The Fifth Parliament has given us a lot of “firsts”. It achieved another last week.
Even by its unpredictable standards, the decision to postpone the State of the Nation Address (SONA) was extraordinary.
The stated rationale for the postponement is to “create room for establishing a much more conducive political environment in Parliament”. Notwithstanding this, Parliament has come under criticism for being a bystander and seemingly allowed internal party politics (the ANC is negotiating the exit of the President) to usurp parliamentary processes.
At the time of writing, Parliament is still in limbo as it waits for the drama to play out.
There is a sliver of good news though. The ANC is expected to finalise its decision today but questions still abound. How soon will we have SONA after the decision has been reached? Does SONA need to happen before the budget? Is SONA even necessary? It’s been pointed out that SONA – although a yearly fixture on the calendar – is not a requirement in law or in the parliamentary rules. More voices are saying it is a considerable waste of taxpayers’ money and should be done away with. Our bet is if it does proceed, it will be scaled down.
All of this means that the timetable is pretty fluid and prone to last minute alteration.
Meanwhile, the Committee corridor is once again the site of all the parliamentary action this week and combines a mixture of hearings, an inquiry and workshops. Also for the first time this year, the NCOP Select Committees are twitching back to life, after the December recess break. Here is a run down of the highlights:
Serious concerns have been raised around rail safety in the wake of recent deadly train crashes in the country. On Tuesday, the Portfolio Committee on Transport will meet with stakeholders to discuss this and the emergency safety plan at Metrorail. The Passenger Rail Agency SA interim board was subpoenaed to attend this meeting after not responding to previous invitations.
The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) wants legislators to push for stricter regulations for poultry imports. They also want government to support and invest in domestic producers. MPs will meet with trade unions to discuss the latest challenges facing the poultry industry.
The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services will receive a joint briefing from role-playing departments on existing and planned infrastructure relating to cybersecurity and discuss making indigenous African languages compulsory for law students, which has been a long-standing issue the Committee has championed.
Other headline-grabbing meetings include a briefing by SA Post Office on the SASSA issue as well as a presentation by the Special Investigating Unit on its investigation into the SABC.
On Wednesday, the Public Protector will appear in Parliament to explain her statements on the Vrede Diary Farm report. She was summoned following her remarks that she did not have the capacity or financial resources to investigate information relating to the Gupta leaks.
The Portfolio Committee on Police will engage with SAPS on a range of important issues: Strategic direction, Senior Appointments, Basic Literacy Audit; Harassment Policy, Fire-arms Amnesty and Overtime Protectors.
After taking a breather, the Eskom Inquiry resumes and this time Exxaro will be in the hot seat.
On the same day, the Portfolio Committee on Social Development will get a progress report from SASSA on the implementation of the Constitutional Court order. There are reports that SASSA wants the invalid Cash Payment Services (CPS) contract to be extended for a further six months even though the contract ends on 31 March.
On Friday, a joint meeting will be convened to get a briefing on SANDF involvement in international peacekeeping operations.
In between, there will be detailed legislation as Committees hold hearings and discuss the following legislation: National Credit Amendment Bill, Draft Carbon Tax Bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill, Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Amendment Bill, Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill, Border Management Authority Bill, Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Amendment Bill, Communal Property and Associations Amendment Bill.
Also sandwiched in the schedule are three workshops – one on the Competition Amendment Bill while the others are training workshops
See full schedule here
*Note: The schedule is subject to frequent changes and needs to be checked daily.