PARLIAMENT BEGINS WORK ON NEW COMMITTEE STRUCTURES

This article appeared in Juta Law’s Legalbrief Today on Tuesday 4 June 2019

The ‘naming and composition’ of Parliament’s new National Assembly committees is expected to be discussed tomorrow at a meeting of the House Rules Committee, when the process of assigning MPs to these and ‘various other bodies’ could also begin. According to a media statement released yesterday, a joint meeting of the National Assembly and NCOP programme committees will follow, focusing on matters related to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address on 20 June, the ensuing debate and the President’s reply. Once the dates for debates in both Houses on other ‘key issues’ have been identified, the programme committee of each House will finalise its ‘law-making and oversight’ schedule for the remainder of the year.

Meanwhile, an ongoing MPs’ induction programme will include ‘information and discussion sessions’ on their constitutional mandate and responsibilities, ‘interests, ethics and code of conduct’, and ‘participation’ in National Assembly and NCOP plenary sittings and committee meetings. It will also deal with the parliamentary budget office, law making and public participation, security on the parliamentary precinct, relations with the media and MPs’ ‘facilities and benefits’. Given the poor attendance record of most members of SA’s fifth democratic Parliament and their apparent reluctance to familiarise themselves with the nuts and bolts of many Bills before them, something is hopefully being done to avoid a repeat performance.

In theory, responsibility for such matters lies with party whips whom – yesterday’s statement notes – not only ‘assist in organising party business’ but are also expected to ensure that party representatives ‘attend committee meetings and debates in the House’. While it is not clear from the statement what is meant by ‘parliamentary business’, party whips are required to keep MPs suitably informed. Last year, when things fell apart in the National Assembly’s Trade and Industry Committee as it attempted to come to grips with the Copyright Amendment Bill, an ANC whip was brought in. Sadly, this made no difference whatsoever to the quality of input from committee members during ensuing deliberations. Perhaps tomorrow’s meeting of National Assembly chief whips will mark the beginning of a new era of well-informed, robust committee discussions?