Cape Town - Officials and MPs are hard at work wrapping up Parliament’s work before the National Assembly is dissolved ahead of the May 7 elections. But this week President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address will take centre stage.
On the parliamentary to-do list is the finalisation of its new rules.
The first review since 1994 has produced a set of draft rules for party political approval. Also in line is the passing of key legislation, including the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill which reopens the lodgement deadline for claims; several customs-related bills to tighten up labour and logistical issues; and the South African Language Practitioners’ Council Bill to protect and promote language practice and to accredit and regulate language practitioners.
Committees are finishing their “legacy reports”, an account of their work over the past five years, which could also highlight issues for consideration by the incoming, post-election MPs.
It is understood a team of senior parliamentary officials is finalising the orientation programme for the new crop of post-election MPs, and tying up the legal and administrative loose ends.
Parliament’s spokesman, Luzuko Jacobs, confirmed on Monday these handover preparations and plans for the national legislature to celebrate its role in the country’s democracy, had been under way since late last year.
“It’s an intricate process. It’s one of the biggest projects, this transition between parliaments. We have to plan for everything,” Jacobs said. “We are looking ahead…The new MPs should be able to hit the ground running.”
The programme for incoming parliamentarians includes an introduction to the financial disclosure regi- men, orientation in and around Parliament and tech-training, as all MPs are issued with iPads to access the new internal information system.
The rules review has been under way for over a year, in part to update the rules drafted by the first set of democratically elected MPs, but also following two Constitutional Court rulings which found parliamentary rules unconstitutional.
Veteran IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini successfully challenged, in the Constitutional Court, the way the national legislature processed private members’ bills. Since the judgment, an interim process allows private member’s bills to be tabled in the National Assembly and then to be referred for processing in committee, rather than the previous situation when a committee first vetted a private member’s bills.
Last August the Constitutional Court dismissed an application by the DA for it to force Parliament to debate a motion of no confidence in the president, but found unconstitutional Parliament’s lack of clear rules on such motions of no confidence – and ordered Parliament to fix this defect.
According to the constitution, the National Assembly is dissolved before elections, although it can be recalled should the need arise.
The first sitting of the National Assembly must take place within 14 days of the election result being announced, according to Section 51 of the constitution, and is chaired by the Constitutional Court chief justice, who presides over the election of the Speaker and deputy Speaker as first order of the new Parliament.
According to the current programme, Parliament rises on March 13, but this date is subject to change by the parliamentary programming committee, which may decide to extend the life to incorporate further parliamentary business.