Parliament plans to improve its capacity and planning for the participation of the public in law-making processes after it recently reported the cancellation of some public hearings.
On Thursday, Secretary to Parliament Xolile George told the programme committee that scheduling and capacity for public hearings were attended to as a matter of urgency.
“We have prioritised positions that are extremely urgent, and public participation and committees is one of those areas,” said George, adding that they would like to provide a report at next week’s meeting on practical steps being taken.
He made the comment when the administration provided a report to the committee on the cancellation of some public hearings.
Parliament has had public hearings for the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill and Independent Municipal Demarcation Bill cancelled due to what they said was non-mobilisation of members of the public.
The communication portfolio committee had to move the public hearing for the SA Post Office in Polokwane, Capricorn District, to the Vhembe District for safety reasons.
The cancellations have sparked fears they could elicit adverse court decisions should bills be challenged on grounds of public participation.
In May, the Constitutional Court found that the public participation conducted by the National Assembly and provincial legislatures on the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Amendment Act was deficient, failed to attain meaningful public participation and rendered the legislation unconstitutional and invalid.
Secretary to the National Assembly Masibulele Xaso said the reason for non-mobilisation of members of the public was due to capacity challenges and the lack of sufficient resources to support parliamentary committees.
“The reason for capacity challenges is that we have limited personnel to attend to matters on the ground,” Xaso said.
He also said they have now reviewed the planning and scheduling of public hearings.
“Sometimes you have a number of portfolio committees going out on public hearings in all nine provinces, more or less at the same time, utilising the same human resources needed to support the public hearings.
“There were also issues around the welfare issues of safety, especially with regard to the team supposed to do mobilisation and we have had to get our health and safety people to assist with risk assessment.”
Xaso said they were working on a two-phased approach to address the challenges.
“Part of the challenges we had was that there was no section manager for public participation.
“We are attending to that on an urgent basis,” said Xaso.
He also said they had put measures in place to ensure all role-players were informed timeously about programmes so that they could prepare.
Xaso added that as part of their rapid response, they would work with chairpersons of committees and House chairpersons to ensure they were assisted in scheduling the public hearings.