Parliament says there’ll be no rush to finalise an amendment to section 25 of the Constitution — to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation — before the legislature dissolves before the elections.
MPs return to Cape Town in coming weeks for what is likely to be the final parliamentary quarter before voters go to the polls. President Cyril Ramaphosa is widely expected to announce in February that elections will be held in May.
His State of the Nation address is scheduled for February 7. Among the work remaining for MPs is whether the ad hoc committee drafting legislation to give effect to the constitutional change will have enough time to complete the work.
The MP responsible for oversight of parliamentary committees, the ANC’s Cedric Frolick, said that the ad hoc committee had not yet submitted a timeline for meetings or public hearings, but there was no rush to push through legislation before Parliament rose before the elections.
“What we are guarding against, since we are dealing with the constitutional amendment, is that it must not be a race against time,” he said, adding that MPs would deal carefully with the process and citizens would be given a chance to give their input during public hearings.
“Based on the progress they then make, a decision will be taken if it will be viable for them to complete their work now before the elections, or whether the work will be completed by the sixth Parliament.”
The independent Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) said more than 60 Bills still need to be passed before MPs leave. The group’s co-ordinator, Rashaad Allie, said there would be a big push to put the finishing touches on priority Bills before the legislature’s term expired.
“This is in keeping with previous cycles where the majority of Bills are passed in the dying days of a parliamentary session. Given the time constraints, one question stands out: Will these Bills be subjected to proper scrutiny and ultimately any constitutional challenge?” Allie said.
One of the busier parliamentary committees will be the justice and correctional services committee. Among the Bills it needs to debate and pass is the Traditional Courts Bill. First introduced in Parliament in 2008. It was withdrawn because MPs believed it would not pass constitutional muster. It was reintroduced in 2012, but lapsed before the 2014 elections after being rejected by the majority of provinces in the National Council of Provinces.
Another Bill still before the justice portfolio committee is the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. The process for public comment is open until January 31.
There is also the International Crimes Bill that will provide the legal mechanism for South Africa to withdraw from the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute.
“The justice committee will deal with all three Bills at the same time. So they will have a lot of work trying to work through it,” Frolick said.
The PMG warned not to expect much from opposing political parties during this quarter, because the campaign season was well under way.
“One thing is certain — MPs might show up, but they will be focused on campaigning as parties try to one-up each other to win public support. This means plenty more finger-pointing, squabbles, grandstanding, brinkmanship, jousting, endless promises and soundbites,” Frolick said.
He said many committees were already finalising legacy reports for MPs who would take over in the next Parliament. “We are essentially reaching the sell-by date of the fifth Parliament. So committees won’t be taking on new things,” said Frolick. “But it also depends on the importance of things that can still come.”
This includes matters in the public interest. The environmental affairs committee wants the City of Cape Town to explain what happened on Clifton’s fourth beach where beachgoers were allegedly chased away by private security guards.