South Africa has a bicameral Parliament (two Houses) supported by a joint administration. The National Assembly is the House directly elected by the voters, while the National Council of Provinces is elected by the provinces and represents them to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government.
The National Assembly has 400 members. The number of seats that a party has in the Assembly is in proportion to the number of voters that voted for it in the elections.
OFFICE BEARERS OF THE ASSEMBLY
At its first sitting after a general election, the National Assembly elects the Speaker, the principal office bearer of the Assembly. The Speaker has many responsibilities which include constitutional, statutory (in terms of the law), procedural and administrative powers and functions. The duties of the Speaker fall broadly into three categories, namely –
- presiding over sittings of the House, maintaining order and applying its rules;
- acting as representative and spokesperson for the Assembly and (with the Chairperson of the Council) for Parliament; and
- acting as chief executive officer for Parliament, in conjunction with the Chairperson of the Council.
The Speaker is equivalent in rank to a Cabinet Minister. Though the Speaker is a member of a political party, he or she is required to act impartially and protect the rights of all parties.
In performing his or her functions, the Speaker is assisted by the Deputy Speaker and three House Chairpersons, each with specific areas of responsibility determined by the Speaker.
To ensure the proper functioning of the House, the presiding officers are assisted by the whips. Whips are party-political functionaries. A whip is a member selected by his or her party to assist in organising party business, keeping members informed of party and parliamentary business, ensuring that members attend committee meetings and debates in the House, arranging for their members to speak in debates, and to perform many other duties. The Chief Whip of the Majority Party, by virtue of his or her party being the majority party, also has certain duties in relation to proceedings of the House. Recognition is also given to the chief whip of the largest minority party. He or she is called the Chief Whip of the Opposition.
As the leader of the largest minority party (or largest party that is not in government), the Leader of the Opposition enjoys a special status in Parliament. The post is specified in the Constitution and the rules and is accorded a specific salary, though he or she has no specific duties in terms of the rules.
RELATIONS WITH THE EXECUTIVE
There are three office bearers who facilitate liaison between Parliament and the executive. The Leader of Government Business is appointed from the Cabinet by the President to take care of the affairs of the executive in Parliament. That includes the programming of business initiated by the executive and arranging the attendance of Cabinet Ministers in respect of parliamentary business. The Speaker may also select two members of the Assembly to act as Parliamentary Counsellors, one to the President and the other to the Deputy President. These members are responsible for facilitating communication between the Assembly and the offices of the President and the Deputy President.
HOW THE NA WORKS
Some of the tasks of the Assembly, particularly those involving detailed consideration of matters, are more appropriately performed by a smaller group than the Assembly sitting in plenary, i.e. as the full House. Much of the Assembly’s work is therefore done in committees, but the final decisions on all matters are taken by the House. The House always has the final authority.
In accordance with the powers given to it by the Constitution, the Assembly establishes a range of committees with assigned powers and functions. The committees are required to report regularly on their activities and to make recommendations to the House for debate and decision. A large part of the Assembly’s role in the law‑making process happens in committees and much of its oversight over the executive is also done through committees, particularly the portfolio committees.
There is a portfolio committee for each corresponding government department. The composition of the committees reflects, as far as is practicable, the numerical strengths of the parties represented in the Assembly. That committee will deliberate on bills covering that department’s area of jurisdiction and scrutinise and report on its annual budget and strategic plan. As the people’s representatives, members of the committees determine whether government departments are delivering on what they promised and whether they are spending the public money they receive in a responsible manner. As part of their oversight work, committees may also do site visits where they find out directly from the people at ground level whether the government is delivering on its promises.
If a committee reports on a matter and makes certain recommendations, that report will be debated in a full sitting or plenary to give other members of the House an opportunity to engage with the content of the report. Once the report has been debated, the House decides whether to adopt the committee’s recommendations. The House may also decide only to note the report or it may refer the report back to the committee with an instruction to do further work.
In addition to dealing with government business, usually bills initiated by the executive, individual members (sometimes called “private members”) have several ways of bringing matters to the attention of the House. A member may give notice that he or she intends moving a motion in the House. A motion is a way of asking the House to take a decision on or to debate a particular matter. The rules also make provision for members’ statements on certain days. During members’ statements, 15 members get an opportunity to make a statement for a minute and a half on a topic of their choice. At least six Ministers are then afforded two minutes each to respond to any of the statements. The opportunity for members’ statements was created mainly to give members a chance to raise constituency issues in the House. Furthermore, if there is a burning issue of grave importance that a member wants the House to discuss as soon as possible, he or she may request the Speaker to agree to accommodate a debate on a matter of public importance.
Statements by Cabinet Members
A Cabinet member may make a factual or policy statement relating to government policy, any executive action or similar matter of which the Assembly should be informed. The Minister in question asks the Speaker for an opportunity to make such a statement. Each political party is allowed an opportunity to respond to such a statement.
Private Members’ Legislative Proposals
Members may also submit legislative proposals for consideration by the House. The member submits the proposal for new legislation or amending legislation to the Speaker. It is then tabled and referred to the Committee on Members’ Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions. That committee will look at the proposal and advise the House on whether it is a good idea to proceed with such legislation. If the House agrees, the member submits a draft bill and it is referred to the relevant portfolio committee for processing.
Another important mechanism the Assembly has of holding the executive to account is questions to the President and Cabinet Ministers. Members submit questions by certain deadlines for oral or written reply. Question time in the National Assembly is usually on Wednesdays, during which time the Ministers respond to the questions for oral reply. The member who originally asked the question and members of other parties then get a chance to ask follow-up questions and probe the matter further. The answers to questions for oral and written reply are published in Hansard, the official record of the debates in Parliament.
The National Assembly has many other tasks and roles in addition to those mentioned above, including the ratification of international agreements and the appointment of certain office bearers such as the Auditor-General and the Public Protector.
NA GUIDE TO PROCEDURE
PROCEDURAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NA
A record of events and developments of a procedural nature in the National Assembly of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa.
National Council of Provinces
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is one of the two Houses of Parliament. The NCOP is constitutionally mandated to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government. This is done through participation in the national legislative process and by providing a national forum for consideration of issues affecting provinces.The NCOP also plays a unique role in the promotion of the principles of Cooperative Government and Intergovernmental Relations. It ensures that the three spheres of government work together in performing their unique functions in terms of the Constitution and that in doing so, they do not encroach in each other’s area of competence.
This ensures that synergy exists between the spheres on matters of concurrent competence.
COMPOSITION OF THE NCOP
The NCOP consists of 90 provincial delegates, ie 10 delegates for each of the nine provinces. This means that each province is equally represented in the NCOP.
A provincial delegation consists of six permanent delegates and four special delegates.
The permanent delegates are appointed by the nine provincial legislatures. The four special delegates consist of the Premier of the province and three other special delegates assigned from members of the provincial legislature. They are selected by each province from Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPLs) and are rotated depending on the subject matter being considered by the NCOP. The Premier of a province is the head of the province’s delegation but he or she can select any other delegate to lead the delegation in his or her absence.
Each provincial delegation has a provincial whip who is responsible for co-ordination of the work of the provincial delegations in the NCOP. The Chief Whip of the NCOP co-ordinates the business of the House and oversees the duties of the provincial whips.
Organised local government is also represented in the NCOP through the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). SALGA is entitled to 10 representatives who may participate in the debates and other activities of the NCOP, but may not vote.
SELECT COMMITTEE FUNCTIONS
Committees can be described as the foundation or engine rooms of parliamentary work. It is in committees that members of the public often get the opportunity to express their views and make representations on legislation and other matters before the NCOP. In this way committees facilitate public involvement in the law-making and other processes of the NCOP. Secondly, committees spend their time on conducting oversight over government to ensure that policies and laws are implemented. Committees are established in accordance with the portfolios of government ie each government department has a committee that oversees it. In addition to these, there are committees which have been established to deal with other matters not related to government departments eg the Rules Committee that deals with the Rules of the NCOP, Programme Committee that deals with the programme of the NCOP and Petitions and Members’ Legislative Proposals Committee that deals with petitions and legislative proposals by permanent delegates.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AND OVERSIGHT PROGRAMMES
In compliance with its constitutional obligations to facilitate public participation in the law-making and other processes, the NCOP has initiated programmes such as its Taking Parliament to the People programme and Provincial Week. These programmes also assist the NCOP in conducting effective oversight over the executive.
Taking Parliament to the People
Every year for a period of a week, the full complement of the NCOP sits away from Cape Town and in partnership with the provincial legislatures invites members of the public to raise challenges relating to service delivery. The programme is mainly taken to people in remote rural areas who lack resources to visit Parliament.
The Provincial Week is another vehicle through which the NCOP seeks to realize its mandate of conducting effective oversight on matters affecting provinces. This week provides an opportunity for provincial delegations to return to their provinces and work with the provincial legislatures on service delivery issues.
During this week permanent delegates meet with provincial and local government leaders as well as community based forums regarding service delivery in their areas.
ROLE OF THE NCOP IN THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
One of the main functions of the NCOP is to make laws. In performing this legislative function, the NCOP may consider, pass, amend, propose amendments or reject any legislation before it.
The Constitution distinguishes between four categories of Bills namely bills amending the Constitution (section 74), bills not affecting provinces (section 75), bills affecting provinces (section 76) and money bills (section 77) which the NCOP processes according to the procedures prescribed by the Constitution.
Bills amending the Constitution (Section 74 Bills)
Bills that amend the Constitution are processed in terms of the processes in terms of the procedure set out in section 74 of the Constitution. When deciding on these Bills the provincial delegations vote in accordance with the mandate conferred on them by their respective provincial legislature. Each province has one vote and at least six provinces have to vote in favour of the Bill for it to be passed.
Bills not affecting provinces (section 75 Bills)
These are bills that are processed in terms of the procedure set out in section 75 of the Constitution. When considering these Bills, delegates vote as individuals (not as a delegation) and each has one vote. The Bill is agreed to if the majority of delegates vote in favour of the Bill.
Bills affecting provinces (section 76 Bills)
Bills that affect the provinces are generally those that relate to areas of shared national and provincial legislative competence, such as Health, Education, etc. The NCOP endeavours to finalise these Bills at least within the six-weeks to enable active public involvement and to allow sufficient time for provinces to confer mandates on their delegations. These Bills are dealt with in terms of the procedure prescribed in section 76 of the Constitution. When deciding on Bills affecting provinces the provincial delegations vote in accordance with the mandate conferred on them by their respective provincial legislatures. Each province has one vote. A section 76 Bill is agreed to if at least five provinces vote in favour of the Bill.
Money Bills (section 77)
These are Bills which deal with appropriation of money, imposition of national taxes, levies, duties or surcharges. They are processed in terms of the procedure outlined in section 77 of the Constitution. Here, delegates vote individually and the Bill is agreed to if the majority of delegates vote in its favour.
Click here to access information about the National Council of Provinces in all the official languages of South Africa.
Members of Parliament
Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected to represent the people. Part of their work as public representatives is done inside Parliament and part of it is done directly with citizens during constituency periods.
The programme of Parliament has two main components - parliamentary sessions (when work is done in plenary groups and committees and constituency periods.
During constituency periods MPs have a duty to:
- Be available to the public
- Help solve problems and
- Report back to their constituents on what is happening in Parliament
The purpose of these periods is to encourage MPs to remain in contact with the people they represent.
Parties are entitled to a monthly allowance for each MP to run a constituency office, and each political party makes its own constituency arrangements.
Most constituency offices employ an administrator to be available to the public even when Parliament is in session. Contact the political party you support to find out about constituency offices in your area.
Because MPs are elected representatives, they must be accountable to the people of South Africa and they must act in the public interest.
Parties are elected on the strength of what they stand for, and party MPs should be able to explain what they have been doing to carry out their duties.
Because party mandates are temporary (elections are held every five years), MPs are accountable in the sense that they may not be re-elected if they are not good public representatives or if they do not deliver on party promises. MPs are also accountable to their own parties - the whips of the various political parties maintain internal party discipline in Parliament.
ETHICS AND MEMBER'S INTERESTS
MPs are in a powerful position to influence high-level decision-making. There may be times when their personal or business interests conflict with their role as elected officials representing the public interest.
A committee of both Houses of Parliament develops standards of ethical behaviour for MPs and administers a code of conduct.
MPs are expected to register in Parliament their financial interests and those of their spouses, dependants and permanent companions every year. Most of this information is open to the public. The confidential part of the register includes details about the monetary value of MPs' interests and all details about spouses, dependent children and permanent companions of MPs.
THE ROLE AND FUNCTIONS OF COMMITTEES IN PARLIAMENT
The two houses of Parliament, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, conduct their work in plenary sessions (where Members of a house meet together in one group), in joint sittings (where Members of both houses meet as one group), and in Committees (smaller groups of Members).
Working in Committees allows Parliament to:
- Increase the amount of work that can be done
- Ensure that issues can be debated in more detail than in plenary sessions
- Increase the level of participation of Members of Parliament (MPs) in discussions
- Enable MPs to develop expertise and in-depth knowledge of the specific Committee’s area of work
- Provide a platform for the public to present views directly to MPs, something which is not possible in a plenary sitting of Parliament
- Provide an environment for Parliament to hear evidence and collect information related to the work of a specific Committee.
Committees are, in general, proportionally representative of the parties in Parliament. Committee meetings are open to the public, but may be closed if there is a good reason to do so.
The different committees have one or more of the following functions:
- They monitor and oversee the work and budgets of national government departments and hold them accountable
- They consider and amend Bills, and may initiate Bills
- They consider private members’ and provincial legislative proposals and special petitions
- They consider international treaties and agreements
- They examine specific areas of public life or matters of public interest
- They take care of domestic parliamentary issues
Committees have the power to summon any person to appear before them, give evidence or produce documents. They may require any person or institution to report to them. Committees may also receive petitions, representations or submissions from the public. Each Committee is headed by a Chairperson.
THE DIFFERENT COMMITTEES OF PARLIAMENT
The National Assembly (NA) appoints from among its members a number of Portfolio Committees to shadow the work of the various national government departments. The role of Portfolio Committees is to:
- consider Bills,
- deal with departmental budget votes,
- oversee the work of the department they are responsible for, and enquire and make recommendations about any aspect of the department, including its structure, functioning and policy.
The work of Committees is not restricted to government. They may investigate any matter of public interest that falls within their area of responsibility. There is a Portfolio Committee for each national Ministry and its associated government department/s.
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) appoints from its permanent members a number of Select Committees to shadow the work of the various national government departments and to deal with Bills.
Because only 54 of the 90 NCOP Members are permanent delegates compared to the 400 of the NA, the Select Committees oversee the work of more than one national government department.
Public Accounts Committees
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Public Accounts acts as Parliament’s watchdog over the way taxpayers’ money is spent by the Executive. Every year the Auditor-General tables reports on the accounts and financial management of the various government departments and State institutions.
Heads of government departments and institutions are regularly called by this committee to report and account for expenditure. The Committee can recommend that the National Assembly takes corrective actions if necessary.
Members’ Legislative Proposals and Petitions Committees
Draft bills can be submitted by individual Members of the National Assembly. These bills are considered by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Private Member’s Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions. If the Committee agrees with the principle of the draft Bill, a Bill will be prepared and dealt with by Parliament.
The National Council of Provinces Select Committee on Members’ and Provincial Legislative Proposals considers draft Bills from individual NCOP members and provincial legislatures.
Petitions may also be tabled in Parliament and referred to the relevant committee that deals with the issue raised in the petition.
The National Assembly has a number of internal committees that deal with matters affecting the running of Parliament. The Committees normally consist of senior Members of Parliament. The Rules Committee and its sub-committees deal with House rules, the budget of the House, support for Members, internal arrangements, and powers and privileges of members. Other internal Committees are the Programme Committee that plans the work of the Assembly, the Disciplinary Committee, and the Committee of Chairpersons.
The National Council of Provinces has its own domestic Committees. The Rules Committee and its subcommittees deal with the NCOP rules, the NCOP budget, parliamentary privileges, internal arrangements, international relations and delegated legislation. The Programme Committee plans the work of the NCOP and the Committee of Chairpersons make recommendations about the functioning of Committees and other NCOP forums.
Ad hoc Committees
Parliament or one of its Houses may appoint an ad hoc (temporary) Committee when a special task must be done. When the task is complete, the Committee is dissolved.
The National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces together appoint a number of joint committees, for example the Constitutional Review Committee.
The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence are statutory Committees. This means that they are established, by the Constitution or by an Act of Parliament, as well as in terms of the rules of Parliament.
The committees play a very important role in the process of building democracy and involving the public in the processes and activities of Parliament.
Powers & Responsibilities
The National Assembly is mandated by the Constitution to -
- Choose the President;
- Provide a national forum for public consideration of issues;
- Pass legislation;
- Scrutinise and oversee executive action;
- Maintain oversight of the bodies and institutions established by Chapter 9 of the Constitution;
- Ensure that Members of Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.
- Consider, pass, amend, propose amendments to or reject any legislation before the Council, in accordance with this Chapter
- Initiate or prepare legislation falling within a functional area listed in Schedule 4 of the Constitution or other legislation referred to in section 76(3)
- May not initiate or prepare money bills.
FIND OUT ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION
Find out more by visiting the Constitutional Court