Parliament had a busy 2023, as lawmakers were steadfast in getting legislation to the president’s desk before the legislature comes to a close in May.
35 bills are currently with the National Assembly (NA) and 23 are with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
The large number of legislation is seen to be as a result of pressure on lawmakers to implement legislative changes given the approaching general elections – which is predicted to reshape the composition of the legislature.
The PMG emphasised that outstanding legislation should not be rushed, regardless of parliament’s approaching term-end .”[G]iven that the Sixth Parliament is at its tail-end, there was visible pressure to process and rush through bills currently in the legislative pipeline.” Said PMG.
“Bills that are not dealt with in a timely manner lapse and need to be revived in the following administration. Notably, the failure of the Executive to submit bills on time for processing by Parliament repeatedly came up during committee meetings.” It added.
Speaking about a slew of proposed legislation affecting the energy sector, non-profit organisation Outa said in a statement that “the legislative process is an important process but loses a sense of legitimacy if bills are pushed through Parliament in a rush.” “When three bills affecting the energy sector are pushed through at the same time, it looks like Parliament is rushing to clear its desk before the 2024 elections.” it added.
These bills, including some consequential legislation like the Climate Change Bill, Expropriation Bill, retirement reform (the two-pot system) under the Revenue Laws Amendment Bill, and the Electoral Matters Amendment Bill, are going to be picked up again and expected to be pushed through when parliament reconvenes in February.
Regardless, 2023 was a year that saw consequential legislation fast-tracked to the desk of the president.
Some notable pieces of legislation passed in 2023 include:
- The Constitution was amended in May 2023 for the first time in six years when the Sign Language Bill was passed, making sign language the 12th official language in the country, aiming to give equal legal protection to people who are deaf or hearing impaired.
- The Public Procurement Bill was introduced in June 2023 to establish a single procurement framework for state organisations. It creates a Public Procurement Office and offers preferential procurement to promote transformation. Despite concerns about transparency provisions, the Bill was passed by the NA on December 6 and sent to the NCOP for agreement.
- The National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill was passed in December 2023 after receiving 338,891 written submissions and 114 stakeholders participated in virtual public hearings. While it was hailed as a historic achievement by the health minister, some groups criticise the lack of modifications and input from interested parties, fearing it may lead to constitutional challenges.
- The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill was a highly debated piece of legislation that was passed by the National Assembly on October 26 and sent to the National Council of Provinces for approval. The Bill made Grade R the new mandatory school starting age, imposed penalties on parents who do not ensure their children attend school, and prohibited corporal punishment in schools, with penalties for violators.
- The Electoral Amendment Bill was passed by Parliament in February, allowing independent candidates to run in the 2024 provincial and national elections. President Ramaphosa signed the Bill into law two months later. This is a significant step towards expanding electoral participation and providing more leadership options for South Africa’s national and provincial elections.
In its full report, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group also tracked how committees were faring with such an influx in legislation, as well as the state of accountability from the executive through the submission and answering of questions
1,284 committee meetings were held in 2023, with ministers and their deputies attending approximately 607 (47%) of meetings, which was a 3% improvement from 2022.
The busiest committees in the NA were the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services (67 meetings), followed by the Standing Committee on Finance (54 meetings) and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) (47 meetings).
The busiest committees in the NCOP were the Select Committee on Security and Justice (27 meetings), followed by the Select Committee on Trade & Industry, Economic Development, Small Business, Tourism, Employment and Labour (23 meetings).
Oral and written questions:
To ensure accountability, the executive is required to respond to questions posed by members of parliament.
The president is required to appear in parliament at least once a quarter – and did so by appearing four times in the NA and twice in the NCOP to answer oral questions. The deputy president answered questions in both the NA and NCOP four times respectively.
In the NA, there were 4,227 written question presented to the executive by MPs. The DA asked 47% of the total, the EFF 27%, the IFP 16%, the FF+ 4% and the ANC 3% (up to 11 December).
In the NCOP, MPs submitted 864 questions, the bulk of them from the DA (48%) and the EFF (40%).