November 20, 2019

First committee surprises by showing how it can be done

First committee surprises by showing how it can be done

In a unexpectedly promising start to the sixth parliament’s committee schedule, the Rules Committee of the National Assembly met, on 5 June, before any other committees were ready, under the motherly but firm chairing of Speaker Thandi Modise ‑ and the committee demonstrated how it could be done.


The NA Rules Committee has to go first because it decides on the range of portfolio committees required to shadow and oversee the new government ministries, and determines their name and the composition of each.

With the announcement of the reconfigured Cabinet by President Cyril Ramaphosa and the slight paring down of government portfolios from 36 to 28, the number of portfolio committees changed and their composition is one of the important decisions that the Rules Committee determines.

It was decided that committee would be composed of 11 members. Reflecting the proportionality of their representation in the House, it was readily agreed at the meeting that each committee would comprise six Members from the ANC, two from the Democratic Alliance, one from the third largest party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, and two more to represent the plethora of the other smaller parties.

Any new members might be lulled into thinking that this is how it normally works.

The Rules Committee also decides party sequence at question time, the number of members’ statements, the period of time for such statements and the sequence of party participation, and parliament’s representation in various international and statutory structures.

These decisions were discussed apparently painlessly, as were most decisions that were reached at this first committee meeting. Any new members might be lulled into thinking that this is how it normally works.

It doesn’t, as subsequently demonstrated by the furore surrounding the shock reappearance in parliament of a number of Members who had been booted out by the president, only to return through the back door as proposed committee chairpersons.

But that drama was still days away, and the hour-long proceedings of the NA Rules Committee was surprisingly peaceful, almost soporific. Compared to your average committee meeting, one could almost nod off to the gentle sounds of EFF Members ever-so respectfully requesting permission to speak.

It was not that they were not dealing with the usual challenging decisions. They were; but there was something unusual in the collegial way it was done. The EFF’s normally fiery Mbuyseni Ndlozi pointed out that given that his party had now almost doubled its seats, the speaking time allocated to it should increase accordingly.

It was taken as a fair point and left undisputed, especially after fellow EFF-er Floyd Shivambu reminded the Chairperson that in the previous parliament, the party with its 25 Members had been allocated only one minute more than much smaller parties such as the African Peoples’ Convention (APC), which had a single Member of Parliament.

Given that the Rules Committee was making decisions on a range of issues related to the structure and functioning of the House, it was surprising that the only voice raised came from chairperson Thandi Modise, who stamped her style of leadership right from the start by chiding Members for starting late, something she “detests”.

That was the only sign of Modise’s well-known capacity to assert her command when needed, as had already been demonstrated in the House during a parliamentary induction and training session. The rest went smoothly along.

Amongst issues discussed were guidelines and determinations for regular items on the agenda of NA plenary sittings, the sequence and times for party participation in question sessions with the President, and allocations of the speaking time for parties during plenary debates.

A potentially fraught proposal to establish an oversight committee on the presidency was raised, and deftly resolved speedily by a ruling from the chairperson that this would be scheduled for discussion at a later date.

In the relatively brief meeting ‑record time compared to the average committee meeting ‑ parties were falling over each other to display consensus on most of the issues raised.

The appointment of party whips was also discussed and agreed to. Whips are powerful figures responsible for organising party business, in keeping members informed about party and parliamentary business, ensuring members attend committee meetings and House plenary sittings.

There would be a total of 62 whips drawn from the 400-seat NA. The ANC with 230 seats would have 35 whips, the DA with 84 seats would have 13 whips, the EFF with 44 seats would have seven whips, the Inkatha Freedom Party with 14 seats would have two whips, as would the Freedom Front Plus with 10 seats, the African Christian Democratic Party with four seats would have one whip and the smaller parties would be allocated two whips.

Ndlozi requested a discussion about time allocation for debates, a matter that he pointed out had been omitted from preparatory documents. Now that the EFF officially represented 11% of the voting public, he felt it should be allocated 11% of the time available for debates.

Chairperson Modise took the point, but suggested that such matters were the concern of the Programme Committee, due to make its first appearance soon after, also under herself as the chair.

She stated that the principle being proposed by the EFF in respect of the percentage of time to be allocated to each party was acceptable. Could the committee agree to take it to the Programme Committee where they could bear that principle in mind? Certainly, it was agreed by all.

Modise, and other Members from the ANC, were at pains to make the point that this was a “multi-party parliament” and small parties “had to have a voice”. What implications that would have for the EFF now that it is no longer a small party, was not pursued. Instead it was tactfully pointed out that the Freedom Front Plus had also shown a considerable growth in electoral support, and therefore in the number of seats it now occupies.

Modise was insistent that smaller parties must have an opportunity to speak, which was not contested, and one of the big take-aways of this meeting was a committee decision to reconsider the current allocation of one minute debate time, with a proposal that even the smallest party gets more time in a House debate. It was agreed that some number crunching was called for to ensure that all parties, irrespective of size, would have no less than three minutes.

Dr Mulder of the FF+ suggested extending the overall time spent in debates to allow for more opportunities for all. This idea went nowhere The Chairperson noted the point, but suggested it depended on what was being debated.

Ndlozi got a rise out of the ANC when he proposed that Ministers be treated as ANC speakers using up ANC time in their contributions. “They repeat the same things,” he said. “It had to be remembered that Ministers were, in fact, Members of Parliament.” That idea, too, was stopped in mid-air and the chairperson requested that the meeting move on with the agenda.

This was not the NA Rules Committee of old, which only recently had battled it out over the revision of House rules, a protracted process first proposed in 2012 that gained some momentum when it became clear that something had to be done to tighten up House discipline and decorum, but only agreed upon and adopted in May this year.

The ANC committee Members seemed determined to allow all parties a fair opportunity for participation. True, it could afford to be generous with debating time given its still considerable electoral majority. But this seemed to be a less arrogant ANC, possibly one more aware of the blow to its majority at the May poll.

Moira Levy

Additional information sourced from the Parliamentary Monitoring Group.

A State of the Nation Address should inspire and balance detail with an over-arching vision. Cyril Ramaphosa has a vision of a country he wants, but the ultimate question still remains: How will his vision be realised ask JUDITH FEBRUARY?

In case you missed it the first time, or wanted to read it all over again, here is President Ramaphosa’s 20 June 2019 State of the Nation Address.

Apology to Secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, and Parliament

To Mgidlana for untruthfully / inaccurately / unfairly:

  • stating as fact the following allegations: “Gengezi Mgidlana is the man who, among other dodgy practices, spent R4-million of taxpayers’ money in two-and-a-half years for travel for his wife and himself, awarded himself an ex-gratia payment of more than R71,000 that he was not entitled to, gave himself a R30,503 study bursary just months into the job while denying bursaries to most other staff, and various other dodgy behaviours such as the illegal use of blue light security cars, including to get his kids to school”;
  • labelling him as “disgraced” and calling his actions “dodgy”:
  • reporting that “…clearly somewhere, somehow, there is corruption afoot …”;
  • not giving him a right of reply prior to publication; and
  • not exercising the necessary care and consideration regarding his dignity and reputation.

To Parliament for:

  • not falsely stating that it had paid out bonuses to Mgidlana and other senior management; and not offered an explanation for the alleged paying out of these monies;
  • not reporting its denials to this effect; and
  • not having contacted the spokesperson for comment.

This follows the publication in December 2018 by the Daily Maverick and Notes from the House of an article by Moira Levy entitled, “Gengezi Mgidlana, suspended Secretary to Parliament, objects to being called ‘corrupt’. Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and many civil society actors were disappointed and dismayed to hear that Gwede Mantashe was awarded the newly combined Mineral Resources and Energy Ministry.

Parliament Watch, a collective of independent civil society organisations committed to social justice, human rights and constitutional democracy, monitored the conduct and effectiveness of committees during the fifth democratic parliament over a period of three years, and came to the conclusion that committee performance left a lot to be desired.

As calls for the recall of the Public Protector intensify, her recent report on the suspended secretary of Parliament seemingly did not win her any new friends from neither the complainant, nor respondent in this case. Suspended secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana indicated in a statement that he would take the adverse findings against him in the report on review.

This is the story of one pig farm, located on the Cape west coast, which was allocated jointly to two recipients, a Mr Cloete and a Mr Sibeko. We know nothing more about them, other than that they soon fell out, at which point the then Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) procured a different plot, which was duly allocated to Mr Cloete. Enter a Ms Ngxumeshe with an alleged claim to that land, and apparently with a lease to support it. It gets even more complicated from this point.

The troublesome contest between surface versus mineral rights lies at the very heart of the complex issues raised in the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources’ report on the recommendations of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change, published in Parliament in March.

Parliament has been told that the major beneficiaries of the government’s land reform programme to date have been ‘better-off men’ – often urban businessmen. Women and the rural poor continue to be short-changed by a system in need of radical overhaul, writes REBECCA DAVIS.

The communities of Matzikama municipality in the northernmost reaches of South Africa’s west coast held a verbal sparring match with Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe last week over mining company Mineral Sands Resources’ (MSR’s) plans to expand mining in the region.

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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