14 parliamentary committees to intensify Covid-19 oversight

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Parliament's Chief Whips Forum has "fully endorsed" a decision that committees that have portfolios directly affected by Covid-19 intensify their oversight functions.

The forum held a virtual meeting on Tuesday when, according to a statement from Parliament, "pertinent matters relating to the parliamentary business" were discussed.

On Tuesday, Parliament's initially scheduled second term was supposed to start.

However, the national legislature's activities were suspended indefinitely in March - about a week before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown.

At the meeting, a report was given on a meeting that took place between leaders of political parties and Ramaphosa, especially relating contributions to the Solidarity Fund.

"All the parties expressed general support for the interventions the country is making in its fight against the Covid-19 epidemic. The chief whips have agreed that each political party make its determination in terms of what and how its members will contribute to the fund," read the statement.

Parliamentary oversight was also discussed at the meeting.

In this regard, those attending the meeting were informed of Parliament's executive authority's decisions, which include that several committees with portfolios directly affected by Covid-19 would be asked to intensify their oversight engagements, especially during the lockdown period.

"The forum has fully endorsed this position."

The committees that Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise identified included cooperative governance and traditional affairs; health; police; trade and industry; the Joint Standing Committee on Defence; basic education; higher education, science and technology; transport; small business development; finance; appropriations; employment and labour; human settlements, water and sanitation and social development.

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Parliament made technology available to committees so that they can hold virtual meetings.  

The meeting was also informed that Modise framed a rule in terms of Rule 6 of the National Assembly, to make provision for virtual meetings.

Rule 6 provides that "the speaker may give a ruling or frame a rule in respect of any eventuality for which these rules or orders of the House do not provide, having due regard to the procedures, precedents, practices and conventions developed by the House and on the basis of constitutional values and principles underpinning an open, accountable and democratic society".

"The forum supports the framing of this rule as it will effectively enable parliamentary committees to meet, take decisions and play their oversight role in virtual platforms," read the statement.

"Lastly, in order to ensure the assembly's oversight mandate continues to be executed even during the national state of disaster, the meeting has recommended that the possibility of virtual sittings of the House for oral questions to the executive be explored. This matter will be discussed with the speaker."

On Tuesday, Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said Modise and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Amos Masondo said where appropriate, committees and houses must continue to work remotely through virtual conferencing technology to ensure that the oversight, lawmaking and other constitutional obligations of Parliament are fulfilled.

DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone welcomed the reopening of Parliament and said the pandemic was not an excuse for Parliament to shirk its responsibilities.


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