MPs holiday as bills pile up

2018-04-15 00:00

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Parliament’s extended break in winter comes at a time when the executive has raised concerns about legislation being held up in the legislature.

The DA has accused the ANC of “shutting down” Parliament to protect President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration from scrutiny and of being “exceptionally derelict in executing their constitutional duties”.

The party claimed that the move undermines Parliament’s ability to fulfil its constitutional mandate and its ability to process legislation is now also drastically curtailed.

But the ANC explained that all it wanted was a 50%-50% balance between parliamentary sessions and parliamentary constituency work, a decision taken at its midterm review caucus lekgotla last year.

The party was concerned that the disproportionate allocation of time in constituency work had in the past resulted in MPs spending more time in Parliament than interacting with the constituencies they represent, thereby creating a gap between MPs and their constituencies.

Interestingly, the haggling and the decision to take an extended break from the parliamentary precinct came just two weeks after National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete told a meeting of the National Assembly’s programme committee on March 15 that Deputy President David Mabuza, in his position as the leader of government business, had indicated that members of the executive had expressed concerns about legislation being held up in Parliament due to the pace of processing bills.

Mbete indicated it had always been understood that the introduction of legislation should be done at a reasonable pace to avoid an avalanche of legislation that needed to be passed within a particular period. She said the challenges experienced by Parliament should be addressed.

But the meeting of the joint programme committee two weeks later adopted an extended constituency framework taking MPs away from Parliament from June 18 to August 13, a move opposed by the DA and the Freedom Front Plus, which speculated that the governing ANC wanted to use the time for electioneering.

There are 32 bills before Parliament, 10 of which were introduced to the legislature in the last quarter of 2017 and are still being considered by parliamentary committees.

Among those bills are the three proposed labour laws that will result in the introduction of the national minimum wage later this year.

Of the remaining 22, only three had been “introduced” so far, including the Division of Revenue Amendment Bill and the Appropriations Bill.

Six of them are scheduled to be processed only in the third term [July to September] as they are related to the medium-term budget policy statement and the remaining 13 were still with the various departments.

ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu was the first to warn that if the pieces of legislation are not with Parliament by end of May, the legislature could not be expected to do any justice to them.

“Therefore, these bills that are here that are supposed to be 22 are not before Parliament. We cannot be talking about bills that are not before us to finalise when we have nothing to finalise.

“If they don’t come by the end of May, they are therefore not before Parliament and the only time we can finalise them is in 2019 if they come after May,” he told the meeting of the joint programme, a view seconded by the chairperson of the national council of provinces [NCOP] Thandi Modise, who said that “if they [the bills] come in 2019, they will not be dealt with at all by the NCOP”.

Mbete’s deputy, Lechesa Tsenoli, was also not happy with how the executive planned bills, not only because of the many legal challenges that confront Parliament but also because of the poor quality of work that was done on bills and the strain on the NCOP.

“Those short cuts, we said to them, we are not making them anymore.

“They will have to deal with the reality that they will have to postpone legislation,” said Tsenoli.

But Corné Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus, said the fact that those bills exist indicates that the executive wants Parliament to legislate on those issues.

He warned his colleagues in Parliament that when they discuss their programme they ought to take into consideration that the executive plans in terms of the perception that Parliament is available to process the legislation.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen maintained that the ANC was prioritising its own “election work” over holding the executive to account and from
focusing on Parliament’s legislative duty especially for an institution that already had a legislative backlog.

“I believe that this extended rising period is going to significantly impede our ability to do our work.

“We currently have 32 pieces of legislation before the National Assembly and 11 before the NCOP,” said Steenhuisen.

The list of bills before Parliament excludes at least two draft laws – the Mineral Petroleum and Resources Development Amendment Bill and the Expropriation Bill that were sent back to the legislature by former president Jacob Zuma for procedural constitutional reasons.

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