August 20, 2019

Parliament made an impressive dash to the end, but it’s still got a long way to go

It was quite a rush to the finish line and even if Parliament didn’t quite make it, it was something of an eye opener to see what the Houses can do when they try.

In the final fortnight of the term the National Assembly alone passed 15 Bills and the National Council of Provinces passed 14. Some of these were sent back to the National Assembly. Others made it to the desk of the President where they are still awaiting his assent.

In total, though, Parliament managed to pass nine Bills in just the past two weeks, compared to 14 throughout the rest of the year.

It is comforting to know that Parliament can move speedily when it needs to. This normally happens for a brief spell at the end of each year, when time is running out and Members want to go on recess. But when the end of a five-year term looms, and Bills that aren’t going to make it in time are destined for the legislative rubbish bin (unless the new MPs decide to resuscitate them), you really get to see what Parliament is made of.

Parliament managed to pass nine Bills in just the past two weeks, compared to 14 throughout the rest of the year.

The race is on to beat the deadline when the fifth democratic Parliament hands over to the sixth Parliament (2019 to 2024). Daily Maverick parliamentary journalist, Marianne Merten, reported: “The National Assembly passed eight Bills in its last week of the 2018 parliamentary calendar, and six a week earlier, including the R5-billion special appropriation for SAA to keep the national airliner in the air plus the Adjustments Appropriation Bill that effects the spending allocation rejigs to departments as per October’s Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).”

Parliament passing a Bill does not make it law, and there are a few still waiting for the President to apply his mind. The public is of course most interested in when the Political Party Funding Bill is going to get the nod.

But there is little hope that even if Cyril Ramaphosa signs it into law before year-end it would make party funding open and transparent in time for the May poll. Extensive policy matters will need to be resolved first ‑ the Bill only provides for the repeal of the Represented Political Parties Act of 1997 – and Treasury warns that setting up the infrastructure will require a seed fund of about R20million.

Mosiuoa Lekota of Cope asked about this at the most recent President Question Time in Parliament, and Ramaphosa conceded that this was one of the Bills that he is currently considering. “Due to the importance attached to legislation, I have a constitutional obligation of ensuring that, while expediting the process, a Bill that has been passed into law is not vulnerable to legal challenge and that it is constitutionally complaint. I can assure the Honourable Member that I am applying my mind with the urgency and thoroughness the Bill demands.”

A sense of urgency was certainly afoot and when Parliament rose on 7 December for a period of constituency work, or is that electioneering, before the holidays kick in, it brought a welcome break for those who had endured a series of late-night sessions to race legislation to the finish line and adopt outstanding committee reports and a few long overdue annual reports and other matters.

But despite the impressive effort, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, when parliament rose on 7 December there were still 59 Bills awaiting Parliament’s attention. These will have to be processed before the election in May 2019, or face the scrap heap.

Perhaps the problem is that despite a deadline for tabling legislation of May 31st 2018, beyond which no new Bill were supposed to be submitted, Cabinet recently agreed to two new Bills. Just days before Parliament rose, another handful of Bills were being tagged, which means allocated to one of the two Houses, and up until the last day dozens of Bills were being sent to Committees for consideration and drawing up of legislation.

The latest, and possibly biggest, hurdle, which came right at the end of 2018, was to overcome opposition resistance to plans to amend the Constitution to permit land expropriation without compensation, and establish the ad hoc Committee that will drive this process. But why the rush? It has already been conceded that it is legislatively impossible to see this one through before the May election and the task of passing the controversial legislation, not to mention implementing the amendment providing for land expropriation without compensations, thus falls to the next incoming Members.

Most commentators are somewhat mystified at the number of Bills being rushed through the legislative pipeline, given that the new year will begin with almost a month of constituency work before Parliament officially opens with the State of the Nation Address on 7 February. That leaves it with only three months left before the election, much of which is likely to be dedicated to frenzied last-minute electioneering. The last dash this year may have been pretty impressive, but it is very hard to believe that this Parliament will succeed in processing the legislative load before it passes on the baton.

Moira Levy

Additional information was provided by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group.

Last modified on Monday, 10 December 2018 22:46

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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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