, the DA still believes that Parliament must lead by example. Schools and other industries have started getting back to full capacity, safely and in line with Covid protocols. We believe that Parliament should, for the remainder of the Sixth Parliament, follow suit, open up and lead the way. The moratorium on the number of members allowed in both houses of Parliament should be lifted to allow for all members to participate in the work of Parliament both in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces as well as their committees.” (Ms Natasha Mazzone, DA)

“As we move into a new year, the IFP will be pushing for increased public participation – we are, after all, a people's Parliament. Further, it has come to our attention that there is an unacceptable delay in the response-time for written questions, and we will be pushing for consequence management for the implicated Ministers and Departments.

If the people are not able to participate, and the ruling party is unable or unwilling to provide answers to relevant questions, Parliament will not be able to truly fulfil its constitutional mandate of providing oversight and accountability.” (Mr Narend Singh, IFP)

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