Parliament has published a notice outlining its current role and responsibilities during South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown, including the possibility of online parliamentary work if the country’s social distancing rules are extended.
Fortunately, South Africa’s social distancing and subsequent national lockdown periods coincided with parliament’s scheduled constituency programme, during which Members of Parliament (MPs) are required to work within their communities across the country.
“Parliament, whose members are regarded as an essential service, in terms of the lockdown regulations, has the authority to execute its oversight functions during a lockdown or social distancing period.
“This can be done through, for example, individual MPs carrying out constituency work in various communities and holding the executive accountable for implementing measures designed to overcome the state of disaster,” parliament said.
“The responsibility to conduct oversight is, therefore, not limited to committee meetings.”
However, parliament indicated that it is exploring the possibility of holding formal committee meetings online, especially if the lockdown is lifted but other social distancing regulations remain in place.
“Parliament is exploring effective means for conducting virtual parliament work, in case the need for social distancing in the country takes longer. Currently, virtual parliamentary committee meetings are possible,” it said.
“However, holding such meetings, specifically to conduct oversight over the implementation of the lockdown regulations, may require the executive to attend briefings.
“This could risk taking them away from their extremely critical function of managing measures to combat spread of Covid-19 and preserving life,” it said.
Parliament noted that the current state of national disaster is a temporary measure and that its priority is to save lives, livelihoods and ensure effective recovery from the crisis.
However, it indicated that checks and balances are still in place and that the country’s lockdown will be reviewed once it is lifted.
“Parliament will still, after this period, be able to hold the executive accountable, in the usual ways, over how it executed the state of national disaster,” it said.