First published on Parliamentary Monitoring Group
2022 was another eventful parliamentary year. With the year done and dusted, we review some of the legislature’s activities and highlights from this period.
The year got off to an ominous start with a devastating fire that gutted large parts of the National Assembly. This had a ripple effect as it stalled Parliament’s plan to return to in-person sittings and meetings. It meant that the State of the Nation address (SONA) and the budget speech had to take place outside the parliamentary precinct – the Cape Town city hall – for the first time ever. It also renewed the debate about the relocation of Parliament to Pretoria.
As a result, we had another year of a virtual and hybrid Parliament. While it is limiting and imperfect, Parliament was still able to function even though most MPs worked remotely. Throughout the year, there were mounting calls – mostly from the opposition – for in-person meetings to resume. Toward the latter half of the year, many committees applied to sit physically but could not always do so due to a shortage of venues. During its year-end parliamentary review, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it was taking Parliament to court for refusing to find alternative venues for the institution to function fully.
In his mid-term budget speech in October, finance minister Enoch Godongwana announced an allocation of R2-billion for the repair and refurbishment of Parliament over the next three years.
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Motions of no confidence
The first quarter of the parliamentary year ended with two motions of no confidence: the first against President Cyril Ramaphosa (sponsored by the African Transformation Movement and in terms of section 102 (2) of the Constitution) and the second against Cabinet (sponsored by the DA and in terms of section 102 (1) of the Constitution).
However, on the day of the vote, the ATM decided not to move the motion after the Speaker refused to accede to the party’s request for a secret ballot. The ATM took the Speaker to court on an urgent basis, but the case was struck off the roll for the lack of urgency two days before the vote.
The DA motion of no confidence in Cabinet proceeded by open ballot: 231 MPs voted against it, 131 supported it and one MP abstained.
In keeping with one of its important roles – to act as a forum for national debate – the legislature scheduled many debates throughout the year. Some were standard items on the programme to commemorate certain days like Youth Day, Africa Day, Women’s Day and 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Urgent debates on matters of national importance were also scheduled:
5 May – Debate on Matter of National Public Importance (Mr M Hlengwa, IFP): The energy crisis and the threat of a protracted failure of Eskom [NA].
15 June – Debate as Urgent Matter of National Public Importance (Mr K Mileham, DA): Fuel price hikes [NA].
A noteworthy highlight was the 26 April joint address by the president following the catastrophic flooding along parts of the eastern coast. President Ramaphosa outlined that the government’s rebuilding efforts were directed towards building resilience and reducing the vulnerability of communities to climate change, guided by the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, approved by Cabinet in 2020.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) holds regular ministerial briefings to try to “reinvigorate its oversight role over the executive.” Eight ministerial briefings were held throughout the year where ministers and MECs gave presentations before NCOP delegates on a chosen topic of the day. Members are then able to ask questions after the presentations; this does not follow the usual procedure of oral questions. Some notable briefings included the following:
15 March 2022 – Water and Sanitation: Progress in eradicating the gaps in the provision of water and sanitation.
30 August 2022 – Fiscal Leakages: Measures to mitigate against fiscal leakages and their impact on service delivery.
8 November 2022 – The Township Economy: Measures to unlock the full potential of the township economy and industries.
President Ramaphosa appeared in the National Assembly four times, and thrice before the NCOP to answer oral questions. The deputy president answered oral questions on four occasions in the National Assembly (NA) and NCOP, respectively.
Cabinet Ministers – participating through their various clusters – appeared routinely to answer questions in both chambers. Their undertakings were scrutinised by the NCOP Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings.
Ministers and their deputies attended approximately 43% (606) of committee meetings.
The NA rules committee received a report on the reasons for delayed replies to questions by members of the Executive and proposals to assist the process. This was pursuant to a new procedure, which provided that the Speaker should intervene in the event of delays. The rules committee referred the proposals to the subcommittee. The subcommittee discussed the report and proposals and resolved that, as a principle, it supported the imperative of timely and comprehensive replies by the Executive to members’ questions. It was nevertheless mindful of some of the challenges arising from certain types of questions. It was agreed that questions to the Executive should take into account their respective competencies; and in the case of questions that sought information from the government, such questions should take account of the non-availability of information before the pre-democratic era.
While most of the public attention is directed at the main chambers, MPs spend most of their time in committees. Committees are the engine rooms of Parliament as, beyond legislative work, they play a crucial role in monitoring and reviewing the actions of the Executive.
1 397 committee meetings were held this year.
Notable committee action is captured below.
Following the deadly floods in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape early in the year both the NA and NCOP, on 26 April, agreed to establish the Joint Ad hoc Committee on Flood Disaster Relief and Recovery. The Committee conducted oversight visits to affected areas and met with key stakeholders. Then, after a series of meetings held throughout the year, the Committee adopted its report on 17 November on the damage caused by the floods, government’s subsequent relief, and recovery efforts. In the report, Members expressed their disappointment in the government’s response to the flood disasters, noting that several commitments remained unfulfilled, contrary to the public’s expectations.
In early June, the NA adopted a motion to establish a Joint Steering Committee on Climate Change for the duration of the sixth Parliament. Its stated mandate is to: facilitate the coordination of parliamentary activities related to climate change; and facilitate a joint parliamentary programme of action to prioritise climate issues and commitments. The steering committee is still yet to be constituted. [Climate Change and Parliament]
The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services had a full plate and was the busiest committee, having held 64 meetings which dealt with its legislative commitments and progress reports on various investigations carried out by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Special Investigating Unit.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) met 46 times and, as the watchdog of Parliament, has been at the forefront of tackling wayward state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and departments. This included engagements with the following entities: SAA, SABC, Eskom, Prasa, and the UIF. Also, amongst the biggest controversies involving this committee was the minister of higher education and technology, Dr Blade Nzimande’s request for the forensic report that uncovered rot at the National Skills Fund to be treated confidentially. However, members of Scopa would have none of it and insisted that the report detailing how R5-billion went missing could not be made private as it involved public funds and the public needed to know the outcomes of the investigation. In the end, the committee ordered the department to provide it with the report within 10 days.
The Portfolio Committee on Tourism took extraordinary action when it summoned the minister of tourism due to her absence from committee meetings. The committee had to seek the Speaker’s concurrence to ensure that it took all reasonable steps to secure voluntary participation before issuing the summons. Minister Lindiwe Sisulu did not comply with the summons and it was the first time that somebody had not honoured a summons from Parliament. The committee agreed to exhaust all other means before pursuing criminal charges.
On the legislative front, it has been a standard year. Twenty bills were passed – fewer than last year’s 22. Out of these bills, nine were money bills linked to the main and supplementary budgets. Some consequential bills passed include the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, the Traditional Courts Bill and the two anti-greylisting bills, namely: General Laws (Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism Financing) Amendment Bill; and the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Amendment Bill. Parliament had to move swiftly to process these two bills – aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist activity – so as to keep South Africa off an international greylist which would make it even harder for the country to do business with international partners.
There are 43 bills currently before parliamentary committees, 34 with the NA and nine with the NCOP. Amongst others, these include the Copyright Amendment Bill; Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill; National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill; and the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill
The processing of the Electoral Amendment Bill, introduced in early January 2022, is still underway. Following exhaustive deliberations and an extensive public participation process, the NA passed the bill on 20 October before sending it to the NCOP for concurrence. The NCOP then made substantive and material amendments to the bill before returning it to the NA. This then obliged the NA to facilitate further public participation. Consequently, four days before the 10 December deadline, Parliament lodged an urgent application to the Constitutional Court requesting that it be granted a further extension for the finalisation of the bill. In its ruling, the apex court said its declaration of invalidity order is further suspended from 10 June 2022 to 31 January 2023 pending a final determination by it on the extension sought by Parliament. In anticipation of this, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs called for comments on the proposed amendments from the NCOP. [Tracking the Electoral Reform Legislation in Parliament].
The Climate Change Bill was introduced in Parliament in February 2022. The bill, currently being processed by the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, acknowledges the urgent threat of climate change and emphasises the need for an effective, progressive, and incremental response. The bill is undergoing extensive public consultation and generated wide interest, with approximately 13 200 written submissions received by Parliament.
The Portfolio Committee on Health wrapped up its virtual public hearings on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill on 24 February. Speaking at a high-level seminar in December, the minister of health said: “After almost over three years of hard work with breaks due to Covid, our parliamentary committee has been working very hard in processing the NHI Bill which was tabled in Parliament by my predecessors.” He added: “Where we are now, significant progress has been made. In the coming year, they will be able to finalise it and table it to the full sitting of the National Assembly”.
Still, on legislation, two matters resurfaced in parliamentary discussions mid-year: Parliament’s ability to meet constitutional court deadlines and its reliance on the Executive to table legislation. On the latter, views were expressed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that not enough bills were being initiated/introduced by Parliament. They expressed concern that Parliament’s legislative agenda is seemingly decided by the Executive and Parliament needs more capacity to allow Members to introduce their own Bills. [Bills stats at a glance]
Internal matters and statutory appointments
After almost five years without a permanently appointed secretary, Parliament appointed former Salga CEO Xolile George, who assumed his duties as the legislature’s new accounting officer on 15 June 2022.
A range of functions and duties are assigned to Parliament in the Constitution and legislation. Amongst others, this includes the appointment of office bearers of the institutions supporting democracy (Chapter 9 of the Constitution) such as the Auditor-General, Public Protector and others.
Parliament was kept busy on this front, having filled vacancies at a number of statutory bodies including the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa; the Media Development and Diversity Agency board, the Commission for Gender Equality; the South African Broadcasting Corporation board; and the Public Service Commission.
In September, Parliament approved the appointment of Mr Imtiaz Fazel to head the Inspector-General of Intelligence. The first choice, Rev Frank Chikane, failed to muster the required two-thirds majority in the NA on 15 June. The post was vacant for nearly two years.
Last month, the NA rules committee met twice to review and amend House rules and guidelines. Rule amendments concerned virtual and hybrid sittings; bringing objects into the House; and the number of ministerial replies on a question day. Guidelines related to the removal of members from the chamber; and the use of backgrounds for virtual meetings.
Parliament received a clean audit for the eighth consecutive time. The Speaker noted that the unqualified audit with no material findings was achieved despite Parliament contending with the impacts of Covid-19, the extensive fire damage to the precinct, and a declining budget allocation.
Public Protector matter
The Committee on Section 194 Inquiry resumed its work on 22 February 2022, after a six-month hiatus due to court processes. The committee was established in 2021 following the DA submitting a motion to initiate an inquiry to establish whether Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane should be removed from office.
The committee began its hearings in July and has held 50 meetings wherein 19 witnesses have appeared and testified. The inquiry has been anything but smooth sailing, with repeated applications for the recusal of the chairperson and the evidence leader, delays, court challenges, and a walkout.
According to the initial programme, the committee process was supposed to conclude its work in September 2022.
It took almost four years, eight extensions, and approximately R1-billion for the fifth and final instalment of the Zondo Commission report to be finally submitted to President Ramaphosa on 22 June. Among other findings, the commission found that Parliament failed to use its oversight and accountability measures during the period of state capture. The overall evidence throughout all the commission’s reports paints a negative picture of the national legislature and illustrates what happens when there is poor oversight. Parliament was absent and ineffective. This dereliction led to state capture, allowed the Executive to act without constraint, and also failed citizens. [“WHERE WAS PARLIAMENT?” A PMG review of parliamentary oversight in light of State Capture and the Zondo Report]
Four months after the release of the report, President Ramaphosa presented his implementation plan to Parliament. The plan outlined the steps the government is taking to implement the commission’s recommendations concerning actions against the perpetrators of state capture and reforms to prevent future occurrence of state capture, as well as broader systemic reforms arising from the work of the commission.
A month after that, the NA rules committee adopted a proposed implementation plan that Parliament will follow in implementing the recommendations of the Zondo Commission as they pertain to Parliament. The commission made 16 recommendations that focused on Parliament’s oversight and accountability role. In adopting the plan, members noted that the recommendations generally tried to strengthen Parliament and address some of the systemic institutional weaknesses. However, some of the issues have constitutional implications; therefore, referring them to the various committees will assist with these being looked at and processed accordingly. There was agreement that there should be timeframes for the rules committee to get a report back from each designated committee regarding implementing the recommendations. On the president’s plan, the parliamentary administration, led by the secretary to Parliament, will ensure the requisite support to the respective governance structures for its successful implementation.
The Zondo Commission also recommended that Parliament consider whether it would be desirable to establish a committee whose function is, or includes, oversight over acts or omissions by the president and Presidency, which are not overseen by existing portfolio committees. [Will Parliament Create a Committee to Oversee the Presidency?]
Section 89 decision on Phala Phala matter
Section 89 of the Constitution provides for the NA to remove a president of the republic from office on the following grounds: serious violation of the Constitution or the law; serious misconduct; inability to perform the functions of office. In 2018, Parliament adopted new rules which provide for any member of the National Assembly to initiate, through a substantive motion, a process to remove a President in terms of Section 89. Once such a motion is submitted, the Speaker must refer it and any supporting evidence to a panel of three independent legal experts. The panel, which the Speaker appoints after consulting political parties represented in the Assembly, must assess if there is sufficient evidence for Parliament to proceed with a section 89 inquiry.
In August, Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula referred the African Transformation Movement’s (ATM) motion to remove the president in terms of section 89.
The Section 89 independent panel report on the burglary that took place at President Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in February 2020 was handed to the Speaker on 30 November. The independent panel determined that the president has a prima facie case to answer on Phala Phala. Once the panel had reported, the Speaker scheduled the report for consideration by the NA through a manual roll call of votes on Tuesday, 13 December at a solely physical sitting at the Cape Town city hall.
The independent panel’s report was rejected with 214 members voting against it, 148 in support and 2 abstentions. As a result, the impeachment inquiry will not proceed.
Parliamentary constituency offices
Since the start of 2022, 105 days were dedicated to constituency work. Constituency work is supposed to ensure that elected representatives are visible, responsive and accountable to citizens on the ground outside of election campaign periods.
From mid-April, Parliament embarked on a programme of remodelling and repurposing of parliamentary constituency offices as strategic points of the people-Parliament interface. The Speaker led this initiative by launching her constituency office in Makhanda on 11 and 12 April. The legislative body says it “plans to roll out similar programmes of reengineering Constituency Offices and raising the bar in meaningfully engaging people in all provinces.”
Our latest study presents a current review of constituency work carried out by MPs and MPLs: A PMG Review of Constituency Work in South Africa
Looking to next year, the legislature has released its first term programme and the agenda is packed with activities. Some of the highlights include oversight and legislative work, SONA and the ensuing debate, questions to the Executive, the budget speech, and committee work.