Cape Town - From Monday, new MPs and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) delegates start a two-week induction programme so they can “hit the ground running”.
The pressure is on to be au fait with parliamentary corridors and procedure by the time President Jacob Zuma delivers the State of the Nation address later this month.
From briefings on parliamentary rules and protocol, its pension fund and available benefits such as housing, air travel and iPads, the library and research services, to the regimen of declaring financial interests and gifts, it’s a chock-full programme for newcomers among the 454 parliamentarians.
About 40 percent of the 400 National Assembly MPs are new, and in the National Council of Provinces only eight of the 54 permanent delegates are returnees.
Parliament’s spokesman, Luzuko Jacobs, said the programme was structured according to themes, and was presented by senior parliamentary officials, including the secretary to Parliament.
“It’s about enabling members (of Parliament) to hit the ground running… Nothing is left to chance,” said Jacobs adding that further training was available on request for the next six months.
But the reality of what’s required of an MP will hit just three days after the induction programme ends. The State of the Nation address is scheduled for June 19, followed by two days of debate then the president’s reply.
All this comes as Parliament’s programming and rules committees are set to meet this week to set down what’s what on the parliamentary calendar, and to restructure its committees to reflect the restructured cabinet.
Also on the agenda are budget debates: although the fiscal framework was passed, the actual debates on the individual votes have not yet taken place.
It remains to be seen whether new MPs will have the opportunity to speak: while making one’s maiden speech is regarded as a parliamentary milestone, putting up inexperienced MPs could be a gamble.
In addition, the National Assembly must decide how to deal with legislation the previous MPs did not pass.
This includes the Gender Empowerment and Equality Bill, the Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Bill, the National Water Amendment Bill and the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill.
Although these bills have lapsed with the end of the previous Parliament’s terms, the bills and other unfinished business can be revived through a motion.
Also outstanding are the appointments of committee chairpersons – all ANC MPs as the party holds the majority of seats, although the chair of the public spending watchdog, the standing committee on public accounts, traditionally goes to a minority party MP.