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Petitions and Executive Undertakings needs to be recognised as a core committee in Parliament, as it is the last resort for citizens who feel that they have been failed by other processes, said members of the Select Committee today during discussion on the its legacy report.

Committee Chairperson Mr Dumisane Ximbi said that Parliament should consider the establishment of an office dedicated to dealing with the vast number of petitions. One of the major difficulties experienced by the committee during their five-year term was the backlog of petitions inherited from previous parliamentary terms. The majority did not qualify as petitions and were not properly vetted prior to their referral to the committee. In its legacy report, the committee thus recommends the establishment of a petitions office in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

Another key challenge highlighted in the report is the non-attendance of key stakeholders during hearings, particularly national and provincial departments. The committee, in contrast to other committees, does not have specific departments or entities falling within its portfolio. Instead, it deals with government departments and entities to the extent that it has referred the subject matter of the petition or executive undertaking to a particular department or entity.

To deal with these challenges, the committee makes a number of recommendations for the sixth Parliament to consider. These include subpoenaing stakeholders who fail to appear before the committee, allocating more time for the committee to interact, scrutinise and effectively deal with petitions, as well as assisting in the vetting of petitions referred to it.

While Rule 103 (b) of the rules of the NCOP stipulates one of the general powers of all committees of the NCOP to receive petitions, representations or submissions from interested persons or institutions; the Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings is specifically mandated to consider petitions referred to it.

During the fifth Parliament, the committee was accorded the additional mandate of scrutinising and overseeing the implementation of executive undertakings made on the floor of the House, and from time to time, by members of the Executive. While one of the challenges was the absence of rules and guidelines (which is still to be developed by Parliament) to enable the committee to fulfill this particular mandate, the committee has nevertheless been proactive in the development and adoption of a set of executive undertaking guidelines which guided its work during the fifth Parliament.

Felicia Lombard
19 March 2019