Portfolio committees increased to one per minister

2014-06-10 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Plans to reduce the 31 portfolio committees in Parliament seem to have been been replaced by plans to increase them to 40, one for each minister.

This after several political parties as well as civil groups like Section 27 and PMG expressed concern that Parliament’s oversight role could be reduced in tandem with fewer committees.

There are currently more than 30 portfolio committees and they are often described as Parliament’s engine rooms, where ministers and their departments can be held accountable for the manner in which they are spending taxpayers’ money.

Departments also submit their annual reports and budgets to the portfolio committees and these committees check new legislation clause by clause.

Earlier, there were proposals in the parliamentary rules committee to group certain committees together and reduce committee members.

But this would have increased the workload on committees that are already struggling to finish their allotted tasks. The committees will only be able to start their work when the steering committee makes a final decision on how many portfolio committees there will be.

Yesterday ANC MP Vincent Smith, a member of the rules committee, said they support a proposal to have a portfolio committee for each minister.

“This will mean 40 portfolio committees, which will include committees for the Auditor-General, Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), a budget committee, an ethics committee, and a joint committee on intelligence and defence.”

It was also proposed that the Department of Women should have a portfolio committee and that committee members should be reduced from 13 to 11.

Gaile Fullard, director of the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), has welcomed the apparent U-turn from fewer to more committees.

“This is a victory for effective oversight and hopefully there will now be more time for departments to properly answer the MPs’ questions in committees.”

DA Chief Whip John Steenhuizen has however expressed his concern about the workload of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services after President Jacob Zuma combined these two departments. Rules sub-committee member Mzameni Mdakane said these committees could be separated again if the single committee does not cope. The sub-committee met yesterday, and will recommend a final decision to the steering committee.

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